Therapy is one of the many things going online these days, but is it really an alternative to a traditional trip to the therapist’s couch?
Fitness classes, meditation sessions, work meetings, and even doctor’s appointments have all been transferred online, helping us avoid missing out on everything from workouts to wellness checks. Long before the sudden shift away from in-person meetings, though, therapists all over the world have been introducing virtual sessions and teletherapy.
Not only can you tune into a session from the comfort of your own sofa, but you can even discuss it over text. There are now specialized apps and platforms like Talkspace and Better Help that allow their users to exclusively use text messages as their form of communication if that’s what they prefer.
But how effective is it and can it really be as good as a real face-to-face conversation? Let’s take a closer look at the upsides and the pitfalls of virtual therapy.
Unlike a conventional therapy session that can cost an arm and a leg even with good insurance, virtual therapy is way more affordable. It’s still an investment, but a less heart-stopping one. For example, Talkspace offers unlimited messaging therapy (with video, text, and audio) for $65/week, and BetterHelp has different options from $60 to $100 per week.Neither one doesn’t even come close to the fee of one traditional therapy session.
Virtual therapy makes sessions available to those who never would have even thought about scheduling a face-to-face visit, and has helped many people break through that initial mental barrier and take the first step towards asking for help.
It’s Really Convenient
With the option of texting your therapist whenever and wherever without having to sync up your schedules, drive there and back, and lose half of your busy day, online therapy is definitely convenient.
Knowing you can address your problems in a few minutes, rather than sitting in someone’s office for an hour, makes calling or texting so much easier and inviting. It also helps with reducing stress levels and anxiety, especially in those people who have trouble articulating their problems and would rather write them down than speak out loud.
That’s why virtual therapy works so well for some people, as not everyone is ready to address their problems face-to-face. Many people journal or write poetry as a way of expressing themselves, and if their therapist can read through it and find meaning in their words, is speaking them out loud really necessary?
You Can Address Problems in Real Time
Probably one of the most important virtues of virtual therapy is how immediate it can be. Instead of waiting for your next appointment and piling up all the problems and issues that have happened so far, you can get the support from your therapist whenever you actually need it.
Online therapy also keeps your therapist in the loop with what’s going on more regularly, which helps them track progress and address any serious issues sooner, especially if they notice specific behavioral patterns or thoughts. This is extremely important now, as new stressors seem to be emerging every single day.
And even if your therapist doesn’t respond right away, you’ll still get a reply much sooner than you would be waiting for your next session two weeks from now.
Another great aspect of sending off a quick text, right when you’re in the middle of a situation that needs addressing, is the pure therapeutic experience of stopping to type and send a message. At that moment, you’re acknowledging what’s been going on, giving yourself a moment to think what you’ll write and removing yourself from intense feelings and overreactions.
Messages Can Be Misinterpreted
When it comes to texting, there is always a common downside of potential misinterpretation and/or missing out on specific emotional responses and unconscious body language a therapist would usually catch and observe in a regular in-person setting.
Even though shooting off a text when you find yourself in a state of aggravated anxiety and stress can definitely help, the message might not be able to go through as intended, and you might feel like your therapist isn’t focusing on the problem you’re trying to convey, but rather on something completely different.
Taking a step back and rereading your own message once you’re in a different state might bring some light to the whole situation, but when emotions are intensified and strong, it’s hard to see a different perspective or standpoint and realize how your message could have been interpreted.
Doesn’t Leave Enough Time for Reflection
When speaking to a therapist, a person often comes to specific revelations and breakthrough moments on her own, as she’s sitting there and contemplating, reflecting, and processing the questions or statements she’s hearing.
When you’re simply sending a text and getting a reply while you’re doing something else in your busy day, you don’t carve out the time that’s necessary for you to really focus on finding a solution to your problem and really thinking about what your therapist is telling you.
So, Who Is Virtual Therapy for?
Anyone can benefit from virtual therapy, although not everyone will find it useful. And that’s kind of how it is with everything else in our lives, isn’t it?
Those who prefer human contact and face-to-face communication certainly won’t become huge fans of online video chats and texting, but those who find it hard to express themselves, have an impossibly filled out schedule, need immediate attention, and can’t afford traditional forms of therapy definitely need to try it, as they can be helped, supported, and listened to.
Virtual therapy can also be a great supplement to conventional therapy sessions when your schedule doesn’t allow often appointments to keep your therapist in the loop and build your relationship.
Have you ever tried virtual therapy and texting your problems via one of these apps? If the answer is no, this year might be a great time to start.