New Patient Checklist – What to Consider Before Trying Online Therapy

Medically Reviewed By: Samantha Renner, MS, LMHC, NCC

For people who haven’t seen a therapist before, the thought of asking for help can seem daunting. The good news, though, is that getting help has become way easier thanks to the advent of online therapy. Instead of having to garner up the courage to call a doctor’s office and physically go in for an appointment, you now have the option to handle everything online from the comfort of your own home.

Man And Woman Looking at Checklist Together

And even for people who have been using therapy for a while or are more comfortable with the idea, the conveniences that come with telehealth and online therapy are hard to ignore. It takes you 30 seconds to log into an appointment instead of having to get into the car and drive to the doctor’s office. You can log in from anywhere, as long as you have a phone or internet connection.

If you’re ready to give online therapy a try, awesome! You probably have questions, though. Is online therapy right for me? What do I need to consider before giving it a try? Does it work? These questions are completely natural and are asked by many other people just like you.

In this guide, we want to walk through a checklist of all the factors you should consider before electing to give online therapy a try. The idea is to give you a healthy list of the things to think about to make a better-informed decision.

  • The Comfortability Factor
  • The Privacy of Your Own Home
  • Financial Considerations
  • Technical Considerations
  • An Existing Therapist Relationship
  • The Benefits of Online Therapy

The Comfortability Factor

The benefits of therapy come best when you’re comfortable with the process. And while you’ll never truly know if you’re comfortable with online therapy before you try it, you may be able to have a pretty good idea beforehand. We’d guess that the fact you’re here with us today shows that you are at least somewhat open and receptive to the process, which is great.

Take a few minutes and ask yourself if you’re comfortable talking to a therapist over a digital connection. Do you Skype? Facetime? Zoom? How do you feel in those situations? Remember, everything new is going to feel somewhat strange at first, so don’t discount something that could really bring you some great benefits.

The Privacy of Your Own Home

Most people like to keep what they share with their therapist private. The freedom to be open and honest is what can really help to drive results. When you go to the therapist’s office, you’re in a safe and private space with no distractions.

What does your home situation look like where you would be using online therapy? Generally, online therapy is done through video, which can be done from a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Are there places in your house where you can go and feel private enough to talk with your therapist? Is the person or issue you’re talking about someone who lives in your home? Are there places outside of your home you can go with a phone or tablet to have your sessions?

Again, the perfect scenario probably doesn’t exist, but you should have a good idea if online therapy is going to be feasible in your situation or not.

Financial Considerations

Here’s some good news. If you do have insurance, most major carriers do cover telehealth if they cover in-person visits. After the effects of COVID-19, coverage was extended for a lot of Americans to include telehealth type services. So, if you do have insurance and you do plan to use your insurance to cover the cost of your visits, check with your insurer. Give them a quick call and ask if they cover online therapy. You should be able to get a quick yes or no answer.

If you don’t have insurance, online therapy can be a great option to receive the help and treatment that you need. Because the providers don’t have to pay for things like a physical office and can see more patients, you often can see some nice savings with online therapy. Keep in mind, as well, that different providers of online therapy will have different rates based on the type of service, the doctor, and how many sessions you sign up for.

Overall, online therapy is quite affordable, especially when compared to in-person care.

Technical Considerations

If online therapy and telehealth became popular a decade ago, this would be a much bigger item on the new patient checklist for online therapy. And while most people won’t need to worry about this, we do want to make mention of it for completeness.

Make sure that you have the technical equipment needed to facilitate your video or phone sessions. Usually, a smartphone with a camera or a computer with a webcam is all that you need. And even if your camera doesn’t work, you may still be able to have sessions; your therapist just won’t be able to see you. Additionally, make sure that your internet or phone connection is strong enough to stream video. If you can watch Netflix, YouTube, or anything like that—you should be good.

And the great news is that the best online therapy companies have extensive customer service departments ready to help you get connected.

An Existing Therapist Relationship

If this is your first time getting help or you haven’t been seeing a regular therapist, you can disregard this completely. But if you’re someone who already has an existing relationship with a therapist, you do have a bit more to consider. Does your existing therapist offer telehealth services? If not, are you open to building out a new relationship with someone else?

If you are—great. If not—you may need to stick with in-person visits.

The Benefits of Online Therapy

Something big that we haven’t really talked about yet is the benefits and perks that come with online therapy. If there was no benefit, what would be the point of switching from in-person or choosing to go digital in the first place? Thankfully, there are plenty

Here are a few of the bigger benefits that come with choosing to use online therapy and telehealth services.

  • You don’t have to travel. – There’s no longer a need to drive to your therapist’s office. This is great for convenience and flexibility. Additionally, if you ever move or go on vacation, you don’t have to get a new therapist or cancel your appointments. It gives you the ability to build a relationship with a therapist that can survive geographical changes and limitations that may pop up in your future.
  • It can save you money. – Not only will you save money on the cost of traveling to and from your appointments, but online therapy may be less expensive than your current in-person options. The best online therapy companies don’t have to cover a lot of the same costs as brick and mortar operations, which gives them the ability to charge less.
  • Talk to the Same Therapist From Anywhere. – We mentioned this earlier, but it’s important to drive it home. If you ever have to move or your therapist “moves”, you don’t have to start all over again. With the exception of session limits or your therapist leaving the field you will be able to access them and get help no matter where you are.
  • It can be more comfortable. – Some people don’t like walking into a stuffy doctor’s office to talk about their feelings. The doctor can have the most comfortable couch on the planet and a forest of fake plants, but it might still make you uncomfortable. With online therapy, you get the ability to have your sessions in the comfort of your own home or someplace private that relaxes you and brings you comfort.
  • It can be just as effective. – Some new telehealth patients might worry that online therapy isn’t going to be as effective as in-person care. This is a valid concern. And while there’s limited data  specifically on traditional telehealth therapy, a recent rehab therapy study showed that patients got the same level of results, had the same level of satisfaction, and got all of this with an average of two to three fewer visits when using telehealth services. Again, it’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s hard to disagree that the benefits would be similar for traditional online therapy.

Putting It All Together

If you’ve been to therapy before, you know it’s never going to feel perfect the first time. The growth of the process comes from developing a relationship with your therapist. So, if you’re waiting for that warm and fuzzy about trying online therapy, it’s probably not going to come. That certainly doesn’t mean that it’s not the right fit for you, though!

Here are our thoughts. If a lot of the above considerations on our checklist for new online therapy patients seem favorable, give it a try. The worst that can happen is you don’t like it, and you decide to go the more traditional route. If you don’t try, though, you’ll never know if the really great benefits of online therapy could be a good fit for you and your unique needs.