Virtual counselling has gained a lot of attention in recent years, especially since Covid-19 and is now becoming a quickly expanding field. You can now get therapy through text, email, phone or video sessions! Not all these types of online therapy are created equal or are about recreating the dynamic of in-person counselling, but instead, they work on creating a therapeutic environment based on their individual merits and structure. What is common among all of these options is that there is a continuous exchange of words and they all involve personalized communication. While online therapy offers convenience and flexibility where you are not limited by distance or time zones, in-person therapy offers a safe place away from potential triggers and distractions at home. Both online and in-person therapy have their unique benefits and drawbacks. So, how to know which is the right option for you at this time? Let's take a look at exploring the pros and cons of both these forms of therapy.
Is getting to the counsellor's office a barrier for you? Do you need to find a ride? A babysitter? Are you limited by the weather? The more barriers you have to getting to the office, the less likely you are to stick to counselling long-term. If you have limited time or resources to physically visit the office, try a video session instead! For some, counselling can be a very overwhelming experience, or for some being in a new physical space can trigger their existing symptoms. Leaning on support through text/audio/ video in these cases can take some of the pressure off! Interestingly, several studies now say that clients feel ‘less conscious’ and more in control during virtual therapy as compared to the in-person option.
Dedicated Safe Space
Some people prefer having a separate safe space outside of their homes where they can routinely process their emotions in person. They can be away from the regular environments that tend to easily trigger or distract them. If they live with other people, it can be tricky for them to find a place where they are completely undisturbed for an hour. For some, if they want to discuss their relationship or family dynamics in therapy, they cannot due to a lack of emotional or physical safety at home. In all of these cases, in-person therapy offers them a dedicated space to engage in therapy.
In online therapy, specifically phone and text, the therapist is missing out on some major information about the client, i.e. their body language and non-verbal cues. While experienced virtual therapists report that with time they attune to their client's cues, one can argue that video offers much more information about where the client is at. This can be especially important if they have a history of disassociation or trauma. Poor internet, technical issues and interruptions at home are also common disruptors of online counselling that can be frustrating and impact the flow of the session.
Triggers in Real Time
Online therapy can also give the counsellor some great insight into the client's environment, existing triggers in their environment, and the client's natural coping reactions to those triggers. Witnessing and moving through those triggers can actually benefit the client since they are working on them in real-time in therapy. This can also be helpful when working online with couples or families living together as the therapist can see them in their natural environment, and notice how their surroundings impact each of their dynamics- an opportunity they would have missed in in-person sessions.
Types of Therapy
The type of therapy being used also tends to determine whether an online or in-person session is preferred. For instance, somatic or touch-based therapy, EMDR, and play therapy among others might be more effective in person. But these days an increasing number of practitioners are practicing such modalities effectively online.
When working with younger kids, in-person therapy can be helpful as it is challenging to capture their attention span for the whole session online, especially if they are easily distracted. On the flip side, an advantage of online therapy is that as a client you are not limited to choosing a practitioner in your area- they can be anywhere in the world! (although your insurance coverage might be limited).
All in all, it is important to remember that there is no ‘best’ option. It depends entirely on your situation and personal preference. When in doubt, try exploring a hybrid model of in-person and online counselling with your counsellor- an option that allows you to experience the best of both worlds!