The Pros and Cons of Digital Therapy, According to an Expert
A clinical psychotherapist weighs in on the efficacy of the popular new form of therapy.
Does digital therapy work?
When you think of a therapy session, you might imagine a client lounging on a couch or chair with a therapist sitting, notebook in hand, furiously scribbling notes. The image is so ingrained in pop culture (hello, The Sopranos, Good Will Hunting) that it’s hard to believe the world of therapy has evolved to such a degree that it now includes everything from music and pets to Skype and Face-Time sessions conducted from the comfort of one’s bedroom. (Read about how your smartwatch can become your new therapist.) And while there’s no question that digital therapy is convenient, the jury’s still out on whether it’s as effective as a real-life session. Here, the pros and cons of digital therapy.
Pro: It’s accessible
Digital therapy sessions can be great for people with social anxiety who are not comfortable leaving home or afraid of being seen at their therapist’s office. For clients with limiting physical conditions, a new baby at home or an illness that makes accessing a real-life appointment difficult or even impossible, digital therapy is a great alternative.
Pro: It’s an effective baby step
Digital therapy can be an effective way to ease into therapy, and real-life sessions can be introduced once a client gets more comfortable. (Psst: Check out the mental health issues you’re most likely to get in each decade.)
Pro: It’s convenient
Digital therapy offers the convenience of seeing a therapist from the comfort of home without worrying about commuting or finding a parking space. There’s also less of a chance of therapy interfering with school or work if sessions are scheduled when it works best for clients. Those who live in remote areas with fewer mental health services can have therapy at their fingertips. (Looking for more digital therapy? Check out the best mind-soothing apps.)
Pro: It’s consistent
Skype and FaceTime allow for therapy sessions from anywhere in the world. Clients don’t have to give up appointments while they’re on vacation or business trips, and consistency is very important for the therapeutic process. (Also, check out the happiness hacks you can do on your commute to the office.)
Con: Absence of body language
One of the biggest challenges with digital therapy is the absence of nonverbal cues. Body language is a useful tool, and its absence makes it harder for a therapist to effectively evaluate a client or present-ing issue. What’s more, a lack of face-to-face interaction could increase the risk of misdiagnosis by the therapist. (Thinking about in-person therapy? Here’s how to find the right therapist for you.)
Con: There are limitations
More hands-on approaches, such as animal-assisted therapy and music and art therapy, require in-person meetings. It would be hard to reap the benefits of cuddling a therapy dog through a computer screen! (Check out the small dog breeds that are good for your health.)
Con: No control over atmosphere
Many therapists try to create a physical space that’s soothing and nurturing to make sure that their clients feel safe to share their issues. Digital therapy can lack an emotional connection without a specially designated environment. (Psst: Here are tips from therapists for dealing with anxiety.)
Con: It’s not 100 percent reliable
As we all know, technology isn’t always reliable, and phone and computer difficulties can interfere with the flow of communication or even terminate the session. In my private practice, my rates are the same whether I see clients digitally or in real life.
In my opinion, in our digital world, reserving some time for face-to-face contact is invaluable. But whether you choose to attend IRL sessions or go the digital route, making therapy a priority will have significant benefits for your mental wellness. So pat your-self on the back either way!
Lisa Brookman is a clinical psychotherapist, cofounder and codirector of the West Island Therapy and Wellness Centre in Montreal and one half of Wise Women (@wisewomencanada)
Next, check out the best light therapy lamps for managing seasonal affective disorder.