When it comes to therapy, we often envision the traditional office setup, complete with a client lounging on a chaise. However, in 2023, accessing mental health services has evolved beyond the confines of a physical space, with a wide range of virtual options available. With so many choices, how do you determine which type of therapy is best suited to your needs? Read on to find out key details and factors to consider when selecting a provider and setting for your mental health care.
The main difference between in-person and online therapy is where it happens – either in-person, or online!
In-person, or “traditional”, therapy refers to mental health support from a licensed therapist that happens face-to-face. This kind of talk therapy usually takes place in an office or other neutral space. In-person therapy is a well-established, long-trusted approach to mental health treatment.
On the other hand, online or virtual therapy entails receiving mental health support from a licensed therapist through an online platform, phone or video calls, and sometimes even text messages. This means you can attend therapy sessions from the comfort of your own home.
In-person therapy has been a trusted therapeutic method for centuries for good reason. Benefits of the in-person setting may include:
· Nonverbal cues. During in-person sessions, therapists have the ability to observe and interpret nonverbal cues that complement verbal communication, and can be effective in their understanding of your needs.
· Use of more physical presence. In-person therapy offers a wide range of treatment options, including EMDR, movement-based therapy, art, and play therapy. These types of treatments have traditionally been held in-person. While many of them are now available in virtual formats and have been found effective in both settings, some providers and individuals seeking these treatments still find that in-person therapy appointments are better suited to their specific care needs and preferences.
· Longer history. While online therapy emerged alongside virtual technologies over the past few decades, in-person therapy has been practiced and studied for hundreds of years. That doesn’t mean virtual therapy is any less effective, but in-person therapy has a longer history to support its use.
· Inconvenience. For many, finding time for an appointment that requires travel and time spent in a waiting room is challenging or inconvenient. This can be a deterrent for people interested in therapy.
· Access challenges. Depending on factors like where they live or current wait times, some clients may struggle to access in-person therapy that meets their needs.
· Social stigma. Some clients may feel shame, embarrassment or anxiety about being seen visiting a therapist’s office due to the social stigma around mental health. This can deter some people from attending their in-person appointments, or from getting therapy at all.
Online therapy became much more common during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it seems to be here to stay. Virtual care offers several advantages, including:
· Convenience. Many clients feel that being able to log onto a therapy session from anywhere makes it much easier to fit into their schedule, cutting out any additional commute time.
· Variety in meeting methods. Online therapy can include video calls, phone calls, and messaging, giving clients options in choosing the mode of communication that’s best for them.
· Confidentiality. While there are many privacy measures in place for in-person therapy, some people find that online therapy feels more private and confidential. It also removes the need to sit in a waiting room or parking lot in a public place.
· Multiple methods of communication and sharing. Homework, resources, and other therapeutic tools can be easily shared before session, during, and after.
· Comfort using technology. While some of us use technology and the internet on a daily basis, others are less familiar with things like apps or web platforms. This can make online therapy feel stressful or intimidating.
· Internet and phone connection. Online therapy requires a stable internet and phone connection, which can be a challenge for those with slower connections or living in rural areas.
· Nonverbal communication challenges. Depending on the virtual method that the therapy session is held in, the therapist and client may only hear each other's voice or see each other from the neck/chest up. Adjustments are made to ensure that subtle nonverbal cues and body language are not being missed. However, it may take additional time for the therapist and client to build a rapport or comfort level as there are more elements to review at the first few sessions.
In short, there is no such thing as “the best” therapy setting. Research shows that therapy for most mental health challenges can work just as well in-person or online (and possibly better, in some cases). Ultimately, it comes down to figuring out what’s best for your personality and lifestyle.
If you prefer in-person interaction and have the time to travel to a therapy appointment, in-person therapy might be a good fit. On the other hand, if you have a busy schedule, like the flexibility of online and you’re comfortable with technology, online therapy could be a great solution for you. The most important thing is making sure you’re getting the mental health support you need to succeed and thrive