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What Is Online Therapy and Should You Try It?

Published February 18, 2020
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff  

Online therapy allows therapists or counselor to provide mental health care over the phone or Internet. This is often called e-counseling or telepsychology in the counseling world.

How Does Online Therapy Work?

In the world of counseling and psychology, therapy provided to patients via phone, mobile applications, or online tools falls under the scope of telepsychology.

Advances in technology have made it possible for people to receive psychotherapy or work with a therapist outside of conventional office spaces. This works especially well for people with difficult schedules, and people who feel apprehensive about going into a counseling environment.

As researchers take interest in telehealth, groups like the American Psychological Association have put guidelines in place to protect patients and therapists. One study showed that therapy via text messaging was just as effective as individual therapy in a traditional setting.

Though the average person can participate in online therapy, the APA cautions that those with more serious mental health concerns continue with traditional therapy with qualified mental health professionals.

“Online counseling can be as effective as in-person counseling in certain circumstances. It is usually with less severe conditions that the benefits of online counseling outweigh the cons. With more severe conditions, in-person counseling is usually the right choice. For example, if someone is suicidal, they should not try online counseling,'” says Mark Pines of Open Counseling.

What Training and Qualifications are Necessary for Online Therapists?

Much like traditional therapists, online therapists have a range of qualifications, credentials, and licenses. Online therapists are required to have much of the same education and training as traditional therapists.

Dr. Annie M. Varvaryan, Psy.D., a San Jose, California-based licensed clinical psychologist, earned her degrees through college, but had to take additional coursework to practice online.

“As clinicians, we need to have training and competency in the work that we do and the modalities that we use to treat patients. Since most graduate school programs do not have courses for online therapy (perhaps programs are incorporating them more these days, not sure), learning to do therapy online was something I got some exposure to and training in after I obtained my license and had completed all of my graduate coursework,” she says.

She indicated that there are continuing education courses that licensed professionals can take on a variety of topics, and these days, there are some trainings available for online therapy practices as well.

“Most of the trainings available are not formal and still require the clinician to make a lot of decisions and use their judgment on what seems appropriate or not with online therapy services. Online therapy is not very different than traditional in person therapy, and largely, clinicians still conduct the same tasks,” she adds.

For those wishing to become online therapists, each state determines its own requirements for people wanting to become a licensed therapist or counselor. Also, the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards has special credentials necessary for interstate practice, which may be required of those working online with patients. One such group, the Online Therapy Institute, offers framework focused on making sure therapists are trained properly and operating their businesses ethically. Counselors can get certified as a Board Certified–TeleMental Health Provider (BC-TMH).

“There are just extra considerations when it comes to abiding by state laws, continuing to maintain confidentiality through secure online systems and platforms when conducting online therapy, as well as using clinical judgment to determine which patients would be a good fit or not for online therapy,“ says Varvaryan.

What are the Benefits of Online Therapy?

Online therapy's ease of access makes it an attractive option. All you need is a smartphone, tablet, or computer and then you can hop online, find an online therapist, and begin. Online therapy methods include:

  • Videoconferencing 
  • Phone calls
  • Chat/Instant message
  • Email
  • Texting

Given time constraints and lack of health insurance are two common reasons people avoid medical care, online therapy puts mental health care in the tips of your fingers or the palms of your hands. You can contact your therapist when it’s convenient for you. Other benefits to online therapy include:

  • Readily accessible. Your therapy sessions  happen at your convenience in a communication method that best fits you.  No more missed work, physical appointments, drive times, and waiting rooms.
  • More comfortable. Online therapy allows  patients to speak freely about their issues without feeling shy or ashamed.  
  • Requires no insurance. Online therapy is  affordable and fits within your budget. Many forms of online therapy have monthly  plans.
  • You can make your appointments. You don’t have  to worry about transportation, childcare, or work schedules. You can speak  with your therapist on your time.

“There could be many benefits for patients including the convenience of being able to get sessions from the comfort of their home, working with a specific provider you have a connection with even if they don't have the in-person time slots that fit your schedule, and being able to receive services even if the patient is out of town (but still in the same state), perhaps for work/school training,” says Varvaryan.

“Essentially, online therapy services provide patients the ease and convenience of obtaining mental health services, even if they were otherwise unattainable due to time or scheduling issues.”

What You Need to Know Before Staring with Online Therapy

Despite it all, the technology is new and users need to consider the pros and cons of using technology platforms. Be sure to do your homework and know the ins and out of online therapy programs. Here is a listing of popular online therapy apps, according to Verywell:

Jamie Coyne, LCSW, a New Jersey-based licensed online counselor and coach, warns people seeking online therapy to not get it confused with online coaching.

“Online therapy is not online coaching. If you’re looking, make sure you know the difference between coaching and counseling! Do your research before settling on a therapist. There are great therapists out there and the right one for you may be someone who can meet you virtually!” she says.


Online therapy is a convenient method of mental health care. It makes participation easy for the patients, and for therapists, it’s a cost effective way to practice—a benefit they can pass on to their clients.

“Online counseling is often substantially cheaper than in-person counseling. Therapists do not need to pay for dedicated office space and can run their practice from their homes. They also save on their lost time with commuting and related expenses. This means they can offer a lower rate to their clients,” says Pines.

Think online therapy could benefit you? Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional before choosing a program. They can help you determine if online therapy is a safe option and the right choice for you.

Updated: February 25, 2020

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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