With social distancing becoming a reality across South Africa and globally, online therapy has been gaining in popularity. What can such a mode of therapy offer, in relation to traditional face-to-face therapy? And is this an effective way of therapeutic connection in these disconnected times? This article considers how online therapy works, and if it can work for you. As a counselling psychologist, I have experience providing online therapy - you can contact me for more information or to book a session.
What is Online Therapy?
Online therapy can be categorised under 'telepsychology', which is psychology done remotely. This may include therapy conducted via email, messages, apps, telephonically or through video call. Online therapy goes by many other names, such as video call therapy or e-therapy. Often it may even be known by the platform used, like Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp therapy. Online therapy can be done exclusively where the therapist and client will only speak online, or can be in conjunction with traditional face-to-face counselling sessions.
Is Online Therapy for Me?
There are numerous reasons why a person may choose to seek online counselling, such as:
Lack of mobility
Travelling or relocation
Anxiety or phobias
Recently, with health concerns rising around COVID-19, and many countries in lockdown, online therapy has become a safe way to stay home and still receive therapeutic support. Firstly, it is important to note that while online therapy has been in use since the advent of the internet, it is still new and as such has not had the same level of usage and research as traditional forms. Counselling online can come with many benefits, but potential downsides. Ultimately, the decision to receive online therapy is best made by contacting a therapist and discussing this.
However, online therapy does have its critics. It can privilege those who have access to digital technology, further deepening the digital divide. Moreover, some debate whether online therapy may have drawbacks compared to face-to-face interaction, given what may be lost through a digital connection. What is clear, is with the growing digitisation in our globalised workplace, psychology will be pushed into new frontiers and have to find its place in an increasingly technological world.
Pros: Easy, convenient, flexible, accessible, new possibilities,
Cons: Requires digital access, privacy concerns, not suitable for an emergency, feel more distant
What is clear, is with the growing digitisation in our globalised workplace, psychology will be pushed into new frontiers and have to find its place in an increasingly technological world.
Which Platforms are Best?
This is a very tricky question, because the answer largely depends and moreover technology is constantly changing. However, I will consider some primary contenders, and address issues such as:
Easy of use and accessibility
Zoom, which has enjoyed increased usage and popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, has been recently criticised for various security concerns, with promises to increase safety on the platform. However, Zoom has many security features including password-protection and a waiting room that allow the careful user to ensure relatively privacy. Furthermore, the free version has a range of capabilities. Zoom is also very accessible, with an app available for most devices, and also accessible in a desktop browser. Joining a meeting is relatively simple but secure, with a link or ID and a password. As such, it is my choice for online therapy. Further features on Zoom include: chat, screen sharing and annotating, group calls and more - although many features, like lengthy group calls, are only accessible with a paid subscription.
Although this is mostly known as a free messaging platform, WhatsApp also allows for video calls too. As with messages, voice and video calls have end-to-end encryption, allowing for an exceptionally high level of security and protection. Rather than working like a scheduled meeting with a unique ID, WhatsApp video calls function essentially like normal calls. While having many helpful features, video calling is only available via the phone app and not on a a tablet or desktop computer with WhatsApp Web.
While FaceTime has comparably good security and is easy and free to use, it is only available to those with an Apple device, such as an iPhone, iPad or Mac. Therefore, it has limited widespread use in the therapeutic context.
Skype is a well-known platform for video calls. It offers apps that are well-supported across mobile devices, tablets and desktops. It is simple to use but lacks the same level of security as other platforms.
While not a new technology, having therapy via a voice call is an alternative option. Of course, the visual dimension is lost, which may mean detail in the communication is lost, and there may not be the same degree of connection. However, where poor connection or lack of access does not allow for a video connection, this may provide a substitute. The security will depend on the network provider and governmental regulations protecting this communication method.
What is my Approach?
I primarily work using Zoom, given its accessibility and security. Ultimately, I aim to make online therapy as similar as possible to meeting face-to-face in a therapy room. In this sense, beginning online therapy is similar to beginning therapy in general. On my side, I ensure a quiet and private space. I encourage my clients to ensure the same, and they may also like to have tissues or water with them for the session. During the current lockdown, I am only seeing clients online but will move to face-to-face therapy when restrictions are lifted. However, I do provide online therapy only, for those who would prefer this.