Mental Health Awareness

Will online services replace in-person mental health care?


Virtual healthcare is a major success story of our times. The use of this technology via video or even text messaging to deliver health services, independent of location and time, is gaining tremendous traction year after year.

Telemedicine can be considered to be the modern alternative to absentia care. It has developed a telling response to tackle rising healthcare costs, an acute shortage of physicians, and an aging population.

While overall virtual healthcare has made significant strides over the last decade, mental health treatments have somewhat lagged behind for understandable reasons. No other health-related issue requires as much personal attention and an actual connection with your physician, which poses real challenges in the virtual environment.

Virtual therapy and artificial intelligence

Telemedicine can evolve still further with artificial intelligence applications. The adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in different health sectors is gaining prominence and online therapy services are starting to pop up here and there as well.

Another progression from normal face-to-face contact is the development of virtual assistants. These applications powered by AI can remotely assess the patient’s symptoms and alert healthcare professionals when intervention is required.

This not only reduces the visits to the hospital, but it also reduces the burden on healthcare professionals. These virtual assistants can also tackle non-compliant patients and engage the willing ones with reminders and alerts to take timely action.

Pros of online therapy

There are many benefits of online therapy:

  • A good option for remote areas
  • Accessible for those with physical limitations
  • Convenient and more affordable than in-person care
  • Treatment can be more approachable
  • Patients have access to a wider range of mental health professionals
  • Ability to schedule more sessions
  • You have control over your environment which makes using virtual therapy comfortable
  • Free to schedule a session on your own terms

Downsides of online therapy

While online therapy is potentially helpful for some, it does come with some disadvantages and attached risks:

  • Insurance companies may not cover it
  • Some states do not allow providers from other states
  • Has privacy and unreliable technology issues
  • Shoes lack of response in a crisis situation
  • Not found appropriate for those with serious illness
  • Overlooks body language
  • Ethical and legal concerns are difficult to enforce

Will virtual therapy replace in-person counseling?

Remote therapy slowly became a part of our new normal, especially after the pandemic highlighted the need of addressing mental health issues through virtual counseling.

It was soon touted as a hassle-free, flexible and less time and money-consuming method of availing healthcare as compared to in-person treatment or even replacing it . How much of this is true?

There is no doubt that the comfort and convenience of getting an appointment with a therapist online, from the privacy of one’s home, is an immense benefit for the user.

For those who are using therapy for the first time, virtual therapy is seen as a giant step forward toward seeking help. Online counseling, further bridged the gap between therapists, counselors, mental health professionals, and patients.

That said, many are of the view that virtual therapy cannot really replace in-person therapy as it comes with many of its own loopholes.

Two major concerns are the concealment of privacy and erratic technology. Since all personal health data is available online it is prone to fraud. Online is also not the best option to nurture a new patient-therapist relationship.

Further, patients with grave mental concerns or addiction are likely to require more treatment than what digital technology has to offer, as these acute things are often missed during online therapy.

The most pressing concern for the online therapy industry is the lack of regulation. Behind a relatively new field, it still relies too heavily on the goodwill of corporations to find the right balance between the client’s well-being and their bottom line. This often leads to overly aggressive and even predatory marketing schemes, as well as overprescribing of medication.

Effectiveness of online therapy

The efficacy of online therapy can vary depending on the type of therapy used and the issue which is being treated. For example, online CBT is just as effective as in-person interaction in treating cases of moderate depression.

Online therapy may be a newer form of therapy but current evidence suggests that for most people it can be just as effective as face-to-face intervention. Moreover, talking from a secure place makes it easier for the patient to open up more about their problems.

Limitations of online therapy

Online therapy also has its limitations:

  • Online therapy usually lasts longer than CBT, sometimes lasting for several years
  • The stigma attached with talking about past problems and history can further delay the progress
  • Therapy sessions are unstructured resulting in discussing things that are irrelevant to immediately address the patient’s symptoms
  • A crisis situation may not be easily and effectively addressed
  • Lack of awareness, social stigma, limited access, and cost are four obstacles that stand in the way of people pursuing mental health treatment

Who can benefit most from it?

Almost anyone can enjoy the benefits of online therapy, irrespective of whether you wish to set life goals or establish a healthy relationship.

Ultimately, how well this mode of treatment works for you depends on the level of connection you can establish with your therapist, how much you can open up, and the effort you are willing to put in.

While no therapist, offline or online, can do the hard work of growth and healing for you, a good therapist can certainly make use of the technology available to assist you in gaining new insights to change your life for the better.

Future of virtual therapy

Looking ahead, artificial intelligence will have the potential to address most of the challenges faced by the healthcare industry. It is therefore critical to ensure that AI does not replace the element of human healthcare intervention.

The benefit of a typical meeting with a counselor and having a real-time conversation with them allows them to pick your body language and tone of voice, which gives them an insight into how you feel. In other words, traditional therapy is not going anywhere for some time to come.

Healthcare professionals, therefore, should be trained to work collaboratively with AI tools in order to deliver the best possible care to patients. Moreover, the application of AI in the healthcare industry, especially virtual therapy, should be conducted in a more rigorous and comprehensive manner.


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