Couch Counseling: The Benefits of Virtual Therapy

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For a few months, Sarah had experienced some difficult times. Her catering business closed due to COVID-19, and she hadn’t seen her parents in months. She was stressed, anxious and needed support, but she couldn’t afford traditional therapy. After a friend suggested online counseling, she tried it. She has been using virtual therapy for a few months now, can afford the rate and looks forward to meeting with her therapist.

Virtual therapy has existed for years, but since the coronavirus pandemic started, thousands of people are getting help online. With some offices still closed, many psychologists, counselors and other therapists are helping clients remotely, using tools such as phone calls, Zoom and Skype.

As with in-person therapy, online therapy is a counseling session with a licensed therapist or psychiatrist, but instead of meeting in an office, sessions take place at home using smartphones, pads or computers. Kate Skurat, licensed mental health counselor for Calmerry, an online therapy platform, says virtual therapy is a solid solution for mental health issues. “People benefit not only from the therapy itself, but from the sole realization that support is within arm’s reach.”

Experts on online platforms can use a wide variety of tools to help patients. Depending on a person’s specific needs and preferences, therapists can create a safe space to talk or text about anything that might concern them, all while the patient is in the comfort of her own home. An appointment that might have taken two hours previously, with commuting time, can be completed in the 30 minutes it was allotted.

Overwhelming coronavirus anxieties, the collective grief and personal grief of millions of Americans and 2020’s unsettled political atmosphere created an influx of patients for virtual therapy. Many people, including teens and young adults, have given online therapy a try as a way to seek help for their emotional wellness. For youth, this may help them escape the stigma that might come with traditional, in-person therapy.

In a recent study by software management company Quadrotech, the rise in people speaking out about their own struggles and the importance of self-care has led others to seek help from therapy. In 2020 alone, demand for mental health counselors increased by a whopping 671 percent.

Virtual therapy has proven useful in this pandemic atmosphere, and experts say its popularity will continue to increase. The American Psychological Association conducted a survey in mid-2020 with over 5,000 psychology professionals. Of those, 76 percent of clinicians say they are now providing solely remote services, primarily via phone or through videoconferencing software. And 16 percent say they are offering remote services in addition to seeing some patients in person.

Benefits of Online Therapy
The most obvious benefits of virtual therapy are convenience and flexibility. Many providers are available morning, afternoon, night and even weekends, making them more accessible. Video sessions can give therapists a literal view of their patient’s home, whether it’s an adult or child, which may provide a deeper level of knowing or seeing what their everyday world looks like.

What to look for in online therapy?
Check qualifications. Find someone who specializes in your particular condition, such as depression or anxiety. Check that they are licensed and ask for referrals and reviews.
Is the site or app secure? Sharing deeply personal and sometimes difficult information requires a safe and private place. The site or app you choose should be HIPAA compliant and have the ability to verify your identity and your therapist’s identity at all times.

Is it affordable? Online therapy or web therapy services are often not covered or reimbursed by insurance. If you plan to be reimbursed, check with your insurance company first.

Do a Test Run
Before making a commitment, you can see if your therapist is the right fit. Asking for a consultation chat before you begin your first session can make it easier to decide what program or therapist is best for your needs.

Skurat also notes that a good online therapy program will continue to rate progress. “We are dedicated to creating a strong community by developing our ‘join the dots’ concept. It means that we constantly improve the matching techniques to ensure that the therapist you’re working with is the best fit possible, not only professionally but also personally.” Good digital therapy programs will offer the opportunity to change therapists if you don’t feel that “chemistry.”

Deciding If It’s Right for You
Of course, online therapy isn’t for everyone. Patients with more serious concerns or addictions may need more treatment than virtual therapy can provide. But experts say people should trust their intuition. Knowing what we need and ensuring we pick a therapist who feels comfortable to us, whether it’s online or in person, may finally get us feeling like ourselves again. ■

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