Benefits of Online Therapy
With online therapy gaining popularity and an increasing number of mainstream services providing access to online support (e.g. the NHS and universities), it is important to understand what the strengths and limitations of this mode of support are and who is best served through an online platform. A literature review conducted by Rochlen et al. (2004) looked at the strengths and limits of online therapy.
1. Convenience and Increased Access
The review showed that the most commonly cited pro of online therapy was the convenience it offered and the ease of access. In particular people with limited mobility, time restrictions and with limited access to mental health services benefited from being able to access online services. They also suggested that people who were disillusioned with mental health services might be more likely to access online support. I have found in my own practise that I am often approached by clients with disabilities who would otherwise not be able to access support. Online therapy can also offer a level of flexibility that a standard therapist would not be able to provide. This is beneficial for those with unpredictable health and mental health needs.
Contrary to the popular concern that online therapy lacks the intimacy needed to establish a therapeutic relationship, the review found that people tend to feel disinhibited by the online interface. Therapists have found that clients tend to “cut to the chase” much more quickly, often from the first session. The review was looking at text-based therapy and found that clients tend to open up quickly when they could not see or be seen, suggesting that the perceived anonymity provided a safe space for clients to disclose difficulties. This has an added benefit of saving time and money for the client who feels able to get to the heart of the issue more quickly.
Another benefit was that the online interface allowed users to pass other forms of information and multimedia effortlessly and quickly. As a therapist I have often sent clients links to resources during sessions and clients have sent me articles or online resources to illustrate something they wish to explain. This can deepen the understanding and connection between therapist and client, and allows the therapist provide tools and resources for additional work between sessions.
1. Crisis Management
The main challenge noted for online work is that online therapy does not easily allow for crisis management in the case of a mental health emergency. This can present a challenge in the case that a therapist becomes concerned about a client’s wellbeing.
2. Missing Nonverbal Cues
However good an Internet connection might be, it is not the same as sitting in the room with someone and there is a certain degree of ‘information’ that a therapist picks up from a client through nonverbal communication. It is arguable that some of this information might be lost through an online interface.
Who should use online therapy?
In response to these limitations, I would suggest that it is important that clients take responsibility for their own safety. Only you can know before you begin therapy whether it is right for you, and if it is likely that you are going to require additional support then online therapy may not be appropriate.
However if you feel that you are in a safe place and are ready to start work on your difficulties, if it is because of a physical limitation, time restriction, lack of access to services or simply because the online approach appeals to you, the research suggests that it can be a very effective means of therapy and support. Some studies have even shown that you will might more likely to open up sooner online than if you were to try standard face-to-face therapy. So why not give it a try?
By Dr. Tara Davis
ROCHLEN, A.B., ZACK, J.S. & SPEYER, C., (2004), Online Therapy: Review of Relevant Definitions, Debates and Current Empirical Support, Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol. 60(3), 269-283