Over the past several years, society has witnessed an increased awareness of mental health and its significance for physical wellbeing. As attention has grown, medical professionals and entrepreneurs have seen an opportunity to expand the reach and accessibility of behavioral and talk therapy options through the digital or virtual space.
While more and more virtual therapy practices seem to crop up overnight, there is a growing concern among the public that such options are not as effective as in-person options. Still, despite public opinion, an increasing number of mental health professionals are adding or converting their practices to virtual options. Some cynics believe the conversion is profit-motivated, but others believe it is the next evolutionary step in ensuring mental healthcare is affordable and available for those who need it most.
Despite the continued debate, there have been plenty of studies conducted to draw an honest conclusion. Therefore, before adopting public opinion or allowing personal bias to form a negative assumption, it is necessary to look at the data.
What the Science and Research Says
Many people assume that virtual therapy is not as effective as online therapy because it removes the in-person connection. For most professionals, observation was often believed to be integral in assessing and diagnosing a patient’s state of mind. Without in-person analysis, how capable was the therapist’s perception of patient body language, demeanor, and tone of voice?
Most of what a therapist draws from to make professional opinions were presumed to be gathered from interpersonal skills. The pervading thought about virtual therapy is that it would be too impersonal to prove effective. However, despite the existing biases, experts and researchers found that many patients responded to digital methodologies, and in some cases, even exceeded expectations.
Studies published in the Journal of Affective Disorders (2014), Behavioral Research and Therapy (2014), and the Journal of Psychological Disorders (2018) consistently found distance or virtual therapy to be as effective at treating depression and various anxiety disorders as alternative options. These reports also concluded that virtual options were “effective, acceptable, and practical health care,” providing cost-effective solutions for an often expensive practice.
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When Virtual Therapy Is and Is Not a Good Idea
While the efficacy of virtual therapy is proven and not worth debating further, potential patients should understand the practice is not meant for all mental health conditions. The virtual model is beneficial for those seeking treatment for depression or anxiety and panic disorders. For these conditions, distance therapy provides many advantages to patients:
- Easier access
- Less expense
- Scheduling convenience
- No waiting rooms
- Ability to remain anonymous
The primary disadvantage is that online therapy is not an option for more severe conditions, like psychosis or suicidal ideation. Some of the other potential problems include:
- Presence of shysters
- Security of personal information
- Technical issues
- Lack of face-to-face interactions
- Lack of crisis intervention options
With the growing awareness of mental health and the continued lack of affordable therapeutic options, virtual therapy provides a valuable and welcome opportunity for those in need. While the process is not yet perfect, it is like anything else on the internet and in life: trust but verify. Make sure the therapist you speak to is licensed and certified, and the business you work through is taking necessary steps to protect your identity and medical information.
It is easy to believe that online therapy is ineffective, but that opinion is based on bias and assumption, not in fact. The research concludes that online therapy is a viable option for depression, anxiety, and panic disorders. What do you think? Would you ever try a virtual therapist?