How to Transition From In-Person to Online Therapy During Coronavirus Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD
To help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends social distancing. This means that individuals are encouraged to limit unnecessary social contact.
In response, many people are changing the way they conduct business—including therapists. Meeting with a therapist might place both you and the therapist at a higher risk of catching (and spreading) the virus. In addition, any other staff members or patients you come in contact with in the waiting room may also increase the risk that the virus will be spread.
To reduce in-person contact, some therapists are starting to offer online treatment. Whether meeting via video or phone, virtual therapy appointments aren’t the same as meeting face-to-face, so it’s important to educate yourself about what to expect and how it may impact your treatment.
In-Person vs. Online Treatment
There are some big differences between online therapy and face-to-face therapy. And while online treatment can be convenient for some people—especially during the coronavirus pandemic—it does have some potential drawbacks.
Keeping the Same Therapist
If you’re already attending therapy, you may want to ask your therapist about any virtual treatment options if you’re concerned about social distancing. Your therapist, of course, may bring it up first as well.
But before agreeing to do it, it’s important to consider how your treatment may change if you aren’t meeting face-to-face.
Ask how your therapist will be providing treatment. Will you speak over the phone? Can you communicate via video chat? Can you send emails or messages?
Have a conversation about any concerns you may have. Discuss what you’ll do if you run into any obstacles while trying to conduct online therapy. You may encounter practical problems, like technical glitches, or you may discover that either your progress slows or your appointments don’t seem to be as effective.
Having a candid discussion about the obstacles you might encounter as well as how you can address issues if they arise can be very helpful. When you have a plan in place, you’ll feel more confident about your ability to make the best of online therapy.
Remember, there’s always a chance you might even like online or phone therapy better than face-to-face therapy.
After all, you’ll spend less time commuting to appointments. Your therapist may also offer more flexible hours. And you may even find that it’s easier to be more forthcoming with information when not in the same room as your therapist.
Another factor to consider if you’re going to meet online is your body language. During face-to-face treatment, you and your therapist can read one another’s body language.
This is much tougher to do during video chats, and it’s impossible to do if you’re talking over the phone. You might find it’s difficult to know how your therapist is responding if you can’t see their body language or facial gestures.
On the flipside, your therapist won’t be able to read your body language either. When you say that you’re doing “fine,” do you really mean fine? Perhaps your body language says something different. Without being in the same room, your therapist may be more likely to miss vital visual clues about your emotional state.
Not All Therapy Works Well Online
Many forms of talk therapy can work over the phone, via email, or video chat. But some types of treatment just aren’t made for virtual sessions.
Sand tray therapy and EMDR, for example, may be challenging to do virtually. So you’ll want to talk to your therapist about the type of treatment you’re receiving and whether it will still work online or over the phone.
Getting a New Therapist
Not all therapists are equipped to offer virtual appointments. Some of them may be uncomfortable conducting phone therapy. Others may not have the means to provide secure, confidential email or video chat services.
If your therapist isn’t able to provide virtual treatment, you might decide to seek treatment with a new therapist. It can be helpful to talk to your in-person therapist about this.
Ask your therapist if they think you’re a good candidate for online therapy. Individuals with serious mental illnesses or people with suicidal ideation, for example, are typically not good candidates for online therapy.
Your therapist can help you decide if virtual treatment is right for you. Discuss any mental health diagnoses or pertinent information that you’d want to share in online therapy. And review how you can continue to make progress with a new therapist while using a new form of treatment.
Do a little research to learn about the different online therapy options. Consider what type of communication you might want to use—video chats, text messaging, or phone calls. Explore prices and various online options so you can make an informed decision about which online service you think will best meet your needs.
Questions to Ask Before Treatment
Before you transition to online therapy, it’s important to ask questions about your treatment. Here are some things you may want to address:
How will I sign the paperwork? Does your therapist have a way for you to electronically sign forms, like treatment plans or consent forms?How is my information kept confidential? Any video chat service or email messaging service you use must meet specific regulations to ensure that your information is kept safe and confidential.Does my insurance cover this? Most insurance companies do not cover online treatment. So you’ll want to ask your therapist whether they accept insurance. You may also want to contact your insurance company to learn about your options.How much will it cost? Online therapy typically costs less than in-person treatment. But if you’re transitioning to online therapy with a therapist you’ve been seeing, the price may not necessarily change.What type of technology do I need? Ask about whether you’ll need to download any apps or software. Also, find out if you can video chat from mobile devices or whether you’ll need a computer.
Coronavirus Related Issues
If you’re meeting with a therapist online because you’re social distancing, you may have coronavirus-related issues to address.
Here are some examples:
How can I manage my mental health when I’ve reduced my social contact?What can I do about my anxiety surrounding the coronavirus?Now that I’m spending more time at home, what steps do I need to take to stay as mentally healthy as possible?Are there specific exercises or strategies I can use to build mental strength?How should I talk to my kids about the coronavirus?What can I do about my financial stress during this time?
A Word From Verywell
Whether you welcome online therapy as an alternative for face-to-face sessions, or it feels like a burden that will disrupt your regular routine, virtual appointments are likely to be on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic.
You might discover that online therapy or phone calls work better for you and your needs. But if you find that you still prefer in-person appointments, there is no need to worry. Once the social distancing efforts have subsided, you can return to face-to-face meetings again.