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What is the Difference Between Teletherapy and Traditional Counseling?

This comparison of online therapy and in-person therapy can help you make the right choice for you. Together, you and your counselor can build a path to recovery.

At its core, counseling is about a trusting relationship. A therapist begins by creating a safe, private environment for you. Where and how that environment is created is the difference between teletherapy and traditional counseling.

Some people feel more comfortable with traditional counseling, held in a private room (usually an office setting) with a live person. Being present with another person in a place outside your normal environment can feel more safe and real.

Others may prefer online therapy, also known as teletherapy. Teletherapy sessions happen over the internet using video, voice, email or text messages. The computer screen can feel like a layer of protection. This barrier can help a person feel safer as they get to know their counselor. Some people may feel more comfortable inside their own home than an office.

Once trust starts to build, it matters less whether it is in-person or online. Your preference may depend more on convenience, cost and finding a good match. Both in-person and teletherapy can be equally beneficial for your mental health and help you develop a deep connection with your counselor. Together, you and your counselor can build a path to recovery.

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Online Therapy vs. In-Person Therapy

Both online and in-person therapy have merits and drawbacks. Neither one is perfect; you may prefer one over the other. In the end, it matters most that you find treatment you can stick with. This comparison of online therapy and in-person therapy can help you make the right choice for you.

Online Therapy

Consider online therapy if these benefits sound appealing or meet your needs:

  • Choose a counselor based on your needs instead of your location. If you’re looking for a specialist, teletherapy can provide more choices without extra travel costs. It allows you to find a counselor that you truly connect with, not just the one that’s closest to your physical location.
  • Teletherapy services may offer more ways to connect. Some platforms allow people to send messages directly to their counselor, including voice, video or text messages.
  • Online therapy makes it easier to keep going. Anything that makes therapy harder might spur you to cancel. You can avoid potential barriers like transportation problems or scheduling conflicts and receive treatment in the comfort of your home.

Online therapy does have drawbacks that you may need to consider:

  • High-quality teletherapy depends on reliable internet service. If your connection is unreliable, video therapy and video counseling can be interrupted or cut short.
  • Teletherapy may feel sterile and less connected. Some people don’t respond as well to therapy if they are in a room by themselves. Also, a counselor can miss out on small facial expressions and body language if they are using text messages or voice alone.
  • Your counselor is farther away in a crisis. If you have a health emergency or panic attack in your counselor’s office, they are right there to help. With teletherapy, a counselor can call for emergency help but will not physically be with you.

In-Person Therapy

In-person therapy, a traditional counseling option, can offer different benefits:

  • In-person counseling can feel more real and personal. If you crave that direct connection and are not used to video chatting with others, then in-person counseling might be a good fit.
  • It’s harder to hide your body language in an in-person counseling session. Your counselor can catch your nonverbal communication more easily and use those cues to help guide the session.
  • Going in person to therapy can feel more intentional. Making an effort to go can help your treatment feel more significant. Your therapist’s office can become a physical safe space unlike any other in your life.

If you decide to start in-person therapy, keep these obstacles in mind:

  • Costs can add up for in-person appointments. Session fees and travel costs can be an obstacle to get the professional help you need. Online therapy can be cheaper in many cases.
  • In-person therapy can be less convenient. The time commitment of traveling and attending may take a lot out of your schedule.
  • Local therapists may not meet your mental health needs. If you live in a rural area or a smaller city, you may have fewer choices and longer wait times for an appointment.
  • To decide which is right for you, think about how the pros and cons may affect your decision to stay in therapy long-term. In either choice, committing to therapy is better than leaving early or not going at all.

Online or Face-to-Face Therapy for Substance Abuse?

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, consider looking into some type of counseling therapy. When considering online counseling vs. face-to-face therapy, both have their benefits and drawbacks. Having multiple options makes it easier than ever to start counseling for a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health conditions.

Learn more about online counseling services on The Recovery Village Telehealth app, or contact us today to find in-person treatment options that can start you on the path to recovery.

Wagnera, Birgit; Horn, Andrea B; Maercker, Andreas. “Internet-based versus face-to-face cognitive-behavioral intervention for depression: A randomized controlled non-inferiority trial.” Journal of Affective Disorders, January 2014. Accessed March 28, 2020.

Dowell, N. M., & Berman, J. S. “Therapist Nonverbal Behavior and Perceptions of Empathy, Alliance, and Treatment Credibility.” Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 2013. Accessed March 28, 2020.

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