Is Online Therapy Effective? Exploring the Pros and Cons of Virtual Therapy vs. In-Person Therapy

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on March 29, 2023
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Mental health services are increasingly being offered by online therapists.

But is virtual therapy as effective as in-person therapy? Is it worth the cost and convenience tradeoff?

Let’s explore the pros and cons of virtual versus in-person therapy to help you determine if online counseling is right for you. 

Please know that our general stance is in-person therapy is preferred over online therapy, and usually, costs per session are about equal. However, utilizing technology for mental health is nearly inevitable these days, and that’s where we come in.

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BetterHelp | Online Therapy for Stressed Professionals
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The Pros of Virtual Therapy 

Virtual therapy provides a great deal of convenience for mental health conditions.

  • You don’t have to worry about worrying about finding time to travel to an appointment or having a limited number of sessions due to geographical issues.
  • With virtual counseling, you can avoid long wait times, traffic, commuting expenses, and in some cases even childcare costs. While costs of sessions are about equal to online therapy, these other costs are very significant and definitely give online therapy an edge!
  • Plus, you can access quality mental health services from anywhere with an internet connection—you don’t have to be in the same room as your therapist for the mental illness! 
  • Another benefit of virtual counseling is anonymity. The internet opens up access for people who may not otherwise feel comfortable seeking traditional face-to-face counseling such as LGBTQ individuals or those living in rural areas with limited resources.
  • Plus, this form of therapy also makes it easier for those who are dealing with social anxiety or other debilitating conditions that make it difficult to leave their homes or interact with others in person. 

The Cons of Virtual Therapy 

  • One potential downside to virtual counseling is that it doesn’t provide the same level of intimacy or connection as traditional face-to-face therapy does.
  • This can be particularly true if your counselor isn’t using video conferencing software that allows you to make direct eye contact during sessions.
  • Additionally, some people find it difficult to open up when they can’t see their counselor face-to-face—or when they must focus on typing their responses instead of speaking them out loud.
  • Another potential issue is that there are still some technical barriers associated with online counseling such as poor audio quality or slow internet connections that could interfere with your ability to connect effectively with your therapist and make progress on your goals for treatment.  

However, we have debunked one common criticism of online therapy – which is the dropout rate.

Online Therapy Session Formats And Communication Methods

Online therapy session formats and communication methods refer to the various ways in which mental health treatment is delivered over the internet.

These methods may include instant messaging, emailing, video chatting, texts, phone calls, and video services.

Research has shown that online therapy can be just as effective as traditional in-person therapy for many people.

It is important to find a therapist who is experienced with online counseling and telehealth to get the most out of your sessions.

Pros Of In-Person Therapy

In-person therapy has many benefits, including the ability to read nonverbal cues that can support verbal communication, access to more treatment modalities than online therapy, and personal interaction with a therapist.

In-person therapy also allows for more intense conversations and can help those who struggle to pay attention and are easily distracted.

Additionally, it is easier to communicate due to nonverbal communication cues and tone that can be missed online.

Ultimately, the decision between in-person or online therapy depends on individual needs and preferences.

The Cons Of In-Person Therapy

In-person therapy has several cons, including lack of flexibility and convenience, difficulty finding a skilled provider, and stigma associated with treatment. Additionally, in-person therapy may not be accessible to everyone due to cost or location.

Pros Of Online Therapy

While virtual therapy and online therapy are similar, we wanted to address the question about online therapy specifically.

Online therapy offers a range of benefits, including convenience, flexibility, greater availability of therapists, the comfort of home, privacy, and security.

Meta-analysis studies have found that online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be just as effective as in-person therapy for treating mental health issues such as anxiety.

Plus, online therapy also eliminates social stigma and provides cost-effectiveness and greater resourcefulness.

Cons Of Online Therapy

Online therapy, also known as distance therapy or teletherapy, has both advantages and disadvantages.

Some of the cons include insurance companies not covering it, some states not allowing out-of-state providers, lack of nonverbal communication, and unreliable technology.

Additionally, there is a perceived reduction of connection between the client and therapist since they are not in the same room. It is important to consider these factors when deciding if online therapy is right for you.

Does Online Counseling Work?

Online counseling can be an effective form of therapy for many people.

Meta-analysis research1 has found that online therapy can be effective at treating anxiety, depression, and trauma with no difference in patient satisfaction compared to traditional in-person therapy.

However, it is important to consider the pros and cons of online therapy before deciding on whether it is right for you.

Online Therapy Vs. Face-to-Face

Online therapy and face-to-face therapy both offer mental health support, but there are some key differences between the two.

Online therapy offers the convenience of connecting with a therapist from home, while face-to-face therapy allows for more personal interaction.

Studies have found that both forms of therapy can be effective in reducing symptoms, so it is important to consider which option best suits your needs.

Online Therapy May Be As Effective

Online therapy may be just as effective as in-person therapy, according to research.

Studies have found that online therapy can be a viable option for treating mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Online therapy is often more convenient and cost-effective than traditional in-person therapy, making it an attractive option for many people.

Additionally, online therapists are often able to provide a variety of services such as video conferencing, messaging, and phone calls which can make it easier for clients to access the help they need.

However, online therapy sessions tend to be shorter, so very delicate topics like trauma are better in person.

Although research seems to indicate outcomes are the same, it’s just our experience with trauma that makes us highly skeptical of saying in-person is equal to online.

How To Find The Right Therapist

Finding the right therapist can be a difficult task. It is important to research ethical and healthy therapy options, as well as look for mental health professionals who have experience in the area you need help with.

You can start by searching online directories or asking your doctor or family members for referrals.

Additionally, you can check with your insurance provider to see if they have a directory of therapists who accept your insurance.

Once you have identified potential therapists, it is important to ask questions such as what school they attended, what type of treatment they specialize in, and what they enjoy most about counseling.

By doing this research, you will be able to find the right therapist for your needs.

Some States Don’t Allow Out-Of-State Providers

Answer: Yes, some states do not allow out-of-state providers to practice telemedicine. This is due to federal and state laws that require providers to obtain a license for every state in which they practice medicine.

However, some states have temporary licenses or telehealth-specific exceptions that allow an out-of-state provider to render services via telemedicine in a state where they are not licensed.

Is Online Therapy Effective Conclusion:

Ultimately, deciding whether online therapy is right for you depends on a variety of personal factors such as where you live and what kind of technology access you have available at home, what type of mental health condition(s) you are struggling with, how comfortable you feel discussing sensitive topics over email or chat, and whether anonymity is important for your treatment process.

It can be beneficial to speak directly with a mental health professional before making any decisions so that they can better assess your individual needs and help guide you toward the best option for care.

By weighing all these considerations carefully, you should be able to determine if virtual therapy will work best for your specific situation—or if traditional in-person counseling might be more suitable and effective in helping meet your treatment goals.

Finally, please know our team has covered similar therapy questions. For example, you may learn about therapy for anger, paying via HSA, your 1st therapy session, finding the right therapist, insurance coverage, women’s issues, ISDTP therapy, and how to talk about your feelings.

We’d love to hear from you too! Tell us what mental health software to review next on Online Mental Health Reviews. If you have stories about using a particular product or know of a discount code, please share so everyone may benefit!

Best Value-Per-Dollar
BetterHelp | Online Therapy for Stressed Professionals
$60-$90 / Week

Overall, BetterHelp conveniently provides busy professionals with various live therapy options to make it the best online therapy in terms of value per dollar.

Try 10% Off Our Review


  1. Wright, J. H., Owen, J. J., Richards, D., Eells, T. D., Richardson, T., Brown, G. K., Barrett, M., Rasku, M. A., Polser, G., & Thase, M. E. (2019, March 19). Computer-Assisted Cognitive-Behavior Therapy for Depression. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 80(2).
  2. Lippke, S., Gao, L., Keller, F. M., Becker, P., & Dahmen, A. (2021, November 3). Adherence With Online Therapy vs Face-to-Face Therapy and With Online Therapy vs Care as Usual: Secondary Analysis of Two Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 23(11), e31274.

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