Teletherapy: Advantages and Disadvantages

I’ve always enjoyed noticing not just the nuances of what is said in session but also how the client shows up. Will they comfortably plop down on the couch or will they cautiously sit on the farthest corner? Will they enjoy a snack and speak openly or will they prefer to observe and listen instead? Will they be lost in conversation and not notice the time go by or will their eyes be fixed on the clock?

Therapy sessions produce dialogues that are healing and informative but there is also a whole set of communication that happens without words.

With online therapy, the entire process of greeting someone at the door, walking to the therapy room, and starting a session together is condensed down to logging onto an online session already ready to go. Instead of reading a room, we are now reading a 2-dimension rectangle with the hopes of really seeing the individual.

This change in setting had a notable impact. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Teletherapy

As a therapist, I first wondered how viable teletherapy would be to provide essential services and maintain a healthy therapist-client relationship. How would I notice a client’s body language differing from their words? How would I feel the tension or sadness in the room? How would I get to know all the aspects of an individual through just a two-dimensional screen?

I always appreciated the privilege of supporting others by sitting with them in their challenges. Whether in a hospital room, support group, or therapy session, I valued getting to physically be there with my clients. 

My goal is to ensure a client feels comfortable, seen, and valued and I worried the virtual setting would have a diminished positive effect. The moment I logged onto a session with my first virtual client, all that concern melted away. The power of human connection adapted itself in this space. I realized there were several advantages to online therapy and my clients were in fact getting better.

Here’s what I learned:

Advantages of Teletherapy:

Takes away common barriers

Studies show that since the onset of online therapy services, no-show rates have significantly decreased. When considering the interplay of the many systems that impact clients (and therapists) on a day-to-day basis, this idea becomes more and more apparent. Individuals no longer have to miss sessions due to traffic issues, transportation challenges, or even back-to-back appointments/commitments. Rather than having a plethora of potential barriers to jump through, sessions are now adaptable to a client’s needs.

Easier to build into one’s schedule

Rather than having to consider travel time and location, clients can now log onto sessions at their ideal time of day. Lunch time while WFH? First thing in the morning? Part of your unwind routine at the end of the day? Clients can log in from anywhere.

Enhanced privacy

Many clients are open about going to therapy and many others prefer to keep therapy to themselves. With teletherapy, clients don’t need to share where they’re going or where they’re coming from. They can now select a time of day where they feel the most comfort and privacy and carve that time out for their needs. 

Larger directory 

Without a limited mile radius to consider, clients can now choose from therapists within their entire state. This gives clients significantly more options to find a therapist, payment option, and therapy style that works for them.

Disadvantages of Teletherapy:

Missing in-person human contact

During times of heightened emotion – excitement from good news or tears from sad news – I wish I could be beside my clients.  While there’s still a shared experience and significant emotional support online, there are moments where I wish I could offer a tissue or lean in to nonverbally show my support.

Potential wifi challenges

Like all devices, there can be tech issues that arise. From time to time, spotty wifi will present itself in the session. While it is occasional and easy to work with, it is unpredictable and can interrupt the initial flow of the session. Gratefully, intercepting and managing these disruptions have become another art form for the therapist.

Have you utilized online or in-person therapy services? What do you wish was different? What do you appreciate most?