Over the past few years, the popularity of telehealth counseling has skyrocketed due to many factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the ease and accessibility of telehealth platforms. There is no right or wrong therapy format — choosing the therapy format that is right for you depends on your individual preferences and needs. Read on to learn the pros and cons of online therapy vs. in-person therapy and how to choose the format that works for you.
Is online or in-person therapy best for me?
Therapy looks different for everyone. Your therapy journey depends on many factors, including your therapy goals, the kinds of treatment approaches your therapist will use, your mental health conditions and concerns, to name a few. It also depends on your preferences. Are you more comfortable in your own home or personal space? Are you comfortable with using a laptop or computer and talking to your therapist virtually? Or do you prefer to meet in person and have a face-to-face interaction?
Online therapy gives you the convenience of being in your space, and can save time and costs of traveling. In-person therapy, on the other hand, gives you the face-to-face interaction of seeing your therapist in person. Both have its advantages and disadvantages — there is no right or wrong way. The way that works best for you is what’s most important.
SonderMind makes finding an online therapist or finding an in-person therapist easy. You answer a few questions so we get to know, including whether you prefer to have therapy in person or online. Then, we connect you to a therapist who offers the availability that you’re looking for. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of online vs. in-person therapy.
Pros and cons of online therapy
Pros of online therapy
Online therapy, also called telehealth counseling, has many benefits. They include:
- Convenience and accessibility. You can choose where you want to meet your therapist. It could be from a quiet place in your home or your car. If you’re house sitting for a friend, it could be from their home. The accessibility of online therapy means that you have a therapy session when and how you want therapy. For some people, there is no therapist within a convenient driving distance to them. In those cases, meeting a therapist online is a convenient way to get help.
- Flexibility in scheduling. Having a packed schedule shouldn’t stop you from going to therapy. That’s why online therapy gives you the flexibility to meet with a therapist around your schedule. If you’re a morning person but don’t want to deal with the morning traffic, you can schedule your sessions in the morning and have them from the convenience of your home. If your only free time is in the afternoon between shuttling the kids to soccer practice and picking up dinner, then you can schedule a therapy session in between errands when it’s best for you. Make sure that you give yourself enough time to prepare for each session and time to reflect on it afterward.
- Cost and time. Seeing a therapist in person means that you have to travel to see them. Your one-hour session actually ends up being more than an hour because of travel. Whether it’s a short distance or a longer distance, you might have to take time off from work, pay for transportation, or get child care. Seeing a therapist online helps you avoid taking time off for travel or paying for child care or other associated costs.
- Increased privacy. Some people are more comfortable opening up and sharing information when they are in a comfortable and private environment, such as their home. That’s why online therapy can be helpful for people who want to be in a familiar environment to open up and be vulnerable with their therapist, which can help lead to deeper conversations and explorations during therapy.
Cons of online therapy
While online therapy has its pros, there are also cons associated with it. Here are a few for you to think about:
- Technical and connectivity issues. Some people don’t want to deal with the challenges that can come with meeting online. What if you lose connection or your wi-fi is weak? Or what if you live in a rural area that does not have the bandwidth or signals for an online connection? What if you have problems with the audio on your computer or the visual screen? Older people, too, may lack the equipment or be unfamiliar with setting up and participating in a virtual visit.
- Limited nonverbal cues. Seeing and talking to someone in person can give you more insight into who they are and what they’re saying. You can see their body language and facial expressions. You can make eye contact. You might be able to hear and understand them better. For that reason, some people like to see a therapist in person.
- Lack of privacy. For those who don’t have a safe or private spot in their home, online therapy may not be the right option. This could be someone who is living with an abusive partner, or a teenager who does not want to be overheard by parents. There could also be distractions and interruptions with having therapy sessions at home — from deliveries at the front door, to pets who need to be let out, to other family members who may need your attention.
Pros and cons of in-person therapy
The pros of in-person therapy
Being physically present and having a face-to-face interaction with your therapist has many advantages, including:
- Immediate nonverbal cues. Body language is important. Being physically present with your therapist helps you see their body language and facial expressions. They can also see yours.
- Trust building. Your relationship with your therapist — called the therapeutic alliance — is one of the key ingredients to your success in therapy. Being in person can help you connect with your therapist. If you prefer in-person conversations, you might find it easier to open up and be vulnerable. That’s why seeing a therapist in person can help build that trust and deeper connection between you and your therapist and help to forge a strong therapeutic alliance.
- Neutral location. Because you are not in your home or a personal setting, seeing your therapist in their office setting can make it easier to share personal or vulnerable information.
- Intensive support. Some types of therapy may require that you attend in-person sessions. For example, art, music, or play therapy may require in-person therapeutic support.
The cons of in-person therapy
Having in-person therapy also can have some disadvantages. Here are some for you to think about:
- Geographical limitations. If you live in a rural area, you may not have access to a nearby therapist. Getting to see a therapist in person could be difficult and time-consuming and can interfere with your work or daily schedule.
- Inflexible scheduling. In-person therapy can have its inconveniences. You might not be able to make it to scheduled sessions, or the sessions available might not be convenient for you. There may be waiting times, and time to get to therapy and back.
- Reduced privacy. For people who prefer the comfort of their home or their personal space, in-person therapy sessions might feel like they have no privacy. Even though therapy sessions take place in a private office and what you share with your therapist is confidential, the idea of going into an office setting could feel like there's a lack of privacy for some.
- Transportation or mobility challenges. Having an in-person session means you have to get there. Whether it’s by car, public transportation, walking, or some other means, if getting to your in-person session is difficult or time-consuming, it might not be ideal. If you have a physical disability, traveling to an in-person session can be challenging.
Online vs. in-person: Which therapy is right for you?
There are advantages and disadvantages to both online and in-person therapy. So as you consider which type you prefer, think about their pros and cons in terms of level of interaction with your therapist, your comfort level, your preferences, your treatment goals, use of technology, access to transportation, costs involved, scheduling, and more.
Confidentiality in online therapy
Keep in mind that whether you choose online therapy or in-person therapy, the privacy of your information is of the utmost importance to your therapist. Confidentiality in online therapy is just as important as it is in an in-person setting. Maintaining your privacy is part of your therapist’s professional code of ethics and a condition of their professional license. Your therapist will not share what you share unless it is in these situations:
- If you reveal you plan to hurt yourself or others, for your protection and others
- If there’s abuse, exploitation or neglect of children, the elderly, or people with disabilities
- If a court case is involved, for example, the therapist notes are subpoenaed. This can happen even after therapy is over.
- You agree to include a partner or family member in your treatment
What to consider when making a decision about online vs. in-person therapy
To help you decide, try answering these questions as you think about whether you want to have telehealth counseling or in-person sessions:
- Do you prefer an in-office setting or do you prefer to have sessions from your home or personal space?
- What is your comfort level with using technology for telehealth counseling?
- What is your comfort level with traveling to an in-person setting?
- What is the nature and severity of your mental health concern?
- Do you have access to transportation to get to your in-person session?
- Do you need to take time off from work or get child care or other support?
- What is your therapist’s experience and expertise when it comes to telehealth counseling vs. in-person counseling?
- What are your personal goals and desired outcomes?
SonderMind can help you find the right in-person or online therapist for you
Therapy is effective and worth your time and investment, whether you choose online or in-person therapy, or a combination of both. What’s key to your success in therapy is your commitment to sticking to the treatment plan recommended by your therapist,doing your homework in between sessions, and using the tools you learned during therapy outside of therapy.
SonderMind can connect you to a licensed online therapist or an in-person therapist within 48 hours. Just answer a few questions about yourself, and let us know whether you would like to have sessions online or in-person. Then, we’ll connect you to a therapist who meets your preferences and takes your insurance. When you receive your therapist matches, you can also message them to discuss which option might be right for you.