I started doing telepsychology several years ago, before most people were using teleconferencing or other forms of online psychotherapy. I am a devout technophile and admittedly like to incorporate technology into my life in whatever ways I can. I have also had the opportunity to conduct some research online that examined virtual reality therapy and also the way people form relationships online. I am a virtual positivist and have high hopes that technology, for all of its downfalls, will ultimately continue to advance the human race. I thus projected that, a virtual means of therapy provision would become quite popular in my practice, if I offered it. I assumed that, for people who sought out therapy, many individuals are busy and would like to avoid transit time to and from a therapist’s office.
I began offering online therapy– more specifically, therapy via videoconferencing, when I opened my practice in Copenhagen in 2014. To my surprise, almost no one seemed interested. The only clients who were keen about distance therapy were those who were moving away and who wished to maintain a therapeutic relationship via videoconferencing. Even my busiest clients– high achieving professionals who worked long days and weekends, still preferred to come into the office. I would offer the option, but nearly everyone turned it down. Interestingly, when clients have moved away and we have continued our work together, virtually, most of the time they said the sessions were ‘fine’ and didn’t complain about the quality compared to our in-person previous sessions. However, they still preferred the in person sessions.
Another thing I found surprising is how dissatisfied I was with videoconferencing. I’m a long time user, as I said above, of technology. I have sustained long-term relations for years nearly only with Skype and related services. But still, following every provision of online service, I felt ‘skeptical’ that it was helpful and oddly less gratified than usual. It has surprised me that I also prefer in person counseling to videoconferencing.
The data supporting the use of videoconferencing and other forms of virtual psychotherapy continues to look promising. There is quite a bit of research, these days, about the effectiveness of distance therapy. Most supports teletherapy as being as effective as in-person therapy. This is good news for many reasons; Telepsychology allows people in rural communities to receive proper psychological care, for example. However, it seems, from the research and from my observations, that while telepsychology is effective, it probably is not going to replace in-person sessions anytime soon, simply because people seem to prefer the precence of a real-life office and psychologist.
What are your thoughts about online versus offline therapy? Do you know what you would/do prefer and why?