The COVID pandemic has created a new age of alternatives to in-person therapy in the form of telehealth. While this has been beneficial in slowing the spread of the virus, does the outcome of online therapy measure up to the outcomes of in-person treatment? In this article we will weigh the pros and cons of in-person therapy and online therapy to discuss which is best suited for mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Pros of Online Therapy
Convenience & Accessibility: Virtual therapy exists in the form of video calls, phone calls, or texting. This makes it easier for a person to attend their therapy appointment. Missed in-person appointments can be wasteful of both time and money for both the client and the professional or facility.
The comfort and accessibility of online therapy is what draws people. Having to attend an hour-long phone call is certainly easier than having to go to an office, depending on how busy someone’s schedule is.
However, substance abuse is not an easy disease, and this is where in-person treatment really differentiates itself. Yes, it requires more time, effort and focus, but we are treating a disease that can destroy someone’s life and later their psychological and physical life permanently. Only the best and most effective methods of treatment will do. Which leads us to:
The Pros of Quality In-Person Therapy
Multiple Levels of Care: By its very nature, online therapy cannot offer multiple levels of care. It is outpatient only. But not all clients can recover effectively at the outpatient level of care. On the other hand, with a full admissions team and multiple levels of care, in person therapy can offer a more personalized experience that includes greater immersion and higher levels of care when necessary.
Technology Failure: As great as technology can be, there are always caveats – for example, if you don’t have a solid internet connection or if the signal is inconsistent, it can be hard or even impossible to conduct a telehealth session.
Controlled Environment: Attending a therapy appointment in person can allow for a patient to be immersed in a safe environment that encourages open communication and expression. This might be more difficult for a person who decides to have a virtual appointment with the distractions of whatever atmosphere they are exposed to. The focus that comes with in-person attendance might also cater better to more severe cases of mental illness.
Interpersonal: There is just something you get through face-to-face interaction that you cannot achieve over a virtual call. The past year has been filled with isolation and avoidance, causing many individuals to yearn for interaction. This also allows for non-verbal cues to be recognized more easily, and otherwise often overlooked through a video chat.
Insurance Coverage: In-person therapy is the traditional practice of substance abuse and mental health treatment; therefore, insurance companies are more likely to have a plan that covers it.
Credibility: There are a lot of new platforms arising that promise effective virtual therapy, however, you must make sure that these platforms are HIPPA compliant and are hiring experienced therapists.
Research: Like we said, in-person therapy is a traditional practice. This comes with years of studies and research to show its efficacy. There are studies surfacing in support of online therapy, but they amount to very little compared to the statistics for in-person therapy.
The Bottom Line
Finding therapy that’s right for you is a deeply personal decision. Online therapy provides time efficient and accessible therapy options, while in-person therapy provides a traditional approach with decades of solid evidence in its favor. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic made it more difficult for some to receive the in-person care they needed, but sadly the use and abuse or drugs and alcohol only increased during this time. Online care couldn’t replace tried and true in-person treatment and what we saw was yet another reason why face-to-face therapy is so critical.