There are many benefits of virtual therapy, but also some drawbacks. Both virtual therapy and in-person therapy have been found to have similar rates of effectiveness in studies that compared them for the same type of therapy. It is important to figure out what works best for you rather than just relying on what the research says is effective.
When it comes to Virtual Counselling, there are different formats for virtual counselling. Counselling can be done in person, through various video platforms, by telephone, or through text or chat programs. In both in-person and video counselling, the therapist and client can still see each other and observe non-verbal forms of communication. While with telephone counselling, you can still have communication through vocal tones and words. With Text and chat-based counselling, the counselling is based on words and is more prone to misunderstandings. I generally find that it is more difficult to create a therapeutic alliance with my clients the more forms of communication that are removed. In-person and video counselling are similar in effectiveness and which is more effective for a person depends on personal aspects and preferences.
I have described some of the benefits, considerations, and challenges of Virtual Counselling below. Please note that most of these are based on video counselling rather than telephone and chat-based counselling.
Benefits of Virtual Therapy
More Convenient & Accessible
A person can access Virtual counselling from their own home. This helps people who have trouble getting out of the home or have busy lives and have a hard time finding the time to travel to and from appointments. You are generally able to find a comfortable place to sit at home to attend your counselling sessions.
Virtual therapy can often be squeezed into an hour during your day, such as your lunch hour. Occasionally, you can also have shorter appointments, if that is all you have time for.
Often can have comfort items with you
Often you can have a counselling session in a room in your home that is comfortable for you and you can have pets or things with you that can be calming for you and enable you to be more present in the counselling session.
Finding a provider that fits your needs
Effective counselling often means a good fit between client and counsellor. You want a counsellor that has the skills and techniques to work with the issues and challenges that you are bringing to therapy. The counsellors in your area may not have the skills to effectively work with your issues, but when you have virtual counselling, you can have a greater selection of counsellors to choose from.
Establishing a Therapeutic Relationship
A lot of people have found that they have been able to secure a good therapeutic relationship through virtual therapy. Therapists have found different ways to deepen a therapeutic relationship when not in the same room as the client.
Attunement and Body Language
With virtual/video therapy options, a therapist can still read a lot of the information that they would if it were in person. This is not the case for telephone or text-based therapies where the therapist cannot observe the face and shoulders.
More flexible, customizable
If you have trouble finding privacy at home, you might want to talk to your therapist while on your smartphone while walking or in a park. If you have chronic pain, you may be able to sit in positions that are more comfortable than if you attended counselling sessions in person. Often there is a lot of flexibility and adaptations that can come with a therapeutic experience that is virtual.
Reduced Stigma and Increased Confidentiality
There is reduced stigma because people do not see you walking into a therapist’s office or see you in a waiting room. There is also increased confidentiality because you are not seen attending therapy. This means that you are in control of who finds out that you are attending therapy.
The rules around privacy and confidential client information for virtual therapy are strong and part of the ethical framework of therapeutic associations. Therapists are expected to use encrypted programs for therapy sessions, so what you say in therapeutic sessions should be as private as you are able to make it on your end (secure network, private space where others cannot overhear, etc.).
Making Virtual Therapy Better
Creating more privacy
There are ways to increase the privacy of your end of therapeutic sessions. If you are afraid of being overheard, you can use a white noise machine between you and the door. You can find a quiet, private space for doing your sessions in, such as a car, a large closet (clothes and fabrics also help to dampen the sound), a large pantry, or a bathroom, if necessary.
Work with those around you to create boundaries around your therapy sessions, so that there are fewer interruptions and distractions.
What are some of the Challenges with Virtual Therapy?
Certain Mental Health Conditions
People with intellectual disabilities, schizophrenia and at a high risk of suicide among those who would be more appropriate to be seen in person.
Some people prefer meeting a therapist in person and have trouble connecting over video, if that is the case for you, you might want to pursue in-person counselling.
With using technology to access counselling, there are chances that the technology could fail (Internet/power outages, device malfunctions, etc.). Usually, the therapist has a plan for technology issues.
What is best for you?
While there are a lot of benefits for virtual therapy, what is best for you depends on your personal preferences and what is important to you. Most research that have compared virtual and in-person therapy have found no difference between the two. Researchers have compared in-person versus virtual therapy in multiple modalities (EMDR, DBT, CBT and Cognitive Processing Therapy) and did not find a difference in the effectiveness.
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