Pandemic lockdowns led to a wave of emerging medical technologies, including telehealth. As people hunkered down amid COVID-19 uncertainty, their need for care didn’t stop. For some, receiving mental health support, in particular, was more necessary than ever before.
Online mental health services — simply referred to as teletherapy — quickly became the norm, reconnecting patients to therapists from the comforts of home. Despite the world reopening with the distribution of vaccines, many patients continue to receive online therapy.
Successful mental health outcomes greatly depend on whether an individual’s needs get met. In that sense, some argue that online therapy may be less effective than in-person care. However, there are advantages to both.
The Rising Popularity of Teletherapy
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), 38% of Americans used teletherapy in 2021 — a 7% increase from the fall of 2020. Yet, access to these online services wasn’t always available.
Before the pandemic, only Medicaid-enrolled mental health professionals — licensed psychiatrists and psychologists — from the Behavioral Health HealthChoices Programs could use telehealth services to treat patients.
Naturally, more people sought telehealth services with the rapid transition to online care and a decline in mental health from COVID-19. It wasn’t all roses, though — patients and doctors struggled with scheduling while a lack of internet access prevented low-income populations from receiving proper treatment.
The APA asked Americans their opinions on online mental health services after one year of virtual care — 45% of respondents felt they received the same quality service as in-person appointments. Additionally, 66% of young adults between 18 and 29 were more likely to utilize teletherapy.
Online therapy will continue to have its place in mental health treatment. Yet, few can deny there are unmatched benefits to in-person care, too.
8 Things to Know About Online Therapy vs. In-Person Care
Depending on who you ask, you’ll likely receive a long list of pros and cons to online therapy vs. in-person care. With enough time passed to learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of each, the following statements are likely accurate.
1. Teletherapy Is More Accessible
Overall, telehealth visits increased by 50% in the first quarter of 2020, allowing patients to obtain care for COVID-19, general sick visits, follow-up care and therapy without ever leaving the house. Of course, this new form of medicine increased accessibility for people with disabilities, workers and those juggling responsibilities at home.
However, while teletherapy will continue expanding post-pandemic, many therapists will likely shift to in-person appointments again to accommodate under-resourced communities that demand more significant mental health support.
2. Technology Problems Can Occur
Like any technology, teletherapy has its faults. Sometimes cameras don’t work properly or the audio cuts out. Other times, internet reliability isn’t all that reliable — you or your therapist may lose internet service, hindering your ability to connect.
Although some therapists can move to phone communication in these events, others may be restricted from contact outside video conferencing and email.
3. Online Therapy Offers More Flexible Scheduling
Only some mental health professionals offer weekend and evening appointments, leaving working patients in a bind with scheduling. It’s hard for people to take off from work to drive to visits with their therapist and back to the office.
Online therapy has resolved this issue by eliminating transportation and allowing people to check in with their counselors wherever they are. For instance, daytime appointments could have required patients to take off three hours from work, while teletherapy only takes one hour away from busy lives.
4. In-Person Sessions Deliver Intensive Support
Some individuals with severe mental health conditions may receive better support from in-person care — that’s because it can be harder to connect with your therapist emotionally in a virtual setting.
Patients may receive greater empathy from visiting their therapist in the office with face-to-face communication. Ultimately, a direct emotional response from a counselor could increase their chances of success in overcoming their problems.
5. Patients May Feel More Comfortable With At-Home Care
Sadly, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health and therapy. Although seeking mental health support is as common as a visit to your primary care doctor for a check-up, many people would prefer to keep their treatment under wraps.
There’s no denying that some patients feel more comfortable receiving mental health care from their homes. Online therapy eliminates being seen walking in and out of a therapist’s office or sitting in the waiting room.
6. Costs are Relatively the Same
Americans typically pay between $60 and $120 per session, regardless of whether appointments are in person or online. However, most people spend between $20 and $250 when you factor in insurance coverage or higher fees set by individual therapists.
Since teletherapy's expansion, companies like BetterHelp and Talkspace have sought to make therapy more affordable. For instance, patients can access over 3,000 counselors when they subscribe to Talkspace. Depending on your plan, services cost anywhere from $69 to $129 — they also accept most insurance plans.
7. Patient Information Remains Protected Under HIPAA
Patients with privacy concerns need not worry about therapy in the virtual space. Online therapists adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) rules just as they would for in-person care.
Your therapist will provide forms for you to sign regarding HIPAA compliance when you meet with them for your first appointment. However, you are free to ask them questions about the system they use to hold patient information and how your details are protected.
Is Teletherapy or In-Person Care Right for You?
Teletherapy is an accessible way for patients to receive mental health treatment, but it may not be a suitable form of care for everyone. Only you can decide if online therapy is the most beneficial service to meet your mental health needs.