Medically Reviewed By: Morgan Blair, MA, LPCC, NCC
The first mainstream commercials for big-name online therapy providers sparked a debate that’s continued ever since.
Which is better – online therapy or in-person therapy?
You’ll find that mental health experts identify both pros and cons associated with both despite personal opinions. So, we’re going to lay them out for you so that you can decide for yourself with the benefit of having a complete picture.
Pros and Cons of Online Therapy vs In-Person Therapy
Pros of Online Therapy
- Accessible from anywhere with internet
- Many online therapy services are more affordable than in-person therapy
- Communication can be more frequent with live messaging that many services offer
Cons of Online Therapy
- Therapists don’t have the benefit of reading body language
- Not everyone is comfortable with the concept and may desire more personal interaction
- Insurance isn’t as widely accepted but due to the pandemic more insurances are accepting it
Pros of In-Person Therapy
- More familiarity in the therapist-patient relationship
- Many health insurance plans cover in-person sessions
- Effective treatment for more serious mental health issues
- guaranteed quiet and confidential space with no video glitches
Cons of In-Person Therapy
- Requires a commute and more significant time commitment
- It can be expensive for patients without insurance coverage
- Not an option for anyone who lives in remote locations or has mobility challenges
Who is Online Therapy Better For?
When you compare online therapy to in-person therapy, one of the first things you consider is convenience. But some people benefit more from online or teletherapy because most offer messaging formats and more frequent communication with therapists. Online therapy is also readily available, whereas an in-person therapy appointment could take a few weeks or more to secure.
Beyond scheduled online therapy sessions
Online therapy isn’t just the contrast of speaking to a counselor or practitioner remotely – it’s a different treatment plan. Instead of relying solely on formal sessions, online therapy patients benefit from self-guided materials and messaging, offering consistency.
While online therapy programs differ, many plans allow clients to chat in various ways with their therapists a few times a week, or even daily if needed. It’s a unique approach that’s successful for many clients who need continuous support or guidance.
Best Online Therapy Providers:
Who is In-Person Therapy Better For?
In-person therapy is more than talking to someone in the same room. Just as there are different methods of online treatment, there are even more possibilities with face-to-face sessions.
The first thing that experts agree on is that in-person therapy is recommended for anyone with more serious mental health concerns. Different safety protocols have to be established at the beginning of a prescribing psychiatric session to ensure ethical and adequate care.
But some people are just better suited for in-person therapy. They prefer that personal connection or just the formality of a scheduled appointment and in-office session.
Therapeutic methods not available online
Other candidates for in-person therapy vs. online participate in interactive therapies, such as play, expressive arts, or animal-assisted. These sessions go beyond simple back and forth questions and answers, requiring the provider and patient to be in the same space.
Best In-Person Therapy Providers
The best in-person therapist for you is, first and foremost, location-based. You’ll need to be comfortable with the commute, especially if you’re planning on regular sessions. But there are other considerations like specialty, insurance, personality, and counseling style.
Fortunately, you don’t have to devote too much time starting at square one if you’re looking for the best in-person therapy providers in your area. We’ve got an entire page (How to Find a Therapist Near Me) dedicated to some helpful tips to narrow the search.
What Works Better – Virtual Therapy or In-Person Therapy?
If you’re assessing whether online therapy or in-person therapy is best for you, then are a few personal considerations. Keep in mind that you’re attempting to make your life easier and more manageable. So, transportation, the level of care and attention you require, insurance coverage, and your comfort level with technology should play into your decision-making process.
But, if you have concerns over the effectiveness of online therapy vs. in-person therapy, then you’ll be interested in the comparison studies regarding telehealth and in-person care. Results have shown a near-identical patient satisfaction rate.
Client needs are similar when telehealth crosses over into teletherapy. If you’re comfortable with web-based medical care, it’s easy to have that same confidence level in online therapy.
Again, keep in mind, though, that for more severe mental health concerns, you’re best to start with an in-person psychiatrist or discuss online therapy options with your physician.
Is Online Therapy More Expensive than In-Person Therapy?
Anyone who’s looked into traditional therapy has probably experienced sticker shock. A single session can be as much as $200 or $300. Insurance benefits vary depending on the plan. But, for the most part, they’re going to cover a limited number of sessions. That’s why so many people have been asking if online treatment is more expensive than in-person therapy.
Removing the overhead
The simple answer is that online therapy is less expensive. Without the cost of maintaining an office and dedicated staff, teletherapy can run about half or even less than in-office sessions.
It’s not entirely a one-to-one comparison, though, as online therapy has a few advantages, or add-ons, that offer even more value.
- Communication beyond dedicated therapy sessions (text or other messaging systems)
- Materials hosted on the website for reference and self-guidance
- Monthly or weekly pricing that covers the entire treatment plan
Just like in-person therapy, online services vary in both format and pricing. But we’ve done the research and have an entire section dedicated to the top-rated online therapy providers with cost breakdowns and benefits.
Insurance coverage for online therapy vs in-person therapy
If you haven’t looked into online therapy covered by your insurance plan recently, you might be surprised to find out some teletherapy providers now accept health insurance.
It’s not as prevalent as in-person therapy, though. In some cases, clients are better off sticking to cash-pay with web-based services. Online treatment is typically more cost-effective, anyway. So, when you factor in your deductible and percentage of covered expenses, you might come out ahead by setting your insurance company aside.
Final Thoughts on Online vs In-Person Therapy
There are pros and cons to both online therapy and in-person therapy, depending on the client or patient. Overall, though, they’ve both proven to be effective methods of mental health care. So, ultimately, your choice of method depends on your health plan or budget, accessibility, level of treatment needed, and personal preference.