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Is Online Therapy Effective? What You Need to Know Before You Book an Appointment

Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States in early 2020, the need for online therapy has been on the rise. Not only did in-person therapy become unsafe, but the pandemic itself seems to have caused a spike in mental health needs across the country. Between the lockdown, economic recession, and fear of the virus itself, it’s no wonder the demand for online therapy has exploded in recent months.

Online Therapy

While many people turn to this resource, skeptics understandably have one big question about online therapy: does it really work? We dug into the most recent research to determine whether online therapy is an effective alternative to in-person counseling.

What is Online Therapy?

Online therapy consists of appointments in which patients and therapists connect over the internet. In most cases, online therapy takes place via live video chats. However, some services offer therapy through text-only messages or voice-only calls. However, most of the research focuses on the efficacy of video-based virtual therapy. These sessions mimic the environment of in-person therapy most closely as well.

Online Therapy for Specific Conditions in Adults

Researchers have looked into the effects of telehealth on many types of mental health conditions.

  • Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Depression: Research in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that eight weeks of CBT is equally effective in treating depression for both online and in-person patients. The study also found that online patients still felt better three months after treatment ended, but participants who received in-person CBT did not.

  • Online CBT for Anxiety Disorders: Researchers published a meta-analysis in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders in which they looked at results from 64 relevant studies. These studies investigated whether online CBT was effective for a variety of anxiety disorders and depression. The researchers concluded that online CBT is as effective as in-person CBT at treating these disorders.

  • Telehealth for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is unlike other anxiety disorders and requires specially tailored treatment plans. In Volume 14 of the Current Opinion in Psychology, six PTSD treatment experts review the efficacy of telehealth for such patients. Based on the available evidence, the experts conclude that various telehealth tools can be part of a more comprehensive care plan for some patients with PTSD, while other patients may benefit from online-only treatment. However, they also note that online PTSD treatment does not yet meet its full potential.

  • Online Screening and Treatment for Perinatal Mental Health: Writers of the textbook Women’s Mental Health compiled research on the efficacy of telehealth in screening perinatal women for mental health conditions and treating those conditions when they are present. They assert that online screening and treatment are as effective as in-person counterparts. Furthermore, online tools help pregnant women manage their own health, which is a strong preference for many.

How Online Therapy Can Work for You

Based on these findings and more, it seems clear that telehealth can play an important role in recovery for many people. However, more and better research is still needed to know how patients with less-common disorders fare with online therapy. In general, it’s believed that when given the choice between online therapy and no treatment at all, online therapy is the healthier choice.

Of course, what works for one patient may not work for you. Each person we see is unique and deserves a care plan that is tailored to their needs. That’s why we offer both in-person and online appointments. Book your appointment now and get mental health care the way you need it.

Disclaimer: The posts on this blog are for informational purposes only and do not replace direct care from your mental health care provider. Contact your mental health care provider for specific questions or concerns about your own mental health. All posts are copyrighted, and the views expressed on this blog are representative of the opinions of Pacific Coast Psychiatric Associates (PCPA) as an organization.


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