The take-up of virtual therapy has been on the rise for a while now, but the impact of lockdown forced many services, including NHS, to move to virtual therapy way faster than they planned, if they ever planned it.
In my experience, virtual therapy in private psychology has been around for quite some time, but it was quite a big shift for the NHS, but there is a chance that some of it is here to stay.
So, let’s talk about the pros and cons of virtual therapy.
Flexibility in scheduling
Option for those who live remotely and/or travel is tricky and/or those who are housebound
Convenience - which may result in fewer cancellations
Saving time, money and energy from commuting to and from appointments
Generally less expensive than traditional therapy as don’t need to cover room costs. Some places may argue that as the quality of the therapy doesn't change, neither does the cost. [Also to bear in mind that during lockdown, traditional therapists would still be contracted to pay room costs despite being online and so could not lower costs].
Eliminates fears of running into known others in waiting area of therapy office
Potentially feeling more comfortable in a home setting, making it easier to be vulnerable and talk about more difficult topics
Some people find the physical distance, or use of a screen, helps people to feel more able to talk about difficult topics and removes some of the anxiety.
You can cuddle your dog/cat during the session
You may see your therapist as more of a human – you’ll see inside their house, their dog may bark etc.
If you live abroad, but want to see a therapist from your hometown, then you can do this [depending on their insurance].
If you travel with work and can’t be consistent with your appointments, this gets around it.
“Comfort of your own home” - What if your own home isn’t a place of ‘comfort’? Or even safe to have open conversations?
If you want to talk about someone you live with, this can make it tricky.
Signal or wifi issues – we all know them and hate them.
If your home is noisy or chaotic, it can make it harder to engage.
Limited privacy if you don't live alone
Harder to read body language and subtle social cues through a screen
People who struggle with technology may find it more difficult in the initial stages, but colleagues have reported that once they get it set up, they get the hang of it quickly.
Some people who are significantly unwell may need to be assessed and seen in-person.
What if you can’t afford a laptop, smart phone or phone? We know that those who live in poverty are at a significantly higher risk of mental health difficulties.
How can we get around some of these things?
You could try to time the session for when you know others you live with are out, or request they put some headphones in whilst you’re in the session.
You can also wear headphones so those around you can’t hear the full conversation.
Sit close to the router, plug straight into the router in you can, and turn off any unnecessary devices.
Use code words, different names or write things down if you can’t speak freely.
Ask a tech-savvy family/friend to show you how to do it.
During lockdown, some local councils lent out smart devices so that therapy could be continued online for those without the technology.
Therapists may check-in more with you if they can’t read your body language
Organising childcare for during your session
BUT, I want to be clear, the majority of these ideas are based on somebody who can afford it, has a support network around them to help out, a stable house, space in their brain to prioritise therapy and so many more assumptions that are based on privilege. There will be many barriers that I can’t even see in the first place in order to acknowledge due to my privilege.
Virtual therapy is not accessible for all in any sense, and cannot replace face-to-face therapy for a multitude of reasons, but it could be beneficial for some and easier to access, and if you are one of those, then maybe it is worth considering?
Virtual therapy, like face-to-face therapy has it’s pros and cons. It is not necessarily better or worse, that is up to you and what you find most helpful. Lockdown has forced many people into virtual therapy, some love it and won’t go back, others can’t way to return to consistent face-to-face therapy. It is a personal choice AND that of privilege.
According to research, there are no differences in outcomes, quality of therapy, or connection with therapist when using virtual or face-to-face therapy. It is the same evidence-based treatment, just through a screen.
Considering virtual therapy or face-to-face? My company, The Three Ps, offers both virtual and face-to-face therapy. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more. You can also see my other blog post on how to find a private therapist.