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  • Writer's pictureWerner Briedenhann

Does online therapy work?


Therapy couch with Wi-Fi symbol hovering above it.

The short answer is yes, online therapy does work. When the world as we knew it ended in 2020, lots of us had to change our mindset about online therapy. We had no other option than to move from facing each other on the couch to seeing each other on a screen.


As a therapist, I've unintentionally learned more about clients via online sessions. Some of the learnings became useful in our process; other times, we burst into laughter. A screen is a funny thing when it becomes a window into someone's life.


I've seen and heard how clients interact with their children, partners, and broader family when they walk into a call. Or could hear them yelling from across the house. I've met more cats, dogs, and hamsters online than I would have in person. There are interesting artworks people choose to sit in front of or some bizarre objects on a bookshelf in the corner. I've had clients do a call in a car or bathroom as they have no other private place to talk. There have been as many humorous moments as there have been difficult ones.


Then, the world stopped ending, and we got back to the usual way of doing therapy. There were some instances where clients wanted a hybrid therapy model, but most people wanted to be back on the couch. I wanted it, too. In-person sessions will always be my preferred way of therapy.


Why does online therapy work?

When I moved to Dunedin, I thought my longer-term clients would want to end therapy and find another clinical psychologist they could see in person. I was surprised and humbled that most of my clients decided to continue therapy online. The reason I learned was due to the appreciation of the relationship we built in therapy. And that's probably the biggest reason online therapy works in my practice. We build a therapeutic relationship that can carry the work that needs to be done.


Is online therapy the right for you?

Between the end of the world and now, I've had clients whom I've only ever met online. Most of the time, it works out. When it doesn't work, we talk about it and figure out what to do next. Being an online therapist is now a standard part of my practice.


A key question to ask before starting online therapy is: Can I hold my life together/do I have in-person support while I tackle my struggles with a therapist online? If the answer is no, you might need more wrap-around support than what online therapy can provide.


Sometimes, online therapy may be the only option for mental health support, like living remotely or not finding a local professional with the right skill set to help. But we have to keep in mind that, at times, online therapy will have its limitations.


And then there is the practical side: do I have a private space to talk, preferably with headphones? Am I willing to learn how to use Teams, Zoom, Skype, or other online platforms my therapist may use? If all else fails, am I okay with a video or voice call on my phone? Can I keep myself safe from harm (including self-harm) while engaging in online sessions?


Ultimately, your willingness to build a relationship with a therapist online, your openness to change and taking on a different perspective are what matters. I always say rather ask for help than suffer in silence. Because if you don't ask, the answer will always be no. If getting help means starting online therapy, go for it!




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