Is Online Counseling Right for You?
Dr. Angela Hanford
Online counseling, also referred to as telehealth or telepsychology, has been around for quite sometime. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines telepsychology or telemental health as “ The provision of behavioral and/or mental health care services using technological modalities in lieu of, or in addition to, traditional face-to-face methods (e.g., provision of therapy using the phone, diagnostic interviewing via videoteleconferencing, use of applications to track mood states, consultations via email)” (APA, 2014). With the concerns raised with COVID-19, more and more therapists have moved online or are offering virtual options for therapy.There are several factors that can make online counseling appealing and may actually make therapy more accessible. With busy schedules or living in remote locations, mental health treatment is not always accessible or convenient. How do you fit weekly or biweekly sessions into an already busy schedule?
If you are a parent, you might need to arrange childcare. Maybe you are a busy student or have full workdays. Another dilemma is that there may not be a therapist matching your needs who is also at a conveniently close location.
Adding in a thirty-minute commute or longer can require hours of your time, and for many people, this just is not feasible. Finally, another benefit of online counseling is that it may feel less intimidating to see a therapist from the comfort of your own home as opposed to meeting in person.
Although online mental health counseling has been trending for several years, you may have many questions… Why would I choose to meet with a therapist online? Is it effective? The truth is that not all online options are reliable and, just as with any treatment, it is important for you to determine if online counseling is the best option for you. Let’s talk a little more about the experience of online counseling and the benefits you can receive from it.
Why Do People Choose Online Counseling?
We are all incredibly busy, or at least incredibly distracted. In fact, some thinkers have dubbed this “the age of freneticism.” We have to work, take care of family responsibilities, maybe get that side hustle going, and try to find time for some sort of social life.
Not only can the cost of counseling be a financial stress, but once you add commuting costs, possible child care, a lack of reliable transportation, chronic illness, or maybe an unpredictable schedule, for many people counseling is no longer an option.
Whatever is stopping you from making an appointment with a qualified therapist, rest assured you are not alone. So many people have this same struggle, and sadly, many people who need therapy are unable to make it work for them because of very similar struggles.
There is nothing worse than knowing that you really need to talk to someone, but being completely unsure how to make that happen on a regular basis. Maybe you’ve even called around and tried to set up an appointment, but no one has an opening at a good time. And many of us don’t live in areas close to a Christian counseling center.
Online counseling can be a viable option for your needs. Licensed, professional Christian counselors are available to meet with you online, and conduct an effective therapy process while you remain in the comfort of your own home.
Benefits of the Online Counseling Experience
You might be a little skeptical about online counseling. After all, talking to someone on video chat might not seem as “official” as having the entire in-office experience. But rest assured that there are numerous benefits to online counseling. Let’s go over a few of them.
1. Online counseling appears to be as effective as in-person counseling.
Multiple studies have shown that online counseling can offer just as many benefits as in-person counseling (see Brenes, Ingram, & Danhauser, 2011). A meta-analysis of virtual psychiatric care demonstrated that overall there were high levels of satisfaction with video sessions (Chakrabarti, 2015). Whether you’re meeting with your counselor over video or in person, the benefits of therapy appear to offer similar positive outcomes.
2. Online counseling saves time and hassle and reduces stress.
Rather than spending half or more of the length of your session itself commuting back and forth to the counseling center, all you have to do is find a quiet place and open your video call. Online counseling removes any added stress surrounding your sessions.
Scheduling online sessions makes it easy to find time and space in your schedule and life. This way, you’re more likely to meet with your therapist regularly, ensuring you will get as much out of the therapy process as possible.
3. Online counseling overcomes individual barriers to receiving therapy.The option of meeting with your Christian counselor online helps solve individual barriers you face. Whether you’re a full-time caregiver, have physical or mental limitations that make leaving home difficult, or have an unusual or unpredictable schedule, online counseling offers flexibility and freedom for your unique situation.
Online counseling can be less intimidating than face-to-face counseling, particularly if you struggle with social anxiety, or maybe you are young and unsure about the counseling process. Talking to someone via video conference can help lower the intimidation factor, allowing you to relax and get the most out of each session.
What about online couples therapy or online marriage counseling? Have you and your spouse been discussing the possibility of going to counseling, but you’re unsure if you can make it work?
Beyond online individual therapy, it’s also possible to meet with a marriage counselor for Christian counseling together. Making two schedules work for weekly appointments, or arranging child care on a regular basis, prevents many couples from attending counseling.
But when you meet with your counselor online, these outside considerations are much easier to manage. The fewer hurdles you have to cross to show up for your sessions, the easier it will be for both of you to commit to the counseling process.
What about Technology and Security?
The thought of doing therapy online might also sound scary from a technology standpoint. Therapists who provide online counseling sessions have protocols in place to ensure that you have the most streamlined experience possible. Yes, there can be technology or connection troubles, but your therapist can help you to navigate these annoyances.
Although it is different for each therapist, here are some typical online therapy considerations.
- Your therapist is required to be located in a space that is secure (e.g., not at Starbucks), and it is recommended that you also find a secure location. The simple use of fans outside of a closed door can act as a noise barrier.
- Sessions are typically conducted on a video platform that meets HIPAA security requirements.
- You and your therapist should have a back up plan for if the signal is lost.
- Almost any device can work for video therapy (e.g., computer, phone, tablet)
- Make sure your internet connection is strong by doing a test of the signal strength prior to your sessions.
- If you are using your insurance double check to make sure telehealth is covered.
If you have concerns or questions your therapist is here to help you to navigate the world of online counseling.
In a nutshell, connecting with a professional counselor online removes some of the most common barriers in the way of having a successful therapy experience, freeing you to avail yourself of the help you need.
Instead of frantically trying to find a therapy session that works with your schedule, or facing the stress of commuting and rearranging your schedule, or feeling like you have to sacrifice a big chunk of time every week, online therapy offers privacy, convenience, and comfort for your counseling experience.
So, if you’ve been on the fence about whether you can make Christian counseling work with your life and schedule, don’t hesitate anymore. Schedule your risk-free initial appointment today.
APA (2014). What are Telehealth and Telepsychology?. https://www.apa.org/pi/disability/resources/publications/telepsychology. Retrieved on 7/19/20.
Brenes, G.A., Ingram, C.W., & Danhauer, S.C. (2011). Benefits and challenges of conducting psychotherapy by telephone. Prof Psychol Res. 42(6), 543-549.
Chakrabarti S. (2015) Usefulness of telepsychiatry: A critical evaluation of videoconferencing-based approaches. World J Psychiatry. 5(3), 286-304. doi:10.5498/wjp.v5.i3.286
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