Searching for an online therapist can be overwhelming, but knowing where to start and what to look for can save time and increases the likelihood that you will get the help you need. It’s important to know where to begin your search, what factors to consider, and how to determine if a therapist is a good match for you.
What Is Online Therapy?
Online therapy is similar to a regular therapy session, except instead of having to drive to an office, you can use a phone, tablet, or computer to connect with your therapist. Because of the pandemic, online therapy is becoming more common, and more therapists are offering this service. Also, most health insurance companies have extended their coverage for online therapy, making it more accessible for people with insurance.
Online therapy can be conducted in different ways. Many therapists use secure and encrypted video platforms that allow face-to-face interactions. If you have a slow internet connection or you’re uncomfortable with video calls, phone sessions may also be an option. Some sites like Betterhelp or Talkspace even offer live chats and online messaging with a licensed therapist.
To learn more about how subscriptions with online therapy platforms work, please read our detailed review of BetterHelp or our Talkspace review.
Why Choose Online Therapy?
According to Dr. Nick Joyce, Staff Psychologist at the University of South Florida,
“Research has shown that online therapy is just as effective as in person therapy. This has been studied in many research studies comparing the two over twenty plus years. The issue is no longer which is better but rather which is a better fit for the client. In addition to the convenience of not having to leave home, commute, see someone during the lunch hour at work, etc, online therapy is often attractive due to the increased “psychological space” that being on a screen provides people. This space allows people to open up more quickly and delve deeper into personal concerns and more easily bypass the stigma of being in therapy than in-person therapy provides. Many clients prefer starting online because its easier psychologically to start than showing up at an office to talk to a stranger. On the downside, some clients report preferring the “warmth” of in person services or are tired of seeing everyone online during the pandemic.”
Why Is Finding the Right Online Therapist Important?
Because each therapist has a slightly different style and approach, it is important to find someone who is right for you. For example, a cognitive behavioral therapy session will go very differently than a session with a therapist who uses hypnotherapy or art therapy. Some therapists also have specialties, so it is also important to find out what concerns they treat before making an appointment.
While experience and approach matter, it’s more important to find a therapist you like, trust, and feel comfortable with. In fact, research shows that people who have strong relationships with their therapists are the most likely to benefit from therapy.2 Choosing a therapist that makes you feel heard, understood, and accepted will make it easier for you to open up and get the most out of your sessions.
Where to Find an Online Therapist
Most people begin their search for a therapist by conducting a google search, but this may not be the best way to start. An online therapist directory is a better option because it allows you to use filters to narrow your search by location, budget, experience level, and areas of specialty. If cost is a barrier, some therapists also offer a sliding scale or reduced fees.
If you have health insurance that covers mental health, you can also call the number on the back of your card or login to find a list of in-network therapists. Depending on where you work, you may also have an employee assistance program that covers a certain number of therapy sessions. You can also ask family members, friends, or even your primary care doctor for a referral to a therapist.
Deciding What’s Important to You
There are many factors to consider when choosing a therapist, and some may be more important to you than others. It’s important to be clear about your goals and expectations for therapy. This way, you can prioritize which factors are most important to consider when you are choosing an online therapist.
For example, you might need a therapist with a particular specialty or who can provide couples counseling. Depending on your circumstances, you may need a therapist who can meet in the evening or who will accept a reduced fee.
Consider the factors listed below when choosing an online therapist:
Type of Communication During Therapy
Remember that online therapy can be done through video, phone, or messaging, and think about which option is best for you. Keep in mind that having a quiet, private place to do therapy sessions is important. Because of confidentiality laws, therapists are not allowed to conduct sessions if you are in a public place. Also, if you want to do video sessions, it’s a good idea to run a speed test on your computer to make sure you have a strong internet connection.
Cost & Insurance Coverage
Most EAPs and insurance companies include mental health benefits, and many have expanded their coverage for online therapy. Each insurance plan is different, so verify costs ahead of time by calling your insurance company. They should also be able to provide a list of in-network therapists. If you are uninsured or want to pay out of pocket, the cost varies, but $100-$150 per session is fairly standard. Some therapists will offer lower fees or sliding scale rates, and some sites like Betterhelp offer subscriptions.
Scheduling & Availability
One of the biggest benefits to online therapy is the ability to see providers from the convenience of your home, or even in your office. As long as you have a private space to meet, you may be able to schedule therapy sessions during a planned lunch break at work. If not, it may be necessary to find a therapist who can meet with you in the evenings or on weekends. If you have a very full or demanding schedule, it’s important to verify that your therapist has availability to see you when you’ve got free time.
Any licensed therapist, social worker, or psychologist has a masters degree and a license to practice therapy. Newly licensed counselors usually have to work under the supervision of a fully licensed counselor for a period of 2-3 years. Depending on the type of license they have, this may be designated by an “A” for “associate” in their credentials. Some insurance companies will not reimburse sessions unless a counselor is fully licensed, so be sure to verify this ahead of time. Many new counselors are very skilled, so don’t automatically rule out an associate based on their credentials alone.
Specialty & Approach
Some therapists have specialized training and experience in a particular issue like trauma, addiction, or couples counseling. These specialties are usually listed on their websites, therapist directory pages, and online bios, and they may have additional credentials in these areas as well.
Therapists sometimes specialize in a particular therapy approach, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Motivational interviewing
- Faith-based counseling
People find it easier to open up to people they can relate to, so it may be important to find a therapist who you have things in common with.4 For example, it might be easier to open up to someone who is the same race or sex as you, or who is around the same age. This can be especially important if you identify as LGBTQIA, BIPOC, or Latinx. If these things aren’t important to you, you may still want to find a therapist who has a compatible personality, communication style, or sense of humor. For example, if you are a more reserved person, you might not click with a therapist who is very blunt or forward.
How to Review a Therapist’s Profile or Website
Reviewing a therapist’s profile or website can be a great way to find a good fit and know what to expect from your first session. There are several pieces of information you can find online.
Here are some of the details to look for on a therapist’s profile:
- Availability: First, see if they have a waitlist or if they are accepting new clients, then if they list options for evening or weekend appointments, and what types of online or phone sessions they offer
- Tone: Read between the lines to get a sense of their personality, counseling approach, and whether they say things that resonate with you on a personal level
- Experience: Look for information about how many years of experience they have, where they’ve worked, and what jobs they’ve had in the past
- Credentials: Certain credentials can help you find a therapist that may be able to meet specific needs (for instance a family or couples therapist, a psychologist for personality testing, an addiction specialist for substance abuse treatment, or a psychiatrist for medication)
- Specialties: Look for specialties which may include issues like grief, anxiety, or trauma, or specific types of counseling like couples counseling, CBT, or EMDR
- Cost: Look for information about what insurances they accept (in-network or out-of-network), costs per session for self-pay, and any information about sliding scale, reduced cost, or pro bono work
What Questions to Ask Before Beginning Online Therapy
Most therapists offer phone or video consultations to answer questions and help people decide if they are the right person to help them. Often, these consultation calls are offered at no cost. A consultation call can be a great way to ensure that you choose a therapist who is a good match for you, and is most likely to be able to help you reach your goals.
Some questions to consider asking during a consultation call include:
- What experience do you have helping people with ___ (e.g. depression)?
- What would a typical session be like?
- Can you tell me a little about the approaches you use?
- About how many sessions, on average, do people need to see progress?
- How would we meet for online sessions? Is it a secure platform?
- In the future, would it be possible to meet in-person?
Preparing for the First Appointment
When starting online therapy, there may be some steps you can take to make the first session go smoother. This way, you can spend your sessions talking about the issues you want to discuss, instead of focusing on administrative details. It can be intimidating to get started, but there are many ways you can prepare for your first therapy session.
Before connecting with your therapist, consider doing the following:
- Complete any electronic forms your therapist sends to you
- Get familiar with the platform beforehand and troubleshoot issues
- Do a speed test to ensure you have a strong internet connection
- Find a private space for your session
- Let people know you will not be available to avoid interruptions
- Silence notifications on the device you’ll be using for your session
- Make a short list of what you want to discuss in your first session
During the first session, the therapist will need to gather information from you, including questions about your personal life, background, and mental health. At the end of the appointment, you may receive a diagnosis, which will be explained to you. If there’s time, you may also work with the therapist to create a treatment plan, including goals you want to achieve in therapy.
What to Consider After 3-4 Weeks
When working with a new therapist, whether online or in person, it’s important to check in on your own progress and how you are getting along with your therapist. There are several questions you can ask yourself when contemplating whether it’s working well for you or if the therapist is a bad fit.
In therapy, the bulk of the progress happens early on in treatment. After only a few sessions, most people notice improvements, and 50% of the total progress made in therapy happens by the 8th session.5,6 If your issues are more complex, it may take longer to see improvements, but you should still feel like you have benefited from treatment.
Progress in therapy can come in many different forms. Depending on what your goals are, the markers you use to indicate progress can vary.
Here are some changes that can indicate progress in therapy:
- Your symptoms have become less severe or less frequent
- You have more insight about yourself, your life, and your feelings
- You have learned healthier ways of coping with stress and negative feelings
- You are able to communicate more effectively and set boundaries
- You are thinking more positively about yourself, life, and future
- You are less distracted and get more done
- You have identified bad habits and made a plan or some early steps towards positive change
After three to four weeks in therapy, you should also reflect on how you are feeling about your therapist and your sessions. By this time, you should be able to get a better understanding about whether your therapist is a good match for you.
Because having strong rapport with your therapist is necessary for therapy to work, it’s important to consider the following questions:
- Does my therapist seem to “get” me and understand my issues?
- Am I comfortable opening up to my therapist about personal issues?
- Does my therapist possess the knowledge and skills to help me?
- Do I feel like my therapist is invested and cares about me?
- Do my therapy sessions feel productive?
- Have I gained any new insight or skills from my therapist?
If you don’t feel like you’re making progress or getting anything out of therapy after three or four weeks, you might want to have a discussion with your therapist. Most therapists are open to feedback and are willing to make changes to ensure you are getting what you need out of sessions. Most therapists are also happy to provide a referral for another therapist who may be a better fit for you.
Online therapy can be a convenient, affordable, and effective alternative to in-person therapy. Many therapists are offering online sessions these days, and most insurance companies have changed their policies to cover the cost of online therapy. The most important factor when choosing a therapist is that you find someone who you like, trust, and feel comfortable opening up to.
>Online Therapy Infographics