In-person vs. virtual therapy: What’s the same and what’s different?
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In-person vs. virtual therapy: What’s the same and what’s different?

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Virtual therapy, also known as teletherapy or online therapy, has become increasingly popular as more people turn online for mental health support, especially in the wake of pandemic-related health concerns. Clients often choose virtual therapy because of its similarities to in-person therapy. In fact, a study showed that the quality of virtual therapy compares to the results of in-person therapy. 

However, virtual therapy may benefit some clients more than others. Understanding the differences between virtual and in-person therapy can help you make an informed decision when seeking therapy — whether you are looking for a more convenient and flexible option or prefer the personal connection of in-person therapy.

What’s the difference between in-person vs. virtual therapy? 

Since an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected and can affect overall well-being, behavioral health therapy focuses on getting to the root of emotional or mental health concerns. Behavioral health therapy typically involves working with a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor, to identify patterns of behavior that may be contributing to mental health issues and to develop strategies to change them.

The primary difference between in-person and virtual therapy is the mode of delivery. In-person therapy is delivered face-to-face in a physical setting, such as a therapist’s office, while virtual therapy is delivered online using videoconferencing, phone calls or messaging. Unlike in-person therapy, virtual therapy does not require the client to travel to meet appointments.

What do in-person and virtual therapy have in common? 

While in-person and virtual therapy differ in format, they have several common elements. Both in-person and virtual therapy can involve:

  • Identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors for clients across age groups.
  • Setting goals of achieving improved mental health and well-being and working toward them, with the therapist providing guidance and support along the way.
  • Applying evidence-based methods that have been found to be effective in treating a range of mental health conditions and experiences, such as depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and others.
  • Requiring a client’s active participation in the therapy process via regular follow-up sessions.
  • Confidential services that provide a safe and secure space for clients to discuss sensitive issues.

What are the benefits and disadvantages of virtual therapy? 

Clients may choose virtual therapy vs. in-person therapy because of its flexibility. Some benefits of virtual therapy include:

  • Accessibility — Virtual therapy eliminates the need for individuals to travel to an office for treatment, making it more accessible for those who live in remote areas, have mobility issues, or have difficulty taking time off from work or other responsibilities.
  • Privacy — With virtual therapy, a client can get care in the privacy of their own home, without the need to go out in public. When attending a therapy session in the safety of their home, clients may feel safer, more emotionally vulnerable and less stressed.
  • Affordability — Virtual therapy can be less expensive than in-person therapy, as it eliminates the need for transportation costs and can be covered by insurance.

Meanwhile, virtual therapy can have some drawbacks, depending on the priorities, expectations and needs of a client. Virtual therapy may involve the following disadvantages: 

  • Data concerns — Some clients may be concerned about the security and privacy of their personal information when using virtual therapy, particularly if other people share their network. However, most providers use secure and encrypted platforms to protect client data.
  • Technical difficulties — Virtual therapy sessions may be disrupted by technical difficulties such as internet connectivity issues, which can impede the therapy process. Slow networks, low-quality video and chat delays can make it feel like it’s more difficult to make progress during sessions.
  • Difficulty building relationships — Depending on the frequency and mode of virtual therapy, it can be difficult for clients to form a trusting relationship with their therapist. Body language, facial expressions and vocal cues can be difficult to discern over a video platform, making communication more challenging for clients who depend on those cues to open up and develop relationships.

Who would benefit from virtual therapy? 

Many people may benefit from virtual therapy, including those who: 

  • Live in a remote area and have limited access to in-person therapy.
  • Have mobility issues that make it difficult to attend in-person therapy sessions.
  • Have busy schedules or are unable to take time off work to attend in-person therapy sessions.
  • Are self-conscious about being seen in a therapist’s office or have a fear of stigmatization regarding seeking therapy in person.

It’s important to note that, in cases of mental health crises, in-person therapy may be necessary. If you choose to work with a virtual therapist, they can help guide you through a decision to move in-person if the need arises.

Lightfully can offer both in-person and virtual therapy options that work for you

Are you unsure whether to pursue in-person or virtual therapy? Our team of expert clinicians at Lightfully knows that everyone’s situation is different. That’s why we offer unique mental health treatment plans that treat you as a whole person. Your needs may involve many different service levels (or a mix of them), including both in-person and virtual options. Your treatment plan may include:

  • Residential treatment.
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) (also called our Day Treatment programs).
  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP).
  • Virtual services.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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