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Online Therapy vs In-Person Therapy

two people meeting online vs meeting in-person

In our modern day living, there are now so many ways of receiving therapy for your mental wellbeing, rather than the traditional method of seeing a therapist, in person.  

This was mainly due to the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.   However, since society has resumed interaction again, what of those alternate methods of therapy support? 

Do we still need them, now we have control of our choices again? And are these alternate methods of therapy, any better than in-person therapy? 

This article will explore the unique benefits and differences (pros and cons), of (virtual) online therapy vs in-person therapy, so to help you make an informed decision, about which option is best for you.

Please note, that for the purpose of this article, online therapy (otherwise known as virtual therapy or teletherapy) is assumed to be carried out through a digital video-conferencing platform, where the therapist and client, have the option to both see and hear each other.


The main difference between online therapy and in-person therapy is the method of communication.

What is in-person therapy?

I define in-person therapy, as therapy sessions, that take place in a therapist's actual therapeutic setting, where you would need to physically leave your home, so to travel to the therapy room and meet with your therapist, face-to-face.


Potential benefits of In-Person Therapy
  • Confidentiality: Sessions that take place in a therapist's room, can provide a safe and confidential, therapeutic space, away from your homelife, so that you can explore and share your thoughts and feelings openly, without the worry of being overheard.

  • Neutral setting: The neutral space of a therapist's room, offers a more focused environment, to share, explore and reflect thoughts and feelings, separate to your daily life.

  • Security: although online platforms use secure encryption systems, to ensure your data is secure, in-person therapy, can eliminate any potential risks associated with digital communication.

  • Specific support needs: Some therapeutic support, are more effective, when provided in-person, e.g. play therapy.

  • Reflective time: Having to physically travel to and from the therapy room, both before and after a therapeutic session, can be an integral part of the therapy process, as it allows you the time to reflect on what you would like to bring to the session beforehand, and then reflect on what was discussed and experienced after the session.

  • Therapy connection: Personal interaction can build a stronger therapeutic relationship, as it can establish a deeper, level of connection and understanding, through physical presence.

  • Focused Environment: In an actual therapeutic setting, there can be fewer potential distractions and interruptions, to help you stay focussed, compared to your home environment.

  • Safety and Crisis Management: if you have severe mental health issues or experience ongoing abuse, in-person therapy, can offer you immediate, hands-on care, support, safeguarding and possible signposting, to support your needs.

  • Non-Tech-Savvy: If you are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with technology, in-person therapy can remove the stress and difficulty of having to navigate, around an online platform.

  • Therapeutic Ritual: The ritual of going to a physical location for therapy can, in itself, be therapeutic for you, especially if the benefit, is you leaving, your home.

Potential Disadvantages of In-Person Therapy
  • Availability: Sometimes, finding a specific in-person therapist, who has flexibility in their schedule for out of normal business hours, can be difficult.

  • Timing: Getting to and from the therapy sessions can have it’s challenges, e.g. allowing additional time for commuting - (traffic issues / public transport delays)

  • Privacy: Your therapist may have their therapy room in a building that is shared with others, therefore anonymity cannot be guaranteed.


What Is Online Therapy?

Online therapy, also known as virtual therapy or teletherapy, offers therapeutic support from a therapist, via some form of digital service.  Depending on the therapist, their virtual options of therapeutic delivery, could include…

  • video (facetime)

  • phone call

  • emails

  • texts

but again, for the purpose of this article, we will focus on video.

The potential benefits of Online Therapy
  • Convenience: Virtual options allow you and your therapist, to connect online, at anytime, from anywhere, e.g. work, home, holiday.

  • Efficiency: With online therapy, sessions can be attended, eliminating travel time, obstructive weather and the associated stress and costs of commuting.

  • Flexibility: Online therapy can often provide more flexibility for you and your therapist to meet up, especially if needing to accommodate around your working shift patterns, busy schedules, childminders, or have a job that requires you to regularly, travel away from home.

  • Consistency: With the convenience, efficiency and flexibility of online therapy, you may be less likely to miss/cancel, random therapy sessions.

  • Accessibility: Online therapy can provide you with a wider and quicker access to therapists, especially if you…

    • live in a remote or rural area - geographical limitations to attain support

    • have physical limitations

    • have limited resources

    • have social anxiety - sharing physical space with others

    • struggle to find a local therapist that has a specialism or awareness of your language, cultural understanding, sexual orientation, religion, trauma, etc.

  • Privacy: by connecting to your therapist online, your anonymity is guaranteed, as there is no-one to meet, along the way.

  • Comfort: online therapy provides you with the option to ‘turn off’ your video cam (camera), especially if you find face-to-face overwhelming and/or difficult.

  • Availability: Many online therapists can offer flexible scheduling options, which includes late evening and weekend appointments, so that it fit around your other priorities.


Potential Disadvantages of Online Therapy
  • Technology issues: Video conferencing comes with the added pressure of both you and your therapist... This can all impact the quality and flow, of the therapeutic session, as we are relying on...

    • Losing internet connection

    • interference

    • random updates

    • devices powering down

  • Therapeutic connection: Building a trusting therapeutic relationship, where there is understanding, may take a while longer to form, due to the process taking part, through a screen, where body language and non-verbal cues may be more likely to be missed or misunderstood in a virtual setting.

  • Reflective time: Having online therapy allows you to fit chores and work, around your therapy session, by means of pausing and then resuming what you were doing.  However, issues can lie in you not allowing yourself, enough quality time, to reflect effectively, what you would like to bring to the session beforehand and/or reflect on what was discussed and experienced after the session.

  • Online Fatigue - If you spend lots of time already looking at a computer screen, you may find it difficult to focus in you therapy session, due to experiencing symptoms of online fatigue, which can include…

    • Headaches

    • Light sensitivity

    • Eye strain


The verdict

When it comes to online therapy vs in-person therapy, there are pros and cons to both.  Therefore, when deciding, consider your personal preferences, for example;

  • your location

  • availability

  • comfort using technology

  • therapeutic needs

  • nature of your concerns

It is also essential to find a therapist that you feel comfortable with.  As it is widely believed that the quality of the relationship between you and your therapist, can make all the difference to your therapy journey, when you feel supported in a trusting, therapeutic relationship.

So which therapy delivery is the best???

That is for you to decide, as you are in charge of your therapy journey.  You may even decide not to choose either, or but do both, so that it fits around your schedule of availability. 

In these modern times, it is increasingly normal, for people to engage in a blended approach to therapy, that is sometimes in person and sometimes over the internet.  

So if neither is a perfect match for your needs, consider the possibility of interchanging between the two!


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