Online Therapy: What to Expect

By: Rebecca Meaney

Recently, while living at home again during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was unexpectedly faced with an open few months where my obligations and routine of  “normal life” fell away. I took this opportunity to do some self-reflection and assessment of my general emotional state as a result of the pandemic (read: extremely anxious) and it led me to start online therapy. One of the most important things to remember when starting therapy, whether online or in person, is that being willing to start is a big step. Embracing that you need to talk to someone can be a difficult point to reach, so be proud of yourself for getting there.  

As mental health becomes part of the wider conversation regarding personal wellbeing, more and more people are seeking therapy. There is no one definitive reason for starting therapy and there is no one way in which it works for all people. You might be thinking about therapy because you want to talk through certain emotions or conflicts in your life and obtain an outside perspective. You may turn to therapy because you had a severe event or trigger occur in your life.  Whatever your reasoning or desire to start therapy, it is a tremendous mental health tool that can be helpful both in times of crisis and also in the everyday. 

  1. Therapy in your own space can make it easier to open up. 

One of the benefits of online therapy is that you can do it in your own space. Being online is not always ideal but can be incredibly helpful in creating a comfortable space for you to open up to a new person. Being in a space that you know and feel comfortable in helps take away some adjustments that usually come with starting therapy, such as feeling relaxed in a new environment. 

  1. On the other hand, online therapy can feel impersonal. 

As opposed to meeting a therapist in person for the first time in their office, online therapy means meeting a therapist over a computer screen. It can feel hard to open up to someone when logging into a video call. However, if you are open and honest with your therapist, yourself, and the process, I think you’ll find that it becomes a very similar experience to being in-person.  

  1. Try to find a space and time to video chat when you’ll be (most) alone in your home/apartment. 

When talking about personal problems or being open with your therapist, there can be a lot to work through. For me, this sometimes meant talking to my therapist about my family, whom I was living with at the time. Unlike in-person therapy, you’re not in your therapist’s office. If you’re able to secure a time and space in your home where you can be most alone then it will be much easier to talk through those types of issues without worrying about anyone overhearing,  forming their own opinions, or getting hurt. Additionally, letting your family or roommates know when you’ll need the space to yourself or uninterrupted time in your room can help create a more secure space for your session. 

  1. Having access to online therapy messaging services doesn’t mean you have 24/7 access to your therapist. 

Certain online therapy services, such as BetterHelp and TalkSpace, offer messaging services similar to an ongoing text conversation. This type of service is helpful when needing to change an appointment or get advice quickly on a time-sensitive issue. However, it doesn’t mean that your therapist is sitting on their phone 24/7 waiting to answer your messages. Like in-person therapy, there are still preferred times that your therapist will list for appointment availability and general hours they are on the clock. It is important to remember that even though the internet creates direct access to your therapist, there are also certain time boundaries to be respected as well. Additionally, it can be unhealthy to constantly be in contact with your therapist and become dependent on that relationship for real-time every situation. 

  1. There is no wrong way to do therapy online.

Some people prefer only messaging their therapist because it gives them more time to think out what they want to say and have the therapists’ advice saved in writing to look back on.  Some people prefer calling their therapist because it’s easier to be vulnerable when they aren’t face to face. Some people, like myself, prefer to video call so it feels as much like in-person therapy as possible and they can feel more of a connection. Whatever form of online therapy you choose there is no wrong way to do therapy as long as you choose what works best for you and your therapist. 

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