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  • Writer's picture Laura Myers

What is Online Therapy?

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

What is Online Therapy? How does it work?

Sarah is a 36 year old woman who has been experiencing stress at her job since a recent promotion and trouble sleeping. Sarah’s first response is what most people do, she scours the internet for answers. Her search yields lots of advice on how to relax, but she feels it’s too general to apply to her life. Its then that Sarah decides to seek something more personalized, guidance from a therapist. She searches for the right professional, but is confused by all the terminology. Should she look for online counseling, TeleTherapy, TeleMentalHealth, Text-Therapy, or E-Counseling? What even is online-therapy she wonders?

What Is Online Therapy?

While Sarah may be a hypothetical person, her situation is common. As technology becomes more intertwined in daily living, the use of technology to access health care is growing at a rapid pace. It can be confusing to hear the various terminology used to describe this concept. Online therapy aka TeleMentalHealth, can be defined as the use of technology to provide therapeutic services. It is a medium for the delivery of health-care services rather than a separate field.

"Accessed from an environment where the client feels most comfortable"

How Online Therapy Works:

Online therapy is the same as the traditional in-office model in most ways. It starts first with clinical competence, as it continues to require a trained and licensed counselor to provide all services. Confidentiality and privacy are also maintained, as most states legally require counselors providing remote services to use HIPPA compliant and encrypted software.

The main difference is that online-therapy includes an added specialty of offering services at a distance. This means treatment can be accessed from an environment where the client feels most comfortable. For example, many people choose to have therapeutic support at their own home. Not having to drive to the therapist’s office also creates increased accessibility for those who have busy schedules, live in rural areas, have limited mental health options in their community, or have a physical handicap.

"Online therapy has been around for the last 50 years"

Modes of Service:

One reason why there are multiple terms describing online-therapy is because it can be accessed by many different modes. People throughout the world are now able to access therapeutic support through email, video conferencing, online chat, or text messaging. Additionally, all these services are now accessible on a client’s desktop, laptop, tablet, or smart phone. With so many modes to access support, it can be difficult to decide which mode is right for you. According to current research, the most effective mode is video-conferencing. This includes face-to-face interaction and is synchronous (in real-time, with no delay in conversation). Insurance companies also prefer synchronous methods and most will now will cover the cost of online therapy.

"Online therapy is as effective as traditional in-office therapy"

Online Therapy Research:

It may come as a surprise to learn that online therapy has actually been around for the last 50 years. In the past it was primarily only used in university and hospital settings. Only in the last 5 years has the technology become more affordable and internet more accessible, so that online therapy can now be enjoyed by almost anyone in the world! In the last 15 years there has been a surge of research articles and empirical studies on the effectiveness of technology as a means for therapeutic treatment. These studies have been consistently supporting the finding that TeleMentalHealth is equally as effective as traditional in-office therapy. Professionals have found TeleMentalHealth to be especially effective for tech-savvy populations such as individual adults, couples, families, parents, college students, and teens. Additionally studies over the last decade have determined TeleMentalHealth to be effective for both self-improvement goals and for treatment of mental health illnesses, like depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, trauma, grief, stress, and much more.

Sarah Embraces Online-therapy:

Now that Sarah has a better understanding of online therapy, she is ready to access help and enjoy the benefits of less stress in her personal and professional life. Sarah is now a part of the societal shift in the way people are receiving healthcare, with online-therapy at the forefront of that growth. It’s hard not to be amazed that people like Sarah and now most of the world have the luxury of accessing quality health care from the comfort of their homes!


Bashshur, R. L., Shannon, G. W., Bashshur, N., & Yellowlees, P. M. (2016). The empirical evidence for telemedicine interventions in mental disorders. Telemedicine and e-Health, 22(2), 87-113. doi:10.1089/tmj.2015.0206.

·University of Zurich. (2013, July 30). Psychotherapy via internet as good as if not better than face-to-face consultations. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 3, 2019 from

Baker, D. C., & Bufka, L. F. (2011). Preparing for the telehealth world: Navigating legal, regulatory, reimbursement, and ethical issues in an electronic age. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice , 42 (6), 405-411.

Andersson, G., Topooco, N., Havik, O., & Nordgreen, T. (2016). Internet-supported versus face-to-face cognitive behavior therapy for depression. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 16(1), 55-60.


Laura Myers, CLC, LMFT

Psychotherapist & Life Coach

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