Online Therapy: Characteristics, Benefits and Efficacy

Online therapy is booming. More and more professionals and patients are beginning to use this new therapeutic modality. What are its features and benefits? We'll tell you about it!
Online Therapy: Characteristics, Benefits and Efficacy
Laura Ruiz Mitjana

Written and verified by la psicóloga Laura Ruiz Mitjana in 08 April, 2021.

Last update: 08 April, 2021

It’s clear the times are changing on a social and work level. The digital revolution has been around for years and is spreading in almost all areas of work, including psychology. With its arrival, comes the surge in interest in online therapy.

This modality involves performing therapy from home, with a computer (or mobile) and an internet connection. Its benefits include convenience, anonymity, safety, and security. In addition, it means that we can choose psychologists from anywhere in the world, and, at the same time, psychologists can offer their services much further afield, breaking any type of geographical barrier.

Some people prefer face-to-face therapy, due to the benefits of human contact (which is much closer when the session is face-to-face), whereas others have started to use this new modality and are delighted with it. Everything will depend on the person’s needs and preferences, etc. In this article, we’re going to tell you what this modality consists of, as well as its characteristics, benefits, and effectiveness.

Online therapy: definition and characteristics

Online therapy is excellent in some circumstances.
The convenience of this type of consultation has greatly increased its popularity.

Online therapy is carried out using new technologies. It consists of a therapy format in which the patient and the therapist meet over the internet, using different video calling applications, such as Skype. So, to reap the benefits of this service you only need an internet connection and a mobile phone or a computer.

This option is increasingly requested by patients, who see it as an easy, convenient, and safe option, especially in those who have difficulty in organizing a face-to-face appointment. In addition to this, more and more mental health professionals are deciding to offer an online psychological therapy service, due to its great benefits.

It is, of course, a different way of doing therapy, and it has its drawbacks too. For example, human contact, closeness, and a large part of non-verbal language, warmth, etc. are “lost”). However, it also has several advantages, and we’re going to bring you some of them.

The benefits of online therapy

What are the benefits of doing online therapy? We’re going to bring you some of the most important ones:

Convenience – no need to move

One of the benefits of online therapy is the convenience of the service. We don’t have to go to the psychologist’s office or clinic, and we can carry out the session from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. The most common way is, of course, to carry out this therapy from home.

This also saves us time and money. In addition, it’s far less likely that we’ll be late for the appointment, and we don’t run the risk of encountering a problem on the way to the clinic.

There are no geographical barriers

Online therapy breaks down geographic barriers, and so a psychologist from Barcelona, for example, can conduct sessions with anyone in the world who has an internet connection.

In other words, he can offer therapy to people from all over the world, and there are no limits in this sense. This is a real plus for people who live in parts of the world where there are very few psychologists, or where the psychologists don’t suit their needs or interests.

It facilitates anonymity

At the beginning of therapy, when the therapeutic relationship still isn’t established, and there’s still no real emotional connection, it isn’t easy for us to speak to a stranger, especially about delicate matters.

For this reason, another benefit of online therapy is the “partial” anonymity we have. You can choose whether or not the psychologist sees your face, and it’s not like attending therapy in person.

It can be cheaper

Although this isn’t always the case, online therapy can sometimes be cheaper than face-to-face therapy. If this is the case, then we could save a considerable amount of money, or decide to invest that saving in more frequent sessions.

Continuous monitoring

Another benefit of online therapy is that if you have to move to a different area, you can still carry on having therapy sessions with the same specialist.

This is a great advantage and this type of upheaval in our lives doesn’t have to mean having to find a new therapist as well.

A safe and familiar environment

Even though, in face-to-face therapy, the environment can also be safe and familiar, the great advantage of online therapy is that we can carry out the sessions from our own homes. What could be more familiar than that?

This makes the environment as safe and familiar as possible, because we’re in our “comfort zone.” However, it must be said that this can also be a drawback.

Schedule flexibility and compatibility

Especially for people with complicated schedules or long working hours, the online way of doing therapy offers the possibility of scheduling a visit in a much more flexible way.

People who may not be able to go to face-to-face therapy can enjoy greater comfort in this regard, as the therapist will be able to adapt more easily to their schedule.

Effectiveness

Online therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy.
Very often, it’s a matter of preference, but the evidence indicates that there’s no difference between online and face-to-face therapy as regards its effectiveness.

To date, there are many studies that support the effectiveness of online therapy. One of them is a study carried out in 2017 by researchers from the University of Virginia (USA), published in the American medical journal JAMA Psychiatry.

In the study, which evaluated the effectiveness of online therapy in patients receiving treatment for insomnia, the results showed that more than half of the participants with chronic insomnia had noticed an improvement in a matter of a few weeks, thanks to the treatment they received.

In addition to this, in a follow-up one year later, they verified that the participants were still able to get to sleep without any problems.

Just as effective as face-to-face therapy?

So, we’ve talked about the effectiveness of online therapy in a very specific disorder, insomnia, but what about in general? Can we say that, as a tool, it’s just as effective as face-to-face therapy?

This question is answered by one of the most famous studies carried out on online therapy, published in the Journal of Technology in Human Services in 2007 and entitled The Best Practices of Online Therapy.

What does this study reveal? It shows that online therapy is effective, and that there are no significant differences when compared to face-to-face therapy, especially in cases related to stress or anxiety.

In addition to this, a 2011 study entitled Telepsychology and Videoconferencing: Problems, Opportunities and a Guide for Psychologists, published in Australian Psychologist, also supports the conclusions of the aforementioned study.

Furthermore, the study suggests that there are no significant differences between the therapeutic alliance that emerged in face-to-face therapy and online therapy.

Online therapy: all advantages?

So, what about you? Do you prefer the idea of online or face-to-face therapy? Have you tried either of the two? Although both have different characteristics, what’s clear is that, if the specialist is good, they will be the same both in person and on a screen.

On the other hand, it’s also true that the online modality has its limitations and drawbacks, especially for those people who “need” much closer human contact.

However, for many others, it’s a modality that’s full of advantages, especially for those who feel more comfortable with a certain “distance” between them and the therapist, or who feel “safer” or more comfortable doing therapy from home.

We can also consider it to be an ideal modality for the first sessions – to initiate that first contact with the therapist.

In this way, the patient who starts with online therapy may feel they would like to do it face to face further down the line. This is especially the case in people who initially resist the idea of going to therapy.