Online vs In-Person Counseling Therapy: Which is Best for You?
© 2021 Richard Chandler, MA, LPC, Masters in Psychotherapy, Licensed Professional Counselor
- How does online counseling therapy differ from in-person sessions?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
In March of 2020, life suddenly and dramatically changed for a great many of us, making this topic suddenly very important as many psychotherapists, including me, suddenly made the move to telephone or video-based online therapy as their primary mode of counseling.
In addition to the disruption of social distancing - there has also been acute stress from concern about loved ones or oneself becoming ill as well as severe financial stress from job and business loss for many people.
Although I had done some occasional remote counseling therapy – by phone and by video conferencing – most all my work with people took place in person, within my office. Overnight it changed exclusively to online marriage therapy and counseling for individuals.
Beginning May 19th, 2020, you have the option of in-person counseling therapy or online counseling therapy - based upon your preference. Here is how we do in-office counseling safely.
What are the Pros & Cons of Counseling Therapy at a Physical Office Vs. Online?
How does online psychotherapy differ from in-person couples counseling and work with individual clients? The first thing you might notice is you don’t have to drive anywhere to see the psychotherapist. In that sense, It is more convenient for many people. It saves driving time, fuel, and the time it takes to get ready to go.
One downside may be that you don’t have a private place within your home where you can have a confidential discussion without being within earshot of other family members. If you find yourself within that situation – as one of my recent marriage therapy clients did – you can do what you that couple did, which was to take their cell phone and go to their garage for their session. Another option could be to have your session in your car.
I have intentionally designed and furnished my counseling office to facilitate in-depth conversations. The office is comfortable, quiet, and confidential. And the therapy session won’t be interrupted as it could while doing psychotherapy from your home.
Teletherapy that is Most Like In-person Therapy Vs. Text & Email Online Counseling
Let’s differentiate between the two types of online therapy. The teletherapy that I do basically the same as in-person therapy. It only differs by meeting through a video conferencing platform rather than physically in the psychotherapist’s office.
Counseling by Text & Email is different from Online therapy that duplicates in-person Conseling
The second kind of online therapy differs considerably considerably. It is commonly offered by large national firms that have recruited therapists on a national basis.
Clients communicate with their assigned therapist by text and email. Clients have access to their therapists on an ongoing basis. Those services often charge by the week. Basically, it is psychotherapy by email and text.
Some people might initially prefer this type of online therapy. My concern is that it could work against clients learning to be more resilient rather than not overly relying upon their therapist at a moment’s notice when they are feeling low.
An advantage to in-person counseling - and the kind of online therapy that replicates in-person therapy - is its more scheduled and formal structure. I believe it is superior in helping people gain the skills and resiliency needed to graduate from their time of engaging in psychotherapy.
Resiliency has a better opportunity to grow by managing difficult life situations and relationships on one’s own until the time of the scheduled marriage therapy or individual counseling session.
Clients are less likely to become dependent on the therapist than might be the case with text and email therapy where the format itself could lead to relating with the therapist more like a parent, whose job is to prop them up “in the moment” emotionally.
VOICE INFLECTION & NON-VERBAL BODY CUES ARE MISSING FROM TEXT & EMAIL THERAPY
Another concern about text and email therapy is its quality. It is hard for me to understand how therapists can be at their professional best without a clear separation between their work time and the rest of their life.
It would be hard for me to completely switch gears into my professional mindset each time a text or email came in from a client.
A significant downside of text and email therapy is the inability to hear a client’s voice or see their facial expressions. Without that critical information, it would be easy for both the therapist and the client to misunderstand each other.
For the rest of this article, I will only be talking about the kind of online therapy that seeks to replicate an in-person therapy session. In other words, it has scheduled appointment times where clients and their marriage therapist or individual counselor can see and speak to each other.
What are the Actual Steps to Meet with Your Counselor by Online? Note: Phone Sessions Work Too!
Even though you may have concerns about having counseling therapy through your computer or smartphone, please give it a try. Our clients have found it to be convenient comfortable. Telephone therapy is also an option for you.
Depending on what teletherapy platform your counselor is using, the steps may vary, but are likely to be along the lines that they are with my clients. The steps to have a counseling therapy session with me are:
- We set the appointment time for the online counseling therapy session during our brief, no-cost phone conversation, which may be done by texting or calling. After that call, or text conversation, I will send you this link at Psychology-Today, which does not change for any subsequent sessions
- I will send you your intake form by email attachment. It only takes 10 - 15 minutes to complete. The intake form has easy-to-fill-in fields - You complete it and save it on your computer or smartphone
- Please use the Safari, Chrome or Firefox browsers. If you are already within one of those browsers, simply click this link for the Psychology-Today Teletherapy Platform
- For cell phones you may still paste the link below into one of the browsers specified above, or download the doxy.me app from your app store
- At the time of your session appointment, click the link if on your cell or within one of the specified browsers or copy and paste the link if not. Once again, here is the link for the Psychology-Today Teletherapy Platform
- When prompted, give permission to use your computer's or cell phone's audio and visual functions for the session. You will arrive in my virtual waiting room where I can see you, or both you and your spouse if doing marriage counseling
- When I am ready for you, I click “start,” and the session begins with all us being able to see and hear each other. For couples counseling you have the choice of sharing a screen or each having your own computer or cell phone. All of us will be able to see and hear each other, even if all of us are in remote locations
- Often, it takes a minute or so to adjust volumes and positioning so we can all hear and see each other easily. If there is any technical difficulty at all, I will call you, and we problem-solve the technical issues together. Sometimes, the video is OK, but the audio is not clear enough. In that case, there is a microphone icon on the video screen for us to turn off, and we use our phones as the audio
- If the technical issues are not able to be resolved quickly, we continue the session as a telephone session. And phone sessions are just fine if you are OK with not having video
- At the beginning of our session, I will send a request for you to send your completed intake form to me. (By sending it through doxy.me, it is secure and HIPAA compliant.) You will click, “Select file to share." You select the intake form file from your computer. You click “Open,” to transfer your intake file to me. I then download it onto my computer.
After everything is working clearly, the session is no different than meeting in-person.
Therapy Notes, Session Length & Credit Card Payment for Online, Including Telephone Teletherapy Counseling
I have my laptop computer for the session so that I may take brief notes. After the session concludes, I devote an additional 15 minutes to a half-hour to expand upon those short notes. Taking comprehensive notes provides me with a detailed record of what we discussed, enabling me to prepare for the next session with that client or clients. I use this same process, whether it is an online or in-person session.
Many of my in-person clients drive from as much as 100 miles each way:
- Those clients often schedule hour-and-a-half sessions to economize their driving time
- They have also tended to schedule less frequently
- An advantage for clients with online therapy is the option to do shorter sessions and perhaps have those sessions more frequently
- With no driving time whatsoever, it has made sense to have shorter and more frequent sessions for those distance drivers.
The last question my clients have had about online therapy concerns paying for their sessions:
- With online therapy, the only option is credit card payment
- Credit card payment takes very slightly longer as there is no inserting or swiping the card
- Instead, clients read the numbers to me, and I enter them directly into my credit card machine.
I hope this page has helped you to understand the advantages and disadvantages of online as compared to in-person counseling therapy. We are happy to answer your questions about online vs. in-person counseling therapy during our no-cost consultation.
Chandler Counseling & Consulting - St Cloud, MN
1204 7th St S
St Cloud, MN 56301
Our office building is just south of Tech High School and overlooks Lake George. Parking is very near our building for clients both in the back and the side of our building.
This is also the office of our business consulting service, Strategic Leadership Consultants of MN
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ENTIRE STATE OF MINNESOTA:
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