The Digital Shift: How Effective is Virtual Therapy?

office used for virtual therapy

“In February of 2020, before COVID-19 really hit our country, telepsychiatry was beginning to be widely available but only sporadically adopted,” says Dr. Jay Shore, a professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Telepsychiatry Committee. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, with the internet fully entrenched and two-way video platforms coming online that the telehealth gained any traction. Even then though, it was used in a limited way. A study in the United States found that before the COVID-19 pandemic, psychologists were hesitant to use telehealth owing to lack of training, concerns for client safety, and privacy, among other concerns

Why COVID-19 Pandemic lead to the increase of Virtual Therapy

The increase in relational teletherapy (teletherapy with couples and families) has been particularly important given increased risks for distress, anxiety, grief/loss, substance abuse, and family violence in children and adults during the pandemic. While online therapy may not be the right fit for everyone, it can make it easier for some people to access help for anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

Does Virtual Therapy Work?

There are multiple studies that suggest online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for certain issues. Pro’s for online therapy are that sessions are in the convenience and comfort of a home or any location with internet access, may provide access to providers with specific specialties who may not be local or accessible in person, and allows for more flexible scheduling, which can be especially helpful for couples or family therapy when accommodating multiple people’s schedules. Con’s of online therapy are that some platforms use location-based pricing, and prices may be higher in certain states, technical difficulties or unstable internet can interrupt therapy sessions, and it may not be suitable for people more comfortable with in-person communication since it may take longer to build a relationship with their therapist online.

The research hasn’t yet shown that stand-alone therapy online or via texting is effective for everyone in every situation. Online therapy may be offered as a standalone treatment. It can also be used along with the traditional therapeutic relationship. Online therapy may be a good choice for people who live far from mental health resources. Those who have busy schedules or difficulty leaving home can also benefit from this form of mental health care.

Who is not a good candidate for telehealth?

There are situations where telehealth is not recommended. For example, people with severe psychological or emotional issues may not always do well with this type of treatment. People with schizophrenia, severe depression, bipolar, or suicidal thoughts may get more from traditional therapy. Individuals with these and other issues may need intensive care.

Others who may not benefit from online therapy are those who are uncomfortable with technology. People with little privacy at home, those who wish not to share personal matters over the internet or phone, and individuals living in abusive situations may also prefer to see a mental health professional in person.

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  1. Barak, Azy, et al. (2008). A comprehensive review and a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of internet-based psychotherapeutic interventions. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 26.2-4: 109-160.
  2. Golberstein E, Wen H, Miller B. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Mental Health for Children and Adolescents. JAMA Pediatr. 2020 Sep 01;174(9):819–820. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.1456. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.1456.2764730
  3. Heather G. Belanger and Mirène Winsberg. Do older adults benefit from telepsychiatric care: Comparison to younger adults. Frontiers in Psychiatry. Aug. 22, 2022.Found on the internet at
  4. Pierce BS, Perrin PB, McDonald SD. Pre-COVID-19 deterrents to practicing with videoconferencing telepsychology among psychologists who didn’t. Psychol Serv. 2020 Nov 30;:157–66. doi: 10.1037/ser0000435.2020-87907-001

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