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How Effective is Online Counseling?

Online counseling is one of the most rapidly growing segments of the counseling profession today. No wonder. There are many benefits to working online with a therapist. But you might wonder how effective online counseling sessions are. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and potential pitfalls.

Does Online Mental Health Counseling Work?

The consensus, based on research, is that online counseling is as effective as in-person counseling, based on many studies, although some show more benefit than others. That’s not surprising since many variables can impact the effectiveness of online counseling. These include the client’s commitment to treatment, the quality of therapy, and the client’s ability to express thoughts and feelings about their issues.

In one study, researchers compared online and in-person cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for social anxiety disorder. They found that both methods were equally effective at reducing symptoms of social anxiety. Another study found that online CBT was just as effective as an in-person program for treating depression in college students.

Another study focused on 204 adults with health anxiety. The study found that cognitive-behavioral therapy conducted via the internet was similar to in-person cognitive behavior therapy for reducing health anxiety. The researchers point out that online therapy can be first-line therapy for health-related anxiety.

What Are the Downsides of Online Counseling?

One factor that may influence the effectiveness of online therapy is how long it takes to build a relationship with the therapist. In an in-person setting, you can often get a sense of who your therapist is early on by how they act and what they say during sessions. Building rapport may be slower with online counseling.

Online therapists must work harder than in-person therapists to create a strong bond between themselves and clients. Plus, some people enjoy the comfort of having the counselor in the same room. That’s why video conferencing is the preferred way to conduct counseling since it’s the closest thing to being in the room with a counselor.

Another concern is the limitations of technology and knowledge of technology. Online counseling is typically offered via email, real-time chat, and video conferencing. Some clients use online counseling in conjunction with traditional psychotherapy or nutritional counseling, and a growing number of clients are using online counseling as a replacement for office visits. But successful counseling sessions require the ability to use technology and good enough Wi-Fi to stay connected. For some, that’s a limitation.

But There are Upsides, Too

Online counseling can be a godsend if you’re unable to attend face-to-face sessions due to geographic distance, time constraints, or other reasons. Other people use online therapy as a convenient way to supplement face-to-face counseling. You may have days when you can’t make it to a physical location. Online counseling can help you not miss a counseling session when you can’t make it in. Online counseling got a big boost during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were physically distancing, but still feeling anxious and depressed.

Other people may use online counseling to be their only source of treatment, particularly if they live in a rural area where access to qualified professionals is scarce. Some people also like the confidentiality that online counseling offers, as they don’t enjoy going to an office where they must interact with people.

Studies also show that clients who receive online counseling report the same level of satisfaction as those who receive face-to-face counseling.

Look for a Qualified Online Counselor

There are many types of mental health professionals, both licensed and unlicensed, who practice on the Internet. Some provide therapy through websites or apps. Others offer information and resources, and some do a little bit of everything. It can be hard to tell whether a particular website is credible and if you can trust the information there. It’s not always easy to find an online therapist with the expertise to treat your particular situation. And that’s not even considering issues such as cost, privacy, and quality of service.

The popularity of online mental health services has driven a surge in companies providing them. The boom has brought more people opportunities to get help, but also made it harder to navigate the market and find reputable providers.

The industry still has some issues including problems such as:

• People asked to sign up for weekly or monthly sessions

and pay upfront.

• Demands to sign up for long-term treatment.

• Submitting personal information for insurance

reimbursement and later finding it was used


The APA advises people looking into online counseling to ask potential therapists about credentials, licensing, experience, and training. They should also inquire about privacy policies and whether their provider will share any information with third parties, including insurance companies. Also, read reviews online and see if people have been pleased with the counselor you’re considering. It may also be helpful to talk to a trusted resource, like a physician, or contact your state psychological association for a recommendation.

The Bottom Line

Like any other type of counseling, online counseling can be as effective as in-person sessions. Online therapists follow the same procedures as real-life therapists, and patients are often surprised by how comfortable they feel sharing intimate details about their lives with someone they’ve never met. But do your research before choosing a therapist and make sure you have good internet access and know how to use the technology required for a counseling session.


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