With the click of a mouse or the tap of an app, you can have instant and inexpensive access to a therapist, or so make the claims of many new tools and technologies that want to take psychotherapy out of the therapist’s office and into whatever location you are connected to the Internet.
Online therapy refers to psychotherapy or counseling services conducted over the internet. In contrast to in-person therapy, online therapy allows you to connect with a licensed therapist or counselor using any device that has an internet connection, such as a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Other terms that are often used interchangeably with online therapy are teletherapy or e-therapy.
While online therapy is a much newer form of therapy, current evidence suggests that for many people it can be just as effective as in-person therapy. Talking from the security of your own home may even make it easier for you to open up about your problems. Online therapy also enables you to communicate with a qualified specialist from anywhere in the world, while avoiding the expense, travel time, and inconvenience of having to meet in-person.
Of course, there can be some significant drawbacks to online therapy as well. While connecting via text or messaging app, for example, may be a more comfortable way of communicating for some, especially younger people who grew up using the technology, the lack of face-to-face interaction robs the therapist of gauging your all-important body language and tone of voice. It can also make it much harder to build trust and a supportive rapport between therapist and patient which is crucial to the success of therapy. That can really only be achieved in-person or via a live video link.
Ultimately, how well online therapy works often depends on the same factors that determine the success of any type of therapy: the level of connection you make with your therapist, how much you’re able to open up, and the work you’re willing to put into the process. In addition to attending your sessions, you need to apply what you’re learning to real life situations and make the healthy lifestyle changes that can support your mood and emotional health. While no therapist—online or in-person—can do the hard work of healing and growth for you, a good therapist can use the available technology to help you gain new insights and change your life for the better.