Therapy has gone virtual for so many mental health clients in today’s world. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic certainly accelerated this counseling trend, which now seems less trendy and more like a therapy option that’s here to stay. Those who doubt the effectiveness of seeing a therapist through a screen claim that a lack of face-to-face contact lessens the warmth and interferes with the connection a client has with the therapist; however, it’s important to consider how the comfort and convenience of virtual psychotherapy can promote a positive therapeutic alliance while providing numerous other advantages. Below we will discuss the many benefits of virtual therapy to clients and therapists alike.
The Pros for Clients
Virtual therapy is synonymous with access—access to healthcare and to mental health services that can often be life-saving or prevent symptoms and stressors from increasing in severity. Clients needing mental health treatment may confront barriers to seeing a therapist face-to-face. These barriers include transportation issues, living far from the nearest mental health therapist’s office, employment demands that make scheduling difficult or simply an overall low motivation to go to counseling. The latter is quite common, but the ease of virtual therapy makes it so that a client with low motivation may agree to therapy if it only involved turning on their computer or connecting with the therapist via their smartphone. The hope is that these types of clients will see the benefits of therapy, thus increasing their motivation to continue treatment. Overall, the convenience of virtual therapy means that underserved clients from all backgrounds can access the care they need. One possible issue that became evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, is the lack of Internet connection among low-income neighborhoods. This significant barrier could interfere with seeing a therapist virtually; however, state and local governments are working towards increasing Internet access in remote areas or among low-income communities.
Virtual therapy can be less intimidating.Many clients report feeling nervous before starting therapy for the first time or seeing a new therapist. Virtual therapy allows clients to log in from their homes, bringing comfort and familiarity to the client. Clients can also invite a loved one to the session for support.
Virtual therapy allows others to join the session from a remote location.The virtual nature of the session makes it more convenient for clients who want to include a loved one in therapy because that other person can join the session from another location if needed.
Virtual therapy allows for privacy.This may be especially relevant for people who live in smaller communities and maybe don’t want to be seen walking into the local shrink’s office. Maybe you decide to start couples therapy, but you rather not bump into anyone you know in the building while on your way to the counselor’s office. Although therapy has become very normalized in recent years, some people still rather maintain some privacy, which is completely normal and okay.
The Pros for Providers
Less overhead!Many providers have switched to a completely virtual practice, which means they can save a lot of money that typically goes to rent office space.
Better work-life balance.While many therapists still conduct their virtual sessions from an office environment, many can hold some or all of their sessions from a home office. So long as you can offer the client privacy and confidentiality, you can work from home rather than commuting to and from an office, giving you more time to spend with family or for personal leisure and self-care.
Virtual therapy means that you might be open to offering more flexibility regarding the day and time of sessions.This not only benefits your clients who may have time restrictions due to work or child care, but it allows you to work with your schedule. For instance, you may offer a few Saturday morning virtual therapy appointments to free up a weekday or to leave your weekday afternoons free.
Some say virtual care may replace most healthcare sessions that don’t involve physical examinations or procedures. This means that when it comes to the field of mental health, it may eventually become the norm to only see your therapist through a screen. It’s important to remember that the bond, support, and quality of rapport between therapist and client can be established and maintained regardless of how we connect.
Arnold Gillo, MSW, LCSW is a Licensed Therapist, a Behavioral Health Consultant, and the Clinical Program Planner for State of Nevada ICF Program