Online therapy is growing in popularity very fast. Services like etherapi and Breakthrough.com are gaining a lot of momentum among people of all ages. However, there are still a lot of misconception about what online therapy is, and what it is not. Here a few interesting things you should know about online therapy:
Fact #1: What Online Therapy Is
Online therapy is a new form of helping people resolve life and relationship issues. It uses the internet to support synchronous and asynchronous communication between an individual and a licensed therapist. The focus of online therapy varies from patient to patient: from improving interpersonal relationships to learning new ways of managing with stress to taking stock in one’s life and discussing the more philosophical questions about life. Patients may use online therapy as an addition to in person therapy, e.g., they might message their counselor in between sessions using a secure messaging system like the one eTherapi provides.
Fact #2: What Online Therapy Is Not
Online therapy is not necessarily an illegal or unethical way to deliver psychotherapy. It depends on the medium used to deliver treatment.
Telehealth parity laws now in place in most US States now allow psychotherapy to be delivered simultaneously via video or audio. As an example, this is how the State of Nevada defines telehealth:
“… the delivery of services from a provider of health care to a patient at a different location through the use of technology that transfers information electronically, telephonically or by fiber optics, not including standard telephone, facsimile or electronic mail…”
This means that online therapy that uses simultaneous digital video or audio transfer is generally considered OK in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions.
Fact #3: Online therapy is not new.
Distance communication between a therapist and client is not a new concept. Sigmund Freud utilized letters extensively to communicate with his clients!
Similarly, online therapy is definitely not new. Self-help groups began emerging on the Internet as early as 1982 (Kanani, K., & Regehr, C. (2003). Clinical, ethical, and legal issues in e-therapy. Families in Society.)
Fact # 4: Asynchronous (time-delayed) communication can be a good thing
Although time delay is often considered a disadvantage of message-based online therapy, it can also being seen as an advantage. Time delay allows both therapist and patient to have the time to compose a thought or question that precisely reflects their emotional state, concern or issue (Tate & Zabinski, 2004). The patient can communicate when he or she is ready to reply in detail as there is no pressure to think rapidly (Suler, 2000).
Fact #5: Online therapy may facilitate the development of healthy boundaries
Online therapy can also potentially improve patient autonomy in the therapeutic relationship as patients are more empowered to say whatever they want to say and to begin communication when they need it. In this way, online therapy can reduce the power discrepancy between client and therapist. For instance, eTherapi.com allows patients to disable the video feed and use only digital audio during their session. This might help clients to not get distracted by visual cues or other therapist’s premature phenomenology that might come from the therapist. Also, the client may message their therapist at any time using the HIPAA compliant in-app messaging system.