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Mental health app: Does online therapy work?

There are apps for almost everything, from shopping to travel to entertainment.

Some also offer support for mental health and well-being. Researchers estimate that around 10,000 apps1 are now available for download.

These apps provide various services — meditation guidance, telepsychiatry, online therapy, and tracking and managing symptoms.

The increase in mental health apps reflects society’s growing awareness of mental health. It encourages individuals to pay attention to their mental well-being.

However, one question arises: can these apps replace in-person or virtual video visits with a therapist? 

It is worth noting that there is widespread skepticism among health experts regarding the effectiveness of most of these apps and their potential to replace mental health professionals.

This skepticism stems from the fact that many of these apps have yet to undergo thorough studies and lack integration with healthcare providers or therapists, significantly limiting their usefulness.

However, certain apps have clinical support. They could serve as valuable tools alongside in-person visits. Once proven effective, these apps could help overcome barriers to mental health treatment.

We have compiled what you need to know about these mental health apps and how online therapy can support your well-being.

Online therapy & in-person therapy

Online therapy comes in different forms, and each form has its pros and cons compared to traditional in-person therapy.

Some therapists may offer online therapy through their private practices. Meanwhile, others use websites to communicate with patients. 

Some online therapy services only allow messaging or live texting between the therapist and the patient. Others also include weekly phone calls or live video chats. The latter option involves video chats.

It is the closest to the experience of in-person therapy and is more likely to provide similar benefits.

Having the ability to call, email, or message your therapist outside of live sessions can be very helpful. But experts agree that it is most effective when used to supplement face-to-face interaction, whether in-person or via video.

It should not look like a complete replacement for in-person therapy.

How important is face-to-face interaction in therapy?

It is necessary to have face-to-face interaction2 in therapy because our body language and nonverbal cues say a lot about how we feel and what we mean.

Things like facial expressions, gestures, posture, and tone of voice can communicate more than our words. 

In therapy, these subtle cues are important for the therapist to understand any inconsistencies between what we say and how we act. It helps them pick up on things you might not be able to express in words and understand the true meaning behind what you’re saying. 

When we interact with a therapist face-to-face, even through a video screen, it helps create a connection that is crucial for the success of therapy.

Seeing the emotions and empathy the therapists show through nonverbal cues makes it easier to build trust with them. This stands in contrast to relying solely on reading their written messages or hearing their voice without a face.

Enhancing access to mental health care

A significant percentage of individuals dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues do not receive treatment. According to Carroll, almost 90 percent of those struggling with substance abuse go untreated.

This occurs due to financial constraints, lack of transportation options, and severe symptoms that hinder individuals from functioning or leaving their homes.

Those who do seek help usually have infrequent sessions with their therapists, such as once a week, a month, or even every few months.

This results in significant gaps between sessions, during which various events can happen.

Feelings and emotions are constantly changing — what someone experiences one day can be completely different the next day or even within the next hour.

Apps can track how emotions change throughout the day and give healthcare providers valuable information about what happens during those long breaks between therapy sessions.

Based on Verywell’s 2022 study3, 1,000 Americans are currently in online therapy. Even 90 percent of those surveyed agree that seeking mental health services is a powerful sign.

One of the most trusted and credible online therapy is Better Help.4 With over three million users, BetterHelp has made therapy easier to help you find a licensed therapist who suits your needs. BetterHelp has a large network of 20,000 therapists who specialize in various areas.

BetterHelp offers financial aid if needed, to make online therapy even more affordable than traditional in-person therapy.

Are mental health apps reliable?

Using clinically supported apps, combined with in-office or virtual visits, enhance mental health treatment by overcoming barriers and improving access to care.

However, without testing in controlled settings, it’s challenging to determine the actual value provided by an app.

If the app is not connected to a therapist or healthcare system, it may not be helpful, especially for those with severe conditions like anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

They require comprehensive mental health care, so a holistic approach is essential by qualified therapists using proven techniques. 

On the other hand, online therapy can also treat people with everyday challenges such as high stress, low self-confidence, or sleep difficulties.

Therapy can be beneficial even when you’re experiencing a difficult period in your life, such as a loss, separation, or job loss. A qualified therapist can offer valuable support and guidance to help you bring about positive transformations.

How to get started your first online therapy

Whether online or in-person, find the therapist who is right for you. While qualifications, experience and approach matter, the relationship you build with your therapist determines your therapy’s success.

It may need some time and effort to find the perfect online therapist.

Nevertheless, do not be afraid to ask questions, read reviews, and utilize free introductory sessions. Your online therapist will be your partner in healing, recovery and personal growth.

You should feel comfortable talking to them about intimate and often challenging topics, so you can be honest about your thoughts and feelings.

Finding options and costs of online therapy and counselling

Many services offer monthly or yearly subscriptions to reduce costs, or packages with discounted rates for multiple sessions. In addition, these services are often cheaper than in-person sessions.

Some online therapy platforms provide free trials to try it out and see if it suits you. Others offer free or reduced rates by connecting you with trained volunteers instead of professional therapists.

These methods can help make online therapy even more affordable while maintaining convenience.

References:

  1. Ries, J. Can Your Therapist Be Replaced by an App? Healthline. Published November 22, 2019. Accessed July 25, 2023. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/can-your-therapist-be-replaced-by-an-app 
  2. Segal, J., Smith, M., Lawrence R., Boose, G., Nonverbal Communication and Body Language. HelpGuide.org. Last Updated March 1, 2023. Accessed July 25, 2023. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/nonverbal-communication.htm
  3. Spiegel, B. A Very well Report: Americans Find Strength in Online Therapy. Verywell Mind. Last Updated November 9, 2022. Accessed July 25, 2023. https://www.verywellmind.com/americans-turn-to-online-therapy-for-strength-5085208 

Kyrychenko, O. BetterHelp Online Therapy – Detailed Review. Best Online Therapy. Last Updated March 23, 2023. Accessed July 25, 2023. https://www.bestonlinetherapy.com/betterhelp-review/

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