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Online therapy: Find a therapist online

Reviewed by therapist.com team

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What Is Online Therapy?

Online therapy, also known as teletherapy, refers to mental health services that take place remotely. Instead of meeting in a therapist’s physical office for counseling, teletherapy takes place virtually, either through online video or over the phone.

Therapy first started being conducted remotely via the phone in the 1960s, but teletherapy didn’t become popular until the 1990s with the rise of the internet. Remote therapy has become more common and effective as phone and video connections have improved. Its popularity skyrocketed in 2020 due to the lockdown restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Does Teletherapy Work?

Teletherapy can take place via a phone call or video call. Video is typically the preferred medium since it allows therapists to view a client’s facial expressions and other body language. However, phone therapy is a valid, effective method, especially if a client does not have access to the internet or a camera.

Video Therapy

Online video therapy is the most popular form of teletherapy. However, every therapist does video therapy a little differently.

Therapy can be conducted over a variety of telehealth-specific platforms, such as Zoom, Doxy.me, SimplePractice, and TheraNest, provided that they are HIPAA compliant and offer sufficient security to protect your privacy.

Certain platforms require you to download an application, while others may work within an internet browser. Almost all platforms will require you to create an account before use. Your therapist will tell you which platform they use, how to create a new account, and how to start or join a video call.

You can use a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer for online counseling. Whatever device you use needs to have a working camera and microphone, as well as a strong internet connection. Make sure to check your equipment before your appointment.

Ask your therapist how they accept payment for video therapy. Because your therapy session is online, your therapist can likely process your payment online as well.

Phone Therapy

In practice, phone therapy is not that different from any other phone call. As a client, you’ll just want to take a few extra steps to protect your privacy.

Make sure to take the call in a quiet, private place. Use headphones if you’re worried about being overheard. If you’re using a cell phone, pick a place where you get strong cellular reception, and make sure your phone is charged.

Note that your therapist is unlikely to leave voicemails for you in case they are heard by someone else. Also, be sure to ask your therapist how they accept payment for phone sessions. If you don’t have reliable access to the internet, you may have to give payment information over the phone or drop off a physical check at their office.

Online Therapy: Advantages and Disadvantages

Benefits of Teletherapy

Even as COVID-19 lockdown restrictions are lifted, experts predict that teletherapy is here to stay as a popular option for mental health services. This is because online therapy offers many benefits, such as convenience, safety, accessibility, and variety of choice.

1. Convenience

Going to a physical office costs valuable time as you sit in traffic or sit in a waiting room. It also has monetary costs extending past your therapist’s fee: gas prices, vehicle maintenance, public transportation fees, and using paid or unpaid time off at work. With online counseling, you can schedule your appointment when it’s most convenient for you and have your session without ever leaving your home.

2. Safety

Teletherapy made it safe to receive mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the safety benefits go beyond protecting against infectious diseases. Virtual therapy also protects clients from getting in car accidents due to bad weather, heavy traffic, or impaired drivers.

3. Accessibility

Because in-person therapy costs time and money, it’s often inaccessible for many people who want help. Remote counseling makes it easy for someone to receive mental health services even if they don’t have a car.

Virtual therapy is also more accessible for people with disabilities or severe mental illnesses. People with disabilities may have access to other accessibility services online, such as screen readers or closed captioning, that would make receiving mental health care easier for them. Teletherapy may also be an easier step to take than in-person therapy for people with social anxiety or agoraphobia.

4. Variety of Choice

Online counseling also opens up your options for choosing a therapist. Instead of choosing a therapist who’s close by or on your way home from work, you can choose from a wide variety of therapists licensed to work in your state.

Challenges of Teletherapy

Although online therapy offers many benefits, it’s not without challenges, including:

    • Technological barriers: Video therapy requires certain resources, such as a computer, video camera, phone, and internet connection. It also requires the technological savvy to use such resources effectively. These may create barriers to treatment for some people.
    • Lack of privacy: It may be difficult for some people to find a quiet, private place in their own homes. Additionally, you want to make sure your therapist is using an online video platform that is secure.
    • Emotional disconnection: Asking for help is always a vulnerable, brave act, and seeking therapy is no exception. That’s why it’s so important for people to feel safe and connected with their therapist. Beyond a potential loss of internet connection, online therapy may also result in a loss of emotional connection as clients and therapists attempt to get to know each other without actually meeting face to face.

How to Prepare for an Online Therapy Session

If you choose to seek therapy online, you’ll want to take steps to prepare for your session, including:

    • Find a quiet space: Pick a quiet spot in your home where you won’t be disturbed. If that isn’t possible in your home, consider sitting in your parked car somewhere quiet.
    • Speak with family/roommates: Before your appointment, speak with your family or roommates about any privacy concerns you may have. Let them know you are not to be disturbed. Make it clear that eavesdropping is a breach of trust.
    • Test your devices: Make sure your smartphone, tablet, or laptop is fully charged before your appointment. Test your internet connection, camera, and microphone to make sure all three are working.

How to Find a Therapist Online

Finding an online therapist is quick and easy. Follow these steps to make an appointment today:

    • Check your insurance: Check your health insurance plan to see if it covers mental health services at least partially, if not completely. If you do have mental health coverage, make sure to choose a therapist who accepts your insurance. If you do not have health insurance or your insurance doesn’t cover therapy, ask your therapist if they offer any discounted fees or flexible payment options.
    • Find licensed therapists in your state: No matter where your therapist lives, they need to be licensed in your state to legally offer their services to you. Click here to find online therapists licensed in your state. 
    • Contact potential therapists: If you find a therapist you like, reach out via email and ask some questions to determine if they will be a good fit. For example, you may want to ask if they have experience with your mental illness, or if they offer appointments beyond traditional business hours.
    • Set up a first appointment: Ready to get started? Click here to set up a teletherapy appointment with a therapist today.

Get Help Now

If you are in crisis, there are many hotlines and online mental health resources available for you to get help now:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is Online Therapy Covered by Insurance?

It depends on your specific insurance plan. Contact your health insurance provider for more information.

Yes. As long as your therapist is licensed to operate in your state, they are also allowed to offer their services remotely. They do not have to live in your state to be licensed to practice there.

How Is Client Data Protected in an Online Therapy Setting?

Ask your therapist what steps they take to protect client data. Your therapist may use a virtual private network (VPN) or a secure telehealth platform to protect your data. They should also conduct their sessions in a quiet, private place—you shouldn’t see partners, roommates, or children wandering in and out of their room while you’re in therapy, for example. If you have any concerns about your right to privacy, speak with your therapist.

About the author

The editorial team at therapist.com works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.