Your guide to online therapy, plus how to know if it'd help you, according to a therapist

Remember: you are not alone

Online therapy: a woman talking to a therapist about her mental health issues via her laptop
(Image credit: Marie Claire UK)

Remember: you are not alone

When you think of therapy, an in-person, face-to-face discussion with a counsellor probably springs to mind, right?

Yet stats from Ieso Digital Health has shown that 3,400 hours of therapy were delivered every week in 2020 - many of which were online, as a result of both the lockdowns and social distancing.

During what's been a turbulent few years and then some, more and more people are turning to therapy to cope with the mounting chronic stress we're all facing. Modelling from the Centre for Mental Health suggests that up to 10 million people will need new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the pandemic.

Online therapy is here to stay, so if you're wondering what exactly online therapy entails, when you may need it, and how you can benefit from it? Two experts are here to help you answer those all-important questions.

Your guide to online therapy: your need-to-knows

What is online therapy?

According to multi award-winning psychotherapist and hypnotherapist Jessica Boston, online therapy is as simple as the name suggests: therapy but online. "It is the therapeutic process of the practitioner adapted so we can see clients from their homes through Zoom or Skype," she shares.

Alex Lewis, therapist at House of Self, agrees, adding that online therapy is traditionally any mental health service provided through an online medium. "It's where a conversation with a licensed professional takes place virtually, oftentimes from the comfort of your own home."

Why has online therapy risen in popularity in recent years?

Asides from the obvious reason - that is, that most couldn't go to therapy in person thanks to the nationwide UK lockdowns - is online therapy rising in popularity for any other reasons?

"It’s convenient and it means we can continue to support people in a difficult year where many have needed help more than ever," shares Jessica.

Plus, it’s opened the doors for people who may have previously faced barriers to accessing in-person therapy, adds Alex.

"It can be quite an ordeal for people to get to face-to-face therapy, especially if they are struggling with anxiety or feeling socially avoidant," he goes on to explain. That's where online therapy comes in: it removes some of those barriers, making it easier for people to get the support they need.

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Is there any difference between IRL and online therapy?

Aside from the fact that to visit a therapist in real life, you have to physically visit their office, and to speak to a therapist online, it's as simple as logging onto a Zoom call?

Jessica doesn't think so. "Truly working with clients online and in-person is absolutely the same, and there is no difference in results unless the client has a strong and fundamental belief that it makes a difference, generally speaking, there is absolutely no difference."

Plus she shares that some apps provide the option of anonymity, which means the option of therapy is then an accessible gateway for those who are more intimidated by the concept. While you're here, read our round-up of the best mental health apps available right now.

4 benefits of online therapy

You can get continuous support

Aka, when events like, ahem, global pandemics occur, you can still attend your therapy sessions without issue. "Without online therapy, it would have been impossible to continue to support my clients last year during a seriously stressful time. It would have been a missed opportunity to support them while issues were present," Jessica stresses.

It's convenient

It takes far less effort for you to log on to a Zoom call than it does to get to an appointment across time. "Once you are familiar with your therapist's setup, they are just a click away," the psychotherapist adds.

You don't have to travel or face additional costs

Unlike face-to-face therapy, you don’t have to spend time travelling to a physical location, you also don’t face the additional cost of travel, Alex explains. "Your geographical location no longer matters, which is great because if you are in a more rural area with limited access to local services, you can now visit services across the whole country." See - accessible to all.

You'll likely feel more comfortable

Did you know? One study examining the efficacy of online therapy suggests that people are likely to feel more comfortable talking through a computer or phone screen than they are in person, Alex shares. "Due to the nature of online therapy, people will likely feel encouraged that they can access vital mental health support from the comfort of your own home."

Online therapy: how to know when to start

So, how do you know when you need therapy?

We all experience stress, anxiety, and other forms of emotional stress throughout the duration of our lives. Most of the time, we are able to bounce back and cope, and yet other times, this can feel a lot harder to manage.

"If your mental health or emotional concerns are impacting your daily life, it’s worth exploring the idea of personal therapy," Alex explains.

Jessica agrees, encouraging you not to overthink the matter. "You can identify when something is a problem if you feel like your behaviour takes over your life, consumes you, or controls you, rather than you being in control of your behaviour. A sense that your life is controlled by ‘other’ is a good indicator that you may need help," she expands.

I want to get online therapy but don't know where to start. Help

Remember this: you are not alone, and there are literally thousands of qualified experts out there waiting and willing to help you. "It’s totally normal to feel nervous about beginning your journey with therapy," Alex stresses.

His top tip? Try view therapy as a 50-minute opportunity to explore the world of ‘you’. "It’s a moment of time in your week, just for you. A place where you can offload, process and heal without fear of judgement. To be truly listened to is a really validating experience and one that has the potential to change your entire life," he adds. Now that, we can get on board with.

Online therapy resources

In response to the pandemic, House of Self created a free 27-page ‘Thought Mastery’ eBook to help people get started on learning to challenge any thoughts that might be causing distress or anxiety. Similarly, Mind has a whole list of online mental health tools, the NHS has a guide to self-help therapies and Psychology Tools has a whole heap of resources, too.

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.