If you listen to podcasts, you may have been inundated with pitches for online therapy from providers like BetterHelp.com and Talk Space. And depending on what's going on in your life, it might sound tempting to have a therapist as close as your texting thumbs.

But how does electronic therapy compare with old-fashioned, in-office, face-to-face therapy? For professional help, The Work Wife reached out to Maggie Young, president of Southwest EAP of Little Rock, a provider of counseling services — in-person, virtual and telephonic — to employees of companies that subscribe to its employee assistant programs.

The first thing she wants you to know: "What is more important than the method is the commitment." Any delivery method can be effective if the client is committed to their goals and works with a skilled counselor. 

As a counselor herself, Young ranks the effectiveness of in-person appointments above virtual, with voice-only telephone in third place.

"The biggest pro for in-person therapy is you plan for it differently. You are disconnecting from your regular schedule," she says. Even a 10- or 15-minute drive to the therapist's office can give the client the opportunity to refocus from daily demands to the goals of therapy.

Southwest, like many other providers, offered online and telephone counseling before the pandemic began in 2020, but few clients chose those methods. Now many are choosing it even when in-person sessions are readily available.

Here are Young's pros and cons for each method:

 

In-Person

Pros:

  • The familiarity and comfort of face-to-face interaction.

  • Privacy is easy to attain behind closed doors in an office.

  • Attention is easier to give when you have blocked off time and driven to an appointment. You have had to switch gears and change your focus to the appointment.

  • Accountability is sometimes easier with in-person sessions because of the physical presence required. It is sometimes harder to miss or skip because it has to be planned for.

  • Assessment by the clinician may be more effective in person because they can read nonverbal and visual cues of body language and demeanor.

Cons:

  • Time spent traveling to and from appointments.

  • Time lost on calendar blocking for travel.

 

Online/Telephonic

Pros:

  • Convenience is a large factor with virtual options, you use less time logging on or calling than having to drive to an appointment. 

  • Comfort with virtual is becoming more common. Many clients are used to the technology after using it for work and school. 

  • Accessibility. Due to location, cost or other barriers, virtual options mean there is more access to services. 

Cons:

  • You do not have to plan ahead as much to coordinate making an appointment so it may be easier to miss.

  • Assessment by the clinician may vary due to lack of observable nonverbal behavior. This is especially true with telephonic sessions — but, still, Young says she has had great telephonic sessions with clients who have been helped tremendously.

And what about texting, which some of the big networks seem to encourage?

"Text is some people's preferred method," Young says. "Having barrier-free options, if for nothing else than to get started, is great. But you do lose factors that can be helpful if you strip it down to telephone or text."

The big networks that advertise heavily also have pros and cons, Young says. On one hand, they employ counselors who are duly licensed in the client's home state, and they offer all the conveniences of online therapy. On the other hand, they are generally subscription services, so there's a weekly fee whether you use the service or not.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness each year. Compounded by pandemic stress, it's no surprise the topic of mental health is at the forefront of households and businesses alike. For crisis counseling services and links to emotional and behavioral health resources in Arkansas, click here

 

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