The social distancing measures required by the COVID-19 pandemic, meant that all face to face therapy moved online out of necessity. Therapy practitioners who previously saw clients almost exclusively in-person now provided support to their existing or new clients by phone consultation or by video conferencing using smartphones, tablets and computers.
Now that Face to Face therapy is re-opening and those needing help have a real choice, it is opportune to look at the pros and cons of Online Therapy.
The Pros of Online Therapy:
Online Therapy is convenient
It can offer access to therapy services from the comfort and convenience of your home. This can be useful for those who live in rural areas where a wide range of therapy services may not be available locally or where an individual has mobility or transportation challenges. Online therapy can also be more flexible: scheduling or rescheduling an appointment may be easier for both the client and the therapist as no travel or room booking is involved and this can facilitate those with busy work, family or travel schedules.
It can make Therapy more accessible for some
For those who may find the idea of speaking with a therapist in person intimidating, especially for the first time, online therapy may be a way of ‘testing the water’. Those who fear stigma, or suffer from anxiety, especially social anxiety may also find it easier to reach out to an online therapist. Some people find it easier to be open and honest about feelings and experiences when they are online and thus this form of therapy can facilitate disclosure.
Online Therapy can supplement Face to Face care
Online therapy can work well where there is an established client-therapist relationship. In these instances it can be used to supplement face to face care – a person may see a therapist regularly in person but may opt for digital support between sessions especially if these are infrequent for practical reasons.
The Cons of Online Therapy:
There is less intimacy
A major component of effective therapy and also a strong predictor of a successful outcome of therapy for the client is the quality of the relationship between the client and the therapist. It is difficult to replace the intimacy and safety of a strong client-therapist bond and its associated healing power with a wholly online therapy relationship.
Online therapy can overlook non verbal communication
Therapists rely on a combination of verbal and non-verbal cues like body language, eye contact and tone of voice to give them insight into their client’s situation and wellbeing. Much of this can be lost to a therapist in an online therapy interaction especially where an existing face to face relationship has not previously been established.
Technological difficulties may be a challenge
Online therapy relies on good internet connection and unfortunately this is not yet a reliable commodity in Ireland. Technical glitches, frozen screens, low resolution video feeds or video time lags can occur and can be frustrating and interruptive and not conducive to the therapeutic experience. Online therapy may also be a challenge for those who struggle with technology generally.
Online therapy is not suitable for all issues
Online therapy is not suitable for more serious issues like suicidal intent, psychosis or severe personality disorders. Those needing help with such issues will require more intense or in-person interventions. Also with online therapy it can be more difficult for a therapist to intervene in a crisis situation especially if they are physically distant from where the client is located.
Access to a private space may be an issue
Face to face therapy provides clients with a safe place to examine and process their feelings and emotions and this psychological ‘holding’ can be significant and therapeutic particularly for someone feeling vulnerable. It can be difficult to emulate this experience where a client shares a living space or their physical environment doesn’t permit the necessary privacy to allow them to be open and forthcoming in discussing their issues.
Ethical and regulatory concerns
Online therapy removes geographical constraints and allows therapists to treat clients from any location. It is important to ensure that your Online Therapist is adequately qualified and sufficiently experienced to practice.
You can rest assured that all of our Therapists at CounsellingandTherapy.com are members of the PSI (Psychological Society of Ireland) or the Counselling and Psychotherapy professional bodies in Ireland that will meet impending statutory/ CORU regulation here.
Online therapy may not be for everyone, and many would still argue that the real healing and transformative power of therapy lies in the therapeutic alliance between therapist and client which is optimal in a face to face setting. Online therapy has however become a viable option for some clients and in some circumstances. Its importance either as an entry point to therapy or as a valuable adjunct to traditional face to face therapy has been highlighted during the COVID19 pandemic and now that it has earned its place it likely is here to stay. Digital technology has become an intrinsic part of our daily lives and there is every reason to believe that it will have an increasingly important role to play in the care of our mental health and wellbeing.