When Should You Turn To Online Therapy?

Mental health is every bit as precious as physical health, but many people are still hesitant to seek care.

Luckily, one common obstacle to mental health services—the burden of having to visit a brick-and-mortar location to receive care—is now easy to overcome, thanks to the rise of online therapy. Nearly four in 10 Americans (38%) have used telehealth services, and the percentage of Americans saying they would use teletherapy services increased from 49% in 2020 to 59% in 2021, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). In fact, 34% say they prefer telehealth services to in-person visits.

But is online therapy right for you? If so, how can you maximize your mental health investment and forge a path toward a healthier future? Read on to learn about which factors can help you determine how and when you should turn to online therapy.

The Truth About Online Therapy

Online therapy, or teletherapy, offers a virtual version of traditional talk therapy. For those who are comfortable sharing openly via video meeting rather than in an in-person setting, online therapy offers a multitude of conveniences and advantages. No more onerous clipboard paperwork, transportation to and from a counselor’s office, or worrying about maintaining your privacy as you sit in a waiting room until your appointment begins. Instead, online therapy offers easy access to quality care in the comfort of your own home. 

With that said, there are a few possible drawbacks. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives over the internet, and some might struggle to connect with a therapist without the help of body language or in-person social cues. 

Still, there’s tremendous demand for therapy services, yet supply is low. More than 125 million people in the U.S. live in a region with a shortage of mental health practitioners, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. Online therapy is helping fill that gap. 

When to Seek Online Therapy Services

People with serious mental illness, intellectual disabilities or a strong aversion to technology might not find teletherapy to be the best fit. But if you’re struggling with substance abuse, anxiety, depression, grief, anger or another situation that you feel diminishes your quality of life, you might find life-enhancing benefits from online therapy.

Some people may be unsure whether their concerns merit receiving care. The APA offers two guidelines that can answer whether it’s time to seek therapy: “First, is the problem distressing? And second, is it interfering with some aspect of life?”

The organization also encourages you to ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do you spend some amount of time every week thinking about the problem?
  • Is the problem embarrassing, to the point that you want to hide from others?
  • Over the past few months, has the problem reduced your quality of life?
  • Does the problem take up considerable time (e.g., more than an hour per day)?
  • Have you curtailed your work or educational ambitions because of the problem?
  • Are you rearranging your lifestyle to accommodate the problem?

Meanwhile, online therapist directory GoodTherapy suggests the following feelings are surefire signs a person could benefit from pursuing therapy:

  • Overwhelm
  • Fatigue
  • Disproportionate rage, anger or resentment
  • Agoraphobia
  • Severe anxiety or intrusive thoughts
  • Apathy
  • Hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal

It’s important to note that teletherapy isn’t just for people who are in the throes of a crisis. In fact, online therapy can be preventative in nature by equipping people with essential mental health tools and tactics needed to weather whatever storms may arise. And regardless of your concerns or reasons for seeking care, there is zero need for shame, hesitation or reservations. Every human being can benefit from some measure of therapeutic work, and there’s never a bad time to prioritize your mental health.     

Online Therapy Costs and Considerations

Before settling on a service or provider, speak with your health insurance company to see what is (and isn’t) covered in your plan.   

All Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance plans are required to provide enrollees with mental health coverage, but it’s wise to confirm your specific coverage details before booking any appointments.

Then there’s a multitude of teletherapy forums to consider. To help identify pros, cons and key features of some of the more popular platforms, Forbes Health’s list of the best online therapy providers for 2022 showcases popular options, such as:

  • LiveHealth Online
  • Talkspace
  • Cerebral
  • Amwell
  • MDLive
  • BetterHelp
  • Teladoc
  • Doctor on Demand
  • Open Path
  • eTherapyPro

These companies charge anywhere from $40 to $129 per session, and some require a membership or subscription fee. Another Forbes Health article notes that the average cost of psychotherapy in the U.S. ranges from $100 to $200 per session. 

While affordability is key and certainly a major factor to consider, the most crucial aspect of your online therapy search is receiving the care that’s right for you. Keep looking until you find a platform and therapist with whom you feel comfortable, but don’t delay or wait to see if your stressors “blow over.” At the end of the day, improving, bolstering and sustaining your mental health is vital to your overall well-being—not something to save for a rainy day.

Robby Brumberg is an editor at Forbes Health.

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