How Does Online Therapy Work & Is it Worth it?

46.4% of American adults will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lifetime.

That’s almost one in every two people.

Clearly, mental health is a significant problem in this country. There’s never been a greater need for effective mental health treatment approaches.

Therapy is often a go-to treatment for anyone struggling in this way. But people without a mental illness opt to see a therapist too. They may seek to understand themselves better, have a safe place to express themselves without fear of judgment, or require guidance through a tricky situation.

Whatever the reason, more people than ever before are seeking therapy.

And as the demand has grown, new therapeutic methods have been developed to effectively support people with their needs. Online therapy is one example.

But how does online therapy work? And will you actually benefit from it?

Keep reading to find out.

How Does Online Therapy Work?

Let’s begin with the first half of the question.

How does it work? In essence, what actually is online therapy, and what does it look like in practice? For the sake of simplicity, we use the terms ‘therapist’ and ‘counselor’ interchangeably throughout.

Well, essentially, online therapy combines modern technological solutions with traditional therapeutic interventions. People still receive therapy from a trained clinician. But it happens entirely online via phone, tablet, or computer.

Traditional therapy places you face to face with your therapist for anywhere between 40 minutes and an hour. You sit or lay down, in the same room, and work through whatever issues arise.

Online counseling is a whole new ball game.

Here, you simply need an internet connection and a device. You never meet your counselor in person. Instead, you interact over time via written-form messages.

Initial questions from the therapist clarify the problems that need addressing. Then, over time, you work through the issues via written instruction and words of support, in line with the type of therapy you’re receiving.

That said, it’s increasingly common to use video calls too. You use Skype or some other telecommunication medium to connect and conduct the session.

The Pros and Cons of Online Therapy

Hopefully, that has given you a better idea of what goes into online therapy.

Now, let’s turn to whether it’s worth it. Here are the pros and cons to expect.


First, the advantages.

It works

A growing evidence base suggests that (for certain types of therapy, at least) online therapy can be just as effective online as in-person.

For instance, this study found that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for bulimia nervosa, administered via skype/phone, was just as effective as in-person therapy.

You never know, online therapy may be exactly what you need to improve your life quality.

It’s Convenient

Anything you can do in your pajamas has to be good, right?

All jokes aside though, online counseling is immensely convenient. You can fit therapy around your schedule in a way you can’t through traditional means. There’s no need to take hours out your day to attend a meeting.

Instead, therapy is conducted on the go, as and when required.

It’s Ideal for Certain Issues

Traditional therapy doesn’t cater well for people who can’t leave their homes, or who have mobility issues.

Online forms remove this obstacle. People get to speak to a trained professional from the comfort of their home. That’s invaluable for anyone with agoraphobia, or who needs a carer to help them out the house, and so on.

It’s More Affordable

The convenience of online therapy makes it cheaper too.

Traditional forms of therapy are costly, especially when insurance doesn’t cover it. On that note, many insurers are now covering online therapy as standard too. Be sure to check with your provider beforehand though.

It’s More Comfortable for A Growing Clientele

We live in a tech world.

The internet is now an accepted part of life. For many people, especially children, and young people, they find it easier to communicate through this medium now.

That added comfort with conversing through technology may make seeking professional help easier.


Now, onto the disadvantages.

Lack of Connection

Therapy isn’t just about what gets said.

It isn’t just about the content of the conversation. The process, or the relationship and interaction itself, is often just as important.

For that reason, there’s often no replacement for in-person interaction. The eye-contact, body language, and physical presence between counselor and client are missing in online therapy.

There’s a Delay

Online therapy (unless it’s via video call) isn’t your typical conversation.

You can’t instant interaction. Oftentimes, you send a message and have to wait until the therapist next logs on to provide an answer. That lag can be impractical for anyone hoping to swift solutions to an issue. Likewise, it can be easy for messages to be misconstrued; questions and answers can come across incorrectly.

Likewise, tech problems can provide logistical nightmares. Failing internet, remote locations, and broken technology can all mean therapy isn’t possible on a given occasion.

Can’t Cover Crisis Situations

That delay takes a toll.

Anyone in crisis can’t get the immediate help they need. If you do opt for online therapy, then you should always have a backup solution for crisis situations.

Inappropriate for Severe Mental Health Issues

Online therapy is unlikely to be of help to people with serious mental health issues.

Significant mental illness demands intensive, face-to-face treatment, usually in collaboration with medication prescribed by a psychiatrist. Swapping messages with a therapist is unlikely to suffice.

Anyone with a history of severe mental ill-health should speak with their doctor for their recommendations.

Data Problems

Confidentiality is a buzzword in therapy.

Your personal information and issues are far more easily managed when discussed in face to face interactions. Online conversation is open to hacks and data breaches.

Time to Wrap Up

Hopefully, this post has answered the question ‘how does online therapy work?’

As we’ve seen, there are many reasons people might seek therapy in the US. Online therapy is a modern approach that leverages technology to meet the demands for therapy in the country.

Whether online therapy is right for you will depend entirely on your individual circumstances though.

Preliminary research is promising, especially for certain conditions and particular forms of therapy. However, it isn’t a fix-all solution. There are definite considerations to take into account before committing to it.

We hope the information here will help you decide if it’s right for you. Be sure to speak with your doctor for further advice on the topic!

Did you like this piece? Click here for more information on how to feel at your best.

More from Kaya Wittenburg

Be There for a Friend: Complete Guide on How to Give Good Advice

How often have you remained silent when you saw a friend struggling...
Read More