Online therapy has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity over the last decade, with more and more people abandoning the traditional in-person office structure in favor of the online model.
According to a published report on CNBC, Talkspace, a leading online therapy platform, has witnessed a 70-80% boom in user activity since 2016, a figure that exceeded even company projections.
Naturally, this has led to some debate between academics and prospective users alike over whether or not online therapy can be just as effective as more traditional and time-honored mental healthcare. But now it’s looking like the results are in–and very much in favor of online therapy.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Psychological Disorders found online cognitive behavioral therapy to be a highly practical, effective, and overall acceptable means of health care, with further evidence revealing that the use of online cognitive behavioral therapy was just as effective as face-to-face treatment for major depression, social anxiety (as well as generalized anxiety), and panic disorder.
But what are some of the other studies concerning online therapy, and how can you use that data to decide if online therapy is right for you?
What Is Online Therapy?
For the uninitiated, online therapy refers to counseling services conducted over the internet, with professional as well as group chat sessions and exercises conducted via the user’s electronic device of choice (computer, tablet, phone, etc).
There are a wide (and ever growing) range of online therapy platforms, the majority offering professional care by licensed therapists, with other sites featuring a communal space for users to share their experiences and work with trained “listeners.”
For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer to online therapy sites in which licensed professionals carry out the sessions.
After the user has selected their therapist of choice from a featured listing, one-on-one therapy sessions are scheduled and held by way of email, video chat, or the platform’s secure messenger service.
Prices vary depending on both the professional enlisted and platform used, but in general, online therapy is much more affordable than in-office visits, with users further benefiting from the convenience and discretion of the online therapy model.
Why Do People Prefer Online Therapy?
There are a number of reasons why one may opt for online therapy over more traditional services. Cost is a considerable factor, given that the average in-office therapy session can run anywhere from $75 to $200 an hour.
Another notable point is the convenience in which the user can schedule sessions, which are then be conducted from their location of choice.
Because online therapy features fully licensed and experienced professionals who are also reviewed by past and current clients, users can be confident that they’re receiving top-tier treatment to rival (if not surpass) that of a brick-and-mortar establishment.
Where Is The Proof?
A number of worldwide studies and their findings have been building in favor of online therapy, with supplementary surveys and block-period tests providing additional support.
A study published by Thomas D. Hull and Kush Mahan in early 2017 found that 46% of overall participants experienced significant improvement following a 15 week period of mobile-enabled asynchronous text therapy with a licensed therapist, concluding that the online/mobile model was a “clinically beneficial medium for individuals with various diagnoses and histories of psychological distress.”
Another research report published on Science Direct outlined a study in which 62 participants suffering from depression were assigned at random to either a therapist-supported internet-based intervention group or face-to-face intervention over a period of 8 weeks.
While patients in both groups received the same method of treatment, post-treatment results during a 3 month follow-up revealed that participants in the online intervention group experienced more stabilized long-term benefits than those in the face-to-face group. In short, long term efficacy was more notably present following online therapy, rather than in-person treatment.
The first large-scale assessment of telemental health services took place in a study conducted through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs between 2006 and 2010. 98,609 mental health patients were assessed during an allotted six month period of clinical videoconferencing, and the results were nothing short of substantial:
Following the implementation of telepsychiatry telehealth services, the frequency of patient hospitalization drastically decreased by an average of approximately 25%, with overall number of admissions and days of hospitalization decreasing for both men and women of all designated age groups (about 83.3% in total).
So Is Online Therapy Right For Me?
While there’s a wealth of statistics and factual knowledge to back up the positive benefits of online therapy, ultimately the choice is a highly personal one. While some still prefer a more traditional in-office setting, others are flocking to the online counseling platform for a number of reasons, namely cost, convenience, and overall discretion.
You may find that the online therapy model awards you more freedom of choice when it comes to selecting a therapist, or that the 9-5 operating structure of an in-person therapist isn’t feasible for your scheduling needs; perhaps you’d rather avoid the potential stigma of being seen entering a place of psychiatric service.
Maybe you, like so many around the world today, are discovering that there are many different methods for receiving mental health assistance, all of which are worth exploring.