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Study finds online therapy as effective as in-person therapy
Study finds online therapy as effective as in-person therapy
September 26, 2021 / Christian Rigg
Study finds online therapy as effective as in-person therapy
September 26, 2021 / Christian Rigg

Online therapy is a relatively new phenomenon in the world of mental health, one that promises greater accessibility, convenience, and affordability. But how effective is online therapy compared to traditional therapy? And what are the main differences? In this article, we answer these questions and provide some helpful tips on choosing the best online therapy platform for you.

What is online therapy?

Online therapy allows individuals to connect with licensed therapists through an online platform, accessible via computer, smartphone, or tablet. It adopts many of the same approaches as in-person therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), traditional psychotherapy, and holistic therapy. The main difference is that, rather than sitting in a room with a therapist, your sessions happen via text or voice messages or live voice or video calls.

The best online counseling apps offer a few advantages over traditional therapy. As a general rule, they’re less expensive. In many ways, they’re also more convenient, as most platforms allow you to send messages to your therapist at any time, from anywhere, so long as you have an internet connection. Finally, many people today find it easier to open up in a virtual setting and from the comfort of their own home.

Importantly, the best online therapy platforms rigorously vet online therapists before hiring them. As a result, the virtual therapy you receive is provided by a licensed, professional online therapist. Thanks to comprehensive questionnaires included on many online counseling platforms, you’re also likely to be matched with a therapist specializing in your area of particular difficulty.

Our Top 3 Online Therapy Services

#1
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Pros
  • Patients matched to therapists based on their needs
  • Affordable pricing
  • Online format offers convenience and ease of scheduling
  • Patients can change therapists as desired
Cons
  • Must pay for four weeks of therapy upfront
  • Therapist availability may be limited due to high demand
BetterHelp provides a convenient option for people who want mental health counseling but can’t (or don’t wish to) see a therapist in person. For a weekly subscription, clients can access virtual video, phone, or text therapy sessions with licensed professionals. The price is more affordable for many patients than in-person therapy, and the financial aid plans make the service even more accessible to a wide range of people.
#2
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Pros
  • Fully licensed therapists specializing in the LGBTQ+ community
  • Unlimited messaging, plus live chat, phone and video sessions
  • Financial aid available for those who meet certain criteria
  • Dedicated iOS and Android apps (contact your therapist anywhere)
  • Comprehensive and inclusive therapist matching questionnaire
Cons
  • No choice of pricing plans or payment terms
  • No phone or chat support for technical problems
Pride Counseling offers a solution to LGBTQ+ members looking to improve their well-being and life satisfaction. This is the case whether your personal difficulties stem from your sexual or gender identity or not. The inclusive and comprehensive questionnaire and large network usually make for a good match between individuals and therapists, and you can request a new therapist free of charge at any time. The prices are on par with competitors, which is pretty impressive given the specialized requirements of Pride Counseling’s therapists and their familiarity with (or membership of) the LGBTQ+ community. Unlimited messaging, chat, phone and video calling, all with solid encryption, also make for reliable, safe, and private conversations. If you’re looking for therapy that takes into account your LGBTQ+ identity, this may be a good solution for you.
#3
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Pros
  • Get matched to a licensed online couples therapist quickly
  • Unlimited messaging, plus live chat, phone and video sessions
  • Extra privacy tools to ensure confidentiality and control of your data
  • Meet or talk with your therapist individually or as a couple
Cons
  • Three-way live sessions (3 different locations) not supported
  • The platform does not regulate counselor services
  • No live chat for assistance on the site
We all encounter relationship issues from time to time, and sometimes we need a little help to work things out. ReGain is a convenient, discreet, and affordable couples therapy platform, which uses a thorough assessment to match individuals and couples with a therapist that suits their needs and preferences. All therapists are licensed practitioners with a range of expertise. But what unites them is their interest and experience in working with couples and individuals.

How effective is online therapy?

Here’s the really good news. There’s growing evidence that online therapy is just as effective as traditional, in-person therapy for many of the most common mental health difficulties, including depression, anxiety, and addiction.

A recent metastudy published in the Lancet journal of eClinicalMedicine looked at the results of 17 individual studies on online therapy, and found that online therapy in the form of electronic CBT (eCBT) was “more effective than face-to-face CBT at reducing depression symptom severity” and that there were “no significant differences between the two interventions on participant satisfaction.”

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a popular therapeutic intervention with proven success. In fact, it’s one of the most widely used and successful approaches for helping individuals with depression, anxiety, addiction and substance abuse, low self-esteem, and more. The fact that CBT administered via an online therapy platform can be just as effective as in-person therapy is an exciting prospect.

Other studies reinforce these findings. An article published in CyberPsychology & Behavior , for example, helped demonstrate that the partnership that forms between a therapist and their patient as they work together (called a “working alliance” in the study) is just as effective in online settings as in traditional ones. Furthermore, comments from participants suggest that many of them felt more at ease with virtual sessions.

Is online therapy right for me?

Virtual therapy is a promising alternative for many individuals, but it may not be for everyone. If you have been previously diagnosed with a serious mental illness, like severe depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, you should first seek in-person therapy. If you are currently experiencing or have experienced a desire to harm yourself or others, online therapy is not an appropriate option.

If you or someone you know is in danger, call 1-800-273-8255 in the US or your national mental health hotline. If you are unsure of whom to contact, call the police (911 in the US, 112 in Europe).

In most other cases, however, online therapy is a viable solution, and it may provide a more comfortable, convenient, and affordable experience for you.

How to choose an online therapy platform

As online therapy has grown in popularity, so too have the number of options available to you. The best online counseling and virtual therapy platforms available today offer competitive plans with plenty of helpful features. When choosing your platform, consider the following.

  • Cost. Decide how much you’re willing or able to spend, then compare plans from providers that fit your budget. Be sure to compare what’s included in your plan, like unlimited instant messaging, extra resources, and video calls. Verify whether your insurance will cover part or all of the cost, or if financial assistance is available.
  • Privacy. Online counseling isn’t as tightly regulated as many other telehealth solutions. Be sure to check the fine print on what information your chosen platform shares and with whom. Some virtual therapy platforms share information with Facebook and Google; don’t hesitate to do a quick search online to check.
  • Communication. It’s important you feel comfortable during your sessions, which means finding the right method of communication for you and your online therapist. Do you prefer instant messaging? Voice messages or a phone call? Or maybe a video chat. Be sure the platform supports your preferred method.
  • Ease of use. Therapy can be complicated enough without a buggy app or an unpleasant user experience getting in the way. Test out the app or read reviews

online to see how people feel about it. Make sure there’s good user support available if and when you need it.

By ensuring you find the best online therapy app for you, you’ll increase your chances of an enjoyable experience with a successful outcome. One easy way to get started is to compare the best services with our straightforward comparison chart. Your new online therapist could be just a few clicks away.

By Christian Rigg
Christian is a freelance writer and content manager with 6+ years' experience writing and editing content in technology and finance. In addition, he holds degrees in psychology and history, and has written extensively on social psychology, positive psychology and mental health. When he’s neither writing nor reading news or research, he can usually be found gravel biking or hiking somewhere around the French riviera, which he calls home.
Cappsool Technologies does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or your local emergency number immediately.
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