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The Differences Between Virtual Counselling and In-Office Counselling Sessions

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The differences between virtual counselling and in-office counselling sessions

One’s mental health is an essential factor in leading a productive life. In person therapy is the most conventional way to receive mental health care from a counsellor. 

Virtual counselling has developed in response to people’s busy schedules and the need for increased access to professional services. Virtual counselling has become increasingly popular for individuals seeking help for their mental health and well being needs. Virtual counselling has been an alternative to in-person therapy sessions for many years. Since COVID-19 more therapists have provided web-based therapy sessions. Online therapy is a more flexible and convenient option for many people. Many people get on their phone or get on with their life immediately following a therapy session. It can be much easier to jump right back to your life at home, in your vehicle or at work following a therapy session when you do not need to travel back home or to work. The flexibility of online therapy may better fit your lifestyle.

One of the biggest perks of online therapy is that many people prefer to save time by not traveling to an office location and park their vehicle or spend time travelling on public transportation to a session. It can also increase adherence and compliance to a treatment program. Using telehealth allows access to a therapist without the added travel costs. Using online counselling you are not solely limited to a counsellor in your area but have the freedom to meet with someone you genuinely connect with regardless of distance, transportation issues or scheduling conflicts which can be significantly reduced.

Research suggests that online counselling can be just as effective if not more effective as in-person therapy sessions. Much of the research of online therapy focuses on its usefulness for therapy modalities such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). Both in person and online formats are an effective means to facilitate growth and change. Relationships with therapists can be formed in person and/or online through modalities such as CBT. Research demonstrates that virtual appointments have had higher attendance rates compared to in-person visits. 

Being in your own space while discussing personal and challenging topics is a significant benefit for some people. The physical space of not being in the same room as a therapist may allow people to feel less vulnerable making it easier to be more open with a therapist. Some anxiety disorders make it challenging to attend an in-person therapy appointment. Online therapy allows people to be able to join with a therapist at their own pace.  In your home you can be surrounded by items that bring comfort. Items such as pillows or pets can help emotionally regulate and bring comfort during sessions. In some ways privacy can be increased as there is no risk of someone seeing you in a waiting room. Online services can allow access to mental health with increased privacy.

Accessing therapy remotely may be especially helpful for those with physical restrictions, illness and chronic pain. It can also be convenient for those in more remote or rural areas. It can be challenging and stressful to drive a long distance to get to an office.

A disadvantage of online therapy would be when you need a private, quiet space for your session. For those who live with a roommate, partner or family finding a private space can be challenging and may impact the quality of the session. Someone could walk into the room while you are in session. These factors may hinder a person’s ability to open up and share like you might when you are in a therapist’s private office.  Things happening in their homes may be distracting for someone or make it hard to have an uninterrupted session.  Some mental health issues can make it very challenging to conduct an online session. These virtual services may not be appropriate for people experiencing suicidality and schizophrenia amongst other conditions.

Being in person may allow for more closeness and to some people it may feels more personal. This can lead to a more meaningful connection and the right fit. Furthermore, not everyone feels fully comfortable video chatting with others. In that case in-person sessions may be the best option. Putting in the effort to attend in-person can give the sessions more meaning and value and provide a physical space that feels safe and reassuring. While online therapy may benefit some, others appreciate the personal touch of in person counselling sessions. In person counselling ensures that you have a safe and comfortable space without concern of being interrupted.

At CBT Toronto I offer in person and virtual sessions. Whatever is your individual preference for one format over the other works for me! Therapy is not a one-size-fits-all approach and can be adapted to the specific person or couple.


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