Does online therapy work?


In many scenarios, online therapy is just as effective as talking to a therapist in person. For instance, research has shown that online cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders is just as effective as the same modality delivered in person.i Veterans being treated for PTSD had the same levels of improvement from both online and in-person therapy.ii Face-to-face treatment for depression is just as effective as online therapy and the continued benefits may even be better for those receiving treatment online.iii

Clients report similar levels of satisfaction and comfort with telepsychiatry, regardless of location – online or in person.iv There are countless examples of studies where the participants reported the same results regardless of whether they received treatment online or in-person.

Not only does online therapy work, but it is flexible and there are endless ways to incorporate it into your practice. Although, online therapy is effective in many situations, there are scenarios where it may not be appropriate. It is always important to determine what will work best for each client on an individual basis, just as you already do when deciding which methods to use, which referrals to make, etc.

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i Crow, S. J., Mitchell, J. E., Crosby, R. D., Swanson, S. A., Wonderlich, S., & Lancanster, K. (2009). The cost effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy for bulimia nervosa delivered via telemedicine versus face-to-face. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47(6), 451-453.

ii Acierno, R., Knapp, R., Tuerk, P., Gilmore, A. K., Lejuez, C., Ruggiero, K., ... & Foa, E. B. (2017). A non-inferiority trial of Prolonged Exposure for posttraumatic stress disorder: In person versus home-based telehealth. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 89, 57-65.

iii Wagner, B., Horn, A. B., & Maercker, A. (2014). Internet-based versus face-to-face cognitive-behavioral intervention for depression: a randomized controlled non-inferiority trial. Journal of Affective Disorders, 152, 113-121.

iv Urness, D., Wass, M., Gordon, A., Tian, E., & Bulger, T. (2006). Client acceptability and quality of life–telepsychiatry compared to in-person consultation. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 12(5), 251-254.

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Helen Nichols, PhD, MSW