In-Person vs. Online Therapy: Which is Best For Me?

woman on her computer joining an online session in her bedroom.

Have you been thinking about therapy lately? It wouldn’t surprise me if you had. The incidents we have seen in our lifetimes combined with a year and a half of uncertainty and a recent series of major global events have many of us reflecting, ruminating, and worrying. You might feel blindsided by the chaos and destruction of the last couple of years, or you may feel that they were the final straw. You might be somewhere in between. No matter what
the mental or emotional state you find yourself in, there is no time too soon to seek the assistance of a mental health professional if you feel that it would benefit you.

While it has become more and more common for people to attend therapy, you may find yourself resisting. Perhaps you don’t know where to start; you’ve never done therapy before and wonder how it will feel, whether you choose to attend in-person or online. Maybe you have done therapy before in-person, and now you’re mostly finding therapists offering services online.

Perhaps you can’t help but compare the idea of logging on to your computer to a good experience you had in someone’s office and wonder if you will get the same benefits remotely. It makes sense that you might find yourself deliberating which situation might work best for you. What is important is that you don’t let your own back-and-forth delay your access to the care you really need.

Why shouldn’t you delay therapy?

Like any positive change, the sooner you begin, the sooner you begin to reap the rewards. That’s not to say that therapy will magically fix all your problems or that you’ll feel a hundred times better the instant you walk in the door. But the act of prioritizing yourself and your mental health can alleviate stress all on its own. There are several benefits of therapy, including a safe and supervised place to unpack issues, fears, pain, and trauma; an act that keeps you accountable to yourself to check in on your wellness; showing yourself love and care by investing in time for yourself; and many more.

woman sitting alone in her house, looking out the window, feeling sad and lonely.

Often, both a side effect and symptom of mental health struggles is that they make us feel alone. Having a designated person to talk to can really help you to reduce the feelings of isolation that can make mental health struggles feel so much worse. The sooner you begin opening up to someone, the sooner you feel supported and connected. Sometimes, all it takes is having one person see and acknowledge you to make you feel so much stronger. This is a benefit of therapy that can begin instantly and sometimes change your whole life.

Even knowing the benefits, you may still find yourself resisting the process of attending therapy, and you may not be exactly sure why.

What is holding you back?

1. The new format:

woman in her living room on her laptop joining an online therapy session.

Let’s face it, a lot of therapy moved online a year and a half ago. For those who have attended therapy before, this changes the situation from one that is familiar in some way to a whole new ballgame. To those who have only ever seen therapy modeled in film and television, this means that the format will be unlike any existing reference point.
The completely unknown and unfamiliar can be extra intimidating.

The idea that therapy didn’t make a big move to online services until physical distancing was implemented may cause some to wonder if doing so was a slightly better option than just closing up shop. It is normal to wonder if one type of therapy is more effective than the other; many people think, “Does online therapy even work?” In actuality, many businesses moved online that we wouldn’t have previously thought might and are experiencing results that are as good or even better than before. The idea of remote work is very new to our societal consciousness; therapy being offered in-person in the past doesn’t so much indicate that that was the only way to do it so much as that was the business model of our culture across the board. Some people may prefer to attend therapy in person, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work any other way.

In fact, some people are enjoying being able to wear their pajamas, drink tea from their favorite mug, and sit in their favorite chair during online therapy sessions. Many people have smartphones with video chat capabilities; you could attend therapy in a quiet area of your local park if you felt comfortable having your conversation out in public. You could have a session in your car while you’re waiting to pick your kids up from school. The capability to take your
appointment with you opens up the possibilities of fitting therapy into your schedule.

2. The cost of therapy:

You might be delaying therapy because of its cost, regardless of whether it’s in-person or online. You might not be sure if your insurance even covers therapy, whether in-person or online. Contacting your insurance company to clarify may simplify this process for you. Depending on where you work or how your industry is governed, there may also be access to some free or reduced-cost therapy that is a benefit of your or your employer’s dues. It is always worth investigating how your employer may be able to facilitate your access to mental healthcare.

Another bonus of therapy moving online is that this opens up your options for choosing your provider. You may be able to “shop around” outside your neighborhood if you need to. You may also find that there are more affordable appointments offered by those who are based online, even if they are local to you. Those who are solely practicing from a home office may pass along some of their overhead savings (rent on office space, tea, and coffee, boxes of tissue, the list is endless) to their clients or hold some spots per week of reduced-cost treatment as a way to give
back to the community.

How much less productive are you throughout the day when you’ve had a bad sleep; does that impact your trajectory in your career? How much money do you spend having adjustments or massages because your body hurts from being stressed all the time? You may find, when you think about your daily life, that you are spending money treating the symptoms of the issues, you could talk about it in therapy.

You may ultimately also look at the cost of not getting help and decide that you need to prioritize your inner peace, regardless of the price tag. How much sleep is your anxiety costing you? How much joy?’ After some deliberation, you might decide that you want to pursue therapy and are weighing your options. You may be thinking, “In-person vs. online therapy: which is best for me?” Luckily, a good fit with a therapist will benefit you regardless of the context, but there are some things to consider to facilitate the most positive experience possible.

Things to consider when you are deciding between in-person and online therapy:

1. What’s the safest thing to do?

a black woman wearing a mask when outside during the pandemic.

First and foremost, it is important to always evaluate the safety of you, your therapist, and your community when deciding to meet in person. We are pretty used to weighing the pros and cons by now, and therapy is no exception.
You may ask yourself if it is safe to meet in person. The answer to this question can and will always change based on health information in your area. It is crucial to not just make decisions based on fear, but based on goals and boundaries. For example, you may fear that going to online therapy will “regress” you, but if it is the safest thing to do, it is the best choice. For someone else, meeting online may not meet his/her/their needs, and meeting in person can be deemed safe enough, or the risk can be measured as low enough for that person to opt-out of online sessions.
Every individual circumstance is different, so it is best, as always, to choose what works best for you. Your particular needs, your position in your workplace, family, and/or community, and the communication, trust, and agreements you have in place with your therapist will help you make this call.

When we think about comparing safety situations in the context of the pandemic, we may think solely about the risk of leaving our homes and being exposed to COVID-19. We mustn’t forget that at-home therapy can be unsafe depending on who we share our space with. If you are in a situation where your therapy sessions may be intruded upon or listened to, online therapy may not work out as well for you as in-person. If there is a risk of harm if something is overheard, that should be considered when making your choice.

2. What are your goals for therapy?

For therapy to be effective, it needs to be tailored to your individual needs and goals. In our Los Angeles-based practice, during the first two to three sessions, we go through the intake process. This should be standard practice. During this, your therapist will gather all the necessary information to create a strong treatment plan for you. This
comprehensive intake evaluation will help you and your therapist discuss the underlying factors that get in the way of reaching your fullest potential. Then, we will explore other components that may influence your treatment plan. This process is necessary to tailor a successful treatment plan for your individual needs.

If you seek treatment for OCD, you might find out that virtual therapy helps you practice some of your Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) activities at your home where you are engaging in your OCD rituals the most. But this doesn’t mean online therapy is best for everyone. For example, if you are a couple with two young children who go in and out of your room during the session and need supervision, you might find out that the session gets interrupted too frequently to the point that it is ineffective. In these instances, getting the help of extended family members
or a babysitter whom you trust is necessary for you and your partner to have an in-person couple’s therapy to improve your relationship. The space in which you attend therapy should suit your needs so that you get the most out of your sessions.

3. You can always change your treatment setting:

There is no rule that says that you are married to the setting you first choose. Whether you start out in-person or online, you can always alter your therapy approach as long as your therapist continues to offer both forms of therapy.
You may think that attending in person will be best for you and then realize that navigating your way to appointments is not working for you. Or, you may feel that you would prefer to be seen from the comfort of
your own home and then realize that you’d rather meet in a “neutral” emotional space. The most important thing is that you start therapy. Most therapists, if not all, offer a free 20-minute consultation. You will have the opportunity to elaborate on the recent experiences that you wish to address with an anxiety therapist. Then, you will learn more about the practice’s approach to therapy and cost.

In these times, it would appear that we are headed toward several more months of COVID measures. You may be feeling fatigued from having to adjust your expectations due to the pandemic. Perhaps you want to attend therapy in person and have been waiting it out, hoping to be able to feel safe (however that looks for you) doing so. In the last year and a half, we have had to do a lot of shifting and managing plans, and it takes a toll on how we feel about our
power and freedom. If you are in need of therapy, it is better to take it on than to continue to wait, even if that means that it can’t look exactly how you wanted it to. At the very least, give it a try with an open and curious mindset. The very act of reaching out for help and claiming time for self-care is beneficial. However it looks, it will make a difference in how you live your life, how you feel about yourself, and how you meet the future.

Embracing You Therapy Group Practice

Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.

At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije and Cindy Sayani, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns include Anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression or anxiety, and Addiction.

Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress, and then let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.

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20501 Ventura Blvd., #395
Woodland Hills, CA 91364

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