Incredible change has occurred within the last three years since the emergence of COVID-19. A monumental change to the health field that followed this was the addition of telehealth, which refers to the remote/virtual administration of health services by practitioners in the field. The transition from in-person services to online services had people skeptical and unsure of how it could possibly be as effective as being in the same room. Fortunately, a lot of research went into exploring this skepticism, and several studies have found similar therapeutic outcomes between in-person, video, and telephone psychotherapy services. This research also suggests skeptical or neutral clients reported high satisfaction upon completion of treatment. In the hopes of further reducing skepticism and improving engagement with telehealth services, this blog aims to outline the benefits of participating in online therapeutic services.
Common Barriers to In-Person Treatment
The literature describes common barriers to in-person treatments that prevent underserved client populations from obtaining the help they need. These populations may experience transportation issues, need for childcare, perceived stigma, difficulty leaving work or finding time, and financial barriers related to the commute (especially if residing in a rural area). Online therapy has been shown to reduce these barriers. Whether delivered as the primary form of treatment, or as a hybrid option to in-person services, the research shows that online services can help to improve access for these populations.
Benefits of Virtual Therapy
Online therapy can be offered flexibly in terms of location and timing. Compared to in-person services, remote therapists typically offer more available time slots to clients. Regarding location, therapists and clients can decide where they engage in online therapy, with the only requirement being a confidential space and an internet or phone connection. This may help increase clients’ comfort with obtaining therapeutic services, as sessions can be conducted in an environment in which they feel safe and secure. Depending on the client and concern, online therapy also has the potential to reduce stigma related to mental health treatment, allow clients to become vulnerable in the comfort of their own space, and tends to feel less daunting than sitting in a room with a stranger before one is comfortable to do so. Specific clientele might also prefer online psychotherapy in comparison to in-person sessions. This includes individuals living in rural areas, older adults, individuals with chronic medical illnesses, active military personnel, incarcerated clients, and others who prefer to stay home. Essentially, online psychotherapy allows treatment to be available to people who may not otherwise receive mental health care.
Telephone vs. Video Therapy
There are two methods of delivery offered in remote psychotherapeutic services, telephone and video. Some literature shows telephone services are preferred to video, as phone services are typically seen to be more accessible to those who do not have a device to host their appointment. Also, phone services tend to have more cost-effective equipment, require less instruction to set up, and clients report experiencing fewer technical difficulties.
However, contrary research depicts video therapy as the preferred method, mainly due to the face-to-face element offered. Literature shows video therapy to be as effective or nearly as effective as in-person services. Compared to in-person services, video therapy has helped improve attendance rates (i.e., fewer cancellations), accessibility (i.e., location and time), and flexibility (i.e., no travel time or cost), as well as reduce the risk of transmitting infections during COVID-19. Therapists also agree that video therapy can allow for the “real-life” application of behavioural or taught skills, which in turn can generalize more easily outside of the counselling session. Moreover, video therapy allows clients to experiment in their home environment while the therapist provides remote support.
If you want to get technical and compare the delivery of online therapy services between telephone and video, some studies suggest that video is more effective. Therapists agree that video services are more interactive and include fewer challenges or barriers to therapeutic progress, the therapeutic alliance, and teaching elements (i.e., sharing tools, diagrams, acting out interventions, etc.). However, overall, research suggests both telephone and video psychotherapy have the potential to offer promising results.
Literature aside, it comes down to the preference of the client, who can always change their mind, as well as the recommendation of the therapist, who often bases the decision on the presenting concern(s). Regardless of your choice to engage in phone therapy, video therapy, or a hybrid option, it is important to provide the therapist with feedback about the process and vice versa. This will allow you as a client to receive therapeutic services in a format that meets your needs and is conducive to your life.
If you are looking for a remote therapist and you reside in Ontario, check out Evergreen Therapeutics. We have a team of therapists who treat individuals, couples, and families through an integrative, trauma-informed, and anti-oppressive approach. Please feel free to visit the website to book a consultation, or to learn more about the services offered.
- Ilmiatun, N. A., Astri, N. A., & Syafitri, M. K. (2021). Effectiveness of online psychotherapy in managing mental health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review. STRADA Jurnal Ilmiah Kesehatan, 10(1), 1032-1040.
- Brenes, G. A., Ingram, C. W., & Danhauer, S. C. (2011). Benefits and challenges of conducting psychotherapy by telephone. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 42(6), 543.
- Buckman, J. E., Saunders, R., Leibowitz, J., & Minton, R. (2021). The barriers, benefits and training needs of clinicians delivering psychological therapy via video. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 49(6), 696-720.