When you turn on the TV today, you might see a commercial for an online therapy app. This software has gained significant popularity in recent years.
But how effective are these treatment protocols in helping people tackle anxiety? Do they work as effectively as in-person therapy, and could they potentially prove to be more beneficial? Furthermore, are there any pitfalls that participants should try to avoid?
5 benefits of online therapy
Online therapy does offer considerable benefits for many anxiety patients—be sure to consider these five advantages if you’re wondering if it’ll work for you.
A lower monthly cost
In many regions of the United States, therapy participants can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $200 per session if they lack health insurance. This price makes it too expensive for many low-income individuals, who are less likely to have access to coverage. Moreover, they need to consider the cost of gas to travel to the appointment, as well as a babysitter for any children they might have.
Compare those expenses to an annual subscription to the Talkspace app, which bills at $196 USD per month for text, video and audio messaging. A BetterHelp membership comes out to a little more than $151 per month, if you can afford the $1,820 annual cost, or $320 per month if billed weekly. All BetterHelp subscriptions come with unlimited texting, phone and video sessions.
If you attend weekly sessions with a therapist, then price-wise, the online version is a better deal. You’ll save roughly half (or more) of what you’d otherwise pay on a monthly basis.
Anywhere, anytime access
Another advantage of online therapy is its accessibility. Unlike traditional sessions, you don’t need to drive to your provider’s office or make childcare arrangements. Plus, during times when patients can’t make it to their doctor’s physical location, virtual sessions can ensure continuity of care. For example, many providers have relaxed their telemedicine regulations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A wide range of therapists
With both the Talkspace and the BetterHelp apps, you go through an intake process that matches you with a qualified therapist. However, if you don’t get along with the one you initially work with, you can request a change. While you can also do this with in-person therapy, you’ll have a more limited choice of providers, due to geography. If you rely on insurance coverage to pay for your treatment, you may have only one or two professionals to choose from. This rule especially applies if you live in a rural area.
Sitting in a therapist’s waiting room can make you feel vulnerable. Anyone could walk in the door and say “Hi”—like that new client with whom you’re hoping to strike a deal. While there’s no shame in seeking help when you need it, your perception of anonymity will influence how well you comply with treatment. If you feel trepidation about attending live group sessions or sitting in the waiting room for a one-on-one, you’ll be more likely to skip your appointments.
Increased emotional security
Your anxiety disorder may make you reluctant to leave the house. For example, if you have agoraphobia, a phobic type of anxiety disorder, you might fly into a panic when you have to mingle with strangers in public. When you participate in online therapy, though, you’ll remain in the comfort of your home. Since you won’t be going into your sessions with elevated anxiety levels, you may feel more open-minded and receptive when it comes to treatment.
5 potential issues to be aware of
Online therapy offers many distinct advantages. That being said, there are significant drawbacks to this method, too. Before you whip out your credit card and purchase a membership, sit down and reflect on your situation. If any of the factors below apply to you, you might benefit more from in-person treatment.
If a crisis arises, you might fly into a panic, and you might not exercise reason. The most dangerous aspect of this scenario occurs when you have thoughts of self-harm.
If you have any plans to hurt yourself, and you’re in the United States, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The volunteers who work this line have unique training in how to handle suicidal ideology. The same goes for Canada’s suicide prevention line, and a Google search for your country and “suicide prevention” will pull up results for people living in other areas.
Sometimes when you’re in crisis, however, you need a literal shoulder to cry on. If you find that in-person therapy works because of the human connection you feel with your counsellor, you don’t have to abandon it. Patients may need to switch to telephone or video meetings while the COVID-19 pandemic rages, for example, but can return to live sessions when the crisis abates.
Complex treatment needs
Sometimes, you might have a co-morbid condition that makes treating your anxiety disorder complex. For example, if you have schizophrenia, as well as anxiety, you may benefit more from in-person treatment. You might also require careful monitoring of your medications, and you’ll need to continue to take them after your symptoms abate.
Online security concerns
While you won’t need to worry about bumping into your neighbour while you’re pursuing online therapy, you might have concerns about online security. The sad fact of the digital world is that hackers can infiltrate nearly any platform. Breaches like the one that happened with Equifax and Capital One have taught people that even the tightest networks have flaws.
If you’re worried about whether some of your most personal information could fall into the wrong hands, you might have trouble opening up to your therapist. This reluctance can hinder the progress of your treatment.
Insurance coverage and licensing
Some insurance carriers will pay for online treatment, but not all do. If yours will only pay for in-person therapy, you may have no choice (financially) but to opt for that route. Otherwise, you might have to pay out of pocket for the convenience of a “house call.”
Additionally, different regions have various licensing requirements for professionals. Telemedicine might allow you to connect with help on the other side of the globe, but those professionals might not uphold the standards you expect. This scenario could create ethical dilemmas if you switch providers later.
If you use prescription medications in addition to talk therapy, you might have trouble getting your meds purely through telemedicine. That’s because your body size might influence your dose, and other health conditions can render specific formulations problematic. You might need to attend in-person appointments, in between your virtual ones, to get the medications you need.
The choice is yours
Online therapy offers a host of advantages, and it can be a powerful tool in helping people manage their anxiety disorders. However, only you can determine if it’s the best type of treatment for your needs.
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