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What is Teletherapy? Online Counseling FAQs

Written by: Katie Bascuas, LGPC, NCC

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Updated: March 29, 2021

What does teletherapy mean? | What is teletherapy used for? | What is the difference between telehealth and teletherapy? | Is teletherapy covered by insurance? | How much does teletherapy cost? | Online Therapy FAQs

While teletherapy was gaining in popularity before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, online counseling has become the norm for many who are seeking mental health services, and the increased demand is shedding light on teletherapy’s many advantages.

For one, distance therapy allows for greater convenience. Clicking open an app, logging onto a web platform or dialing into a therapy session on your phone takes seconds, compared to long commute times spent traveling to a therapist’s office. Because you don’t have to travel anywhere, teletherapy also provides greater flexibility, allowing you to easily book a session around other responsibilities such as work or taking care of loved ones.

Additionally, online therapy opens up a greater variety of options among providers, and it allows for greater access to mental health services, especially for those who are located in more isolated or rural areas. Take Wyoming, for example.

“We have great distances, and we’re an underserved area for therapy” says Veronica Pedersen, LCSW, a therapist with a private practice in Cheyenne. “So telehealth is an absolute necessity in Wyoming.”

For those who are new to therapy, or who find the idea of sitting in close proximity with a therapist intimidating, online therapy can also provide a sense of safety. For example, texting with or calling a therapist over the phone removes the face-to-face aspect of therapy, which can feel intense for some people, especially when talking about emotionally charged issues.

“It can be less intimidating to do teletherapy versus in-person, especially if people are a little fearful of being face-to-face with someone and trying counseling for the first time,” says Pedersen, who adds that teletherapy also provides a sense of anonymity. “You don’t have the whole factor of ‘Who’s seeing me walk into this building? Who’s seeing me park at this building? Who am I going to run into in the waiting room?’”

The increased feeling of safety that teletherapy can provide may also help some individuals to open up and let down their guard more, says Pedersen, who adds that, in that sense, teletherapy can sometimes be more effective than in-person therapy.

What does teletherapy mean?

Teletherapy is a form of therapy with a licensed professional that takes place over the phone, through calls or texting, or via video through a web- or app-based platform. A somewhat broad umbrella term, teletherapy can refer to speech and occupational therapy but generally refers to mental health therapy.

When referring to mental health services, teletherapy is similar to its in-person cousin in that clients and licensed therapists will meet at a prearranged time for a session that typically lasts up to an hour and can include a variety of techniques including talk therapy, art therapy or even group work. Teletherapy can also be provided by a number of licensed practitioners, including psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed professional counselors and licensed clinical social workers.

What is teletherapy used for?

Teletherapy is used for similar purposes as in-person therapy—to help clients work through and process life events, emotions and behavioral patterns that may be getting in the way of personal growth and greater life satisfaction. Just like in-person therapy, teletherapy can also help individuals work through a variety of life issues, including grief, anxiety, depression, addiction, infertility, divorce, trauma, or relationship issues.

Depending on your needs and preferences, you can seek out online therapists who specialize in different areas or who have earned certifications in various techniques. For example, you may be interested in working with a board certified art therapist or you might want to work with a licensed professional counselor who is trained in somatic experiencing when working through trauma-related issues.

Teletherapy is also appropriate for all ages and can be done with individuals, couples, groups and even families.

What is the difference between telehealth and teletherapy?

Telehealth refers to any kind of health-related service provided over the phone or over a digital platform. These services can include virtual office visits for primary care and specialty care appointments, which allow you to check in with your doctor, monitor prescriptions and receive necessary medical care. Telehealth can also refer to health care management tools, such as online patient portals, electronic health record systems and even health-related apps.

Teletherapy, meanwhile, specifically refers to therapy services that are delivered over the phone or over an online platform. Similar to telehealth, teletherapy is focused on wellness and prevention but it typically targets mental and behavioral health.

Is teletherapy covered by insurance?

Depending on your teletherapy provider, online therapy may or may not be covered by your insurance. If you choose a therapist in private practice, most insurance companies will list their in-network providers on their website, and you can search for someone by specialty or by location.

Not all therapists take insurance, however, and many of the online therapy platforms do not currently accept insurance either. If you decide to go out of network, you can always look for an online therapist who offers sliding scale fees that vary depending on your ability to pay for services.

How much does teletherapy cost?

Teletherapy, just like in-person therapy, can range in cost depending on a variety of factors. Most online therapists charge per session, which can range in cost from $75 to more than $300 depending on your location and depending on the therapist’s credentials and level of education. A master’s level therapist, for example, may charge less than a therapist with a doctorate.

You’ll pay less if your online therapist is covered by your insurance, and if you decide to use an online therapy platform, you might be charged a weekly or monthly fee depending on your plan. For example, one online platform charges users between $60-$90 a week depending on location and therapist availability. Some of the other platforms charge users by session, which can range from $85-$180.

Online Therapy FAQs

If you’re interested in online counseling, but haven’t tried it before, you probably have some questions. Online counseling, also known as online therapy or teletherapy, takes place through a communications platform or device. It’s a lot like face-to-face therapy, but there are some differences to understand.

Similar to in-person therapy, online therapy takes place between a client, or clients if it’s a family or group session, and a licensed therapist. Sessions typically last about an hour and may consist of a variety of formats depending on the therapist’s orientation or your preferences. For example, if you are interested in working on managing feelings of anxiety or stress, you may choose to see a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral techniques. Or if you’re seeking help regarding your relationship, you may choose a therapist who has a background in marriage and family counseling.

Because it’s virtual, though, online therapy comes with some unique advantages and differences to in-person therapy, so if you’re new to teletherapy or want to learn more, check out the answers to some common questions about online counseling below.

Is online counseling covered by insurance?

Online counseling is often covered by insurance. For example, if your regular therapist offers virtual visits, it’s likely your insurance company will cover them. But whether your insurance covers an online therapist, or if an online therapist accepts insurance depends on your teletherapy provider and your health insurance plan.

You can check with your insurance company, either online or by calling, to see which online therapists are considered in-network, which means you would be responsible for a co-pay depending on your individual insurance plan. Some online therapy platforms also take insurance, so it’s important to check with both the service and your insurance company to see if sessions are covered.

How much does online counseling cost?

Similar to in-person therapy, teletherapy can vary in cost. Most therapists charge per session, and the cost can range anywhere from $75 to more than $300 depending on your location and the therapist’s level of training.

You’ll pay less if your online therapist is covered by your insurance. If you decide to use an online therapy platform, you might be charged a weekly or monthly fee depending on your plan. For example, BetterHelp charges users between $80 to $100 a week depending on location and therapist availability. Other platforms may charge users by session, which can range from $85 to $180.

If you decide to go with an out-of-network therapist, you can always look for a provider who offers sliding scale fees that vary depending on your ability to pay for services.

Can I get free therapy or counseling?

Typically, online therapy with a trained professional will come at a price. However, you may be able to find reduced-cost services through university training clinics, which generally charge sliding scale fees and offer online therapy with student therapists who are supervised by licensed professionals. You can also look for licensed therapists who charge sliding scale fees.

If online therapy is outside of your budget, you may be able to find free online support groups through various membership groups and organizations.

Is online therapy as effective as in-person therapy?

Studies have shown that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy. For example, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found that cognitive behavioral therapy delivered via an online platform was effective for individuals seeking therapy for depression and anxiety. A more recent study from 2020 that was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that there was no significant difference between teletherapy and in-person therapy in terms of the quality of individual sessions.

Teletherapy, especially if it’s a video format, still allows you to pick up on nonverbal cues that are evident in face-to-face therapy, says Ryan Patton, LPC, who has been practicing teletherapy for almost six years. “I’ll always ask people to check in, but I can still tell if they’re depressed or anxious.”

There are, of course, times when online therapy may not be as effective. If clients are dealing with an immediate crisis, struggle with the technology, or prefer a more intimate type of counseling, face-to-face therapy might be a better fit.

What are the benefits of online therapy?

Online therapy can provide a number of benefits such as greater flexibility and privacy. Virtual therapy doesn’t require long commute times, for one, and because you simply need to answer the phone or log into an app or online platform, it can be easier to schedule therapy sessions around other commitments such as work and taking care of loved ones. Online therapy can also be done in the privacy of your own home, removing the need to go to a therapist’s office where you might run into other people.

For some clients who live in more rural areas, or when weather becomes an issue, teletherapy also allows for continuity of care.

“I had some clients who lived 45 minutes or an hour away and were driving about 40 miles for an appointment, so if we got 10 inches of snow, I would offer them teletherapy,” says Patton, who works in private practice and a rural health clinic in northwestern Pennsylvania.

With the COVID pandemic, teletherapy also offered a practical way to continue, or to begin, therapy services for many clients, Patton adds. “Because of the potential risk, especially for folks who have health conditions or due to their age, it became a very safe option.”

Are there drawbacks to online therapy?

Like anything, there can be drawbacks to online therapy. For one, not everyone has access to unlimited phone minutes or steady internet service that would allow them to reliably log into sessions. Another drawback can actually be the distance. For example, the intimacy of face-to-face therapy can feel more validating for some people who are better able to register cues such as body language and tone of voice in person.

While online therapy can provide greater privacy in the sense that it does not require you to go to an office, it can be difficult for some to find a private place in their home to have an online session. There’s also the chance that with anything taking place over the internet, there can be a security risk, which is why it’s important to vet your online therapist and make sure they are using a HIPPA-compliant system.

Featured Experts

We consulted this expert for their knowledge in online counseling.

Veronica Pedersen, LCSW
Ryan Patton, LPC

Sources

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