Online therapy vs. face-to-face—which is better?

benefits online therapy

Online counseling, which connects you to a licensed therapist through phone, text, video or voice is gaining popularity thanks to technology from companies like BetterHelp, TalkSpace and Online-Therapy.com. 

But how does online therapy compare with face-to-face therapy? What are the pros and cons?

If you’re feeling lonely, depressed or stressed, therapy might help you regain balance. Maybe you have relationship issues, are divorced from a narcissist or have trouble with your teenager. Counseling or therapy has been proven by many studies to help. When you feel like your best self, everyone benefits — including your children.

Online therapy vs. face-to-face

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes psychotherapy as a combination of techniques used to identify problematic behaviors, emotions and thought processes and replace them with actions that promote healthy, stable and productive lifestyles. 

Also known as ‘talk therapy’, online psychotherapy is fast becoming a solid alternative to face-to-face therapy. A study by the Berkeley Well-Being Institute determined that online therapy for adult depression from online therapy leader BetterHelp was as effective as face-to-face counseling.

But sometimes you prefer face-to-face interaction.

Technology gives us more options to heal. The flexibility of online therapy, stability of face-to-face counseling or a carefully timed mix may be the ticket. 

Is counseling online as good as face-to-face?

Online therapy is great for single moms because it provides coveted flexibility. 

Working with a licensed therapist online can be comparable to face-to-face psychotherapy, but ask yourself:

  • Are you comfortable online?
  • Do you like apps, email or messaging?
  • Are you comfortable with streaming video chat?

Your comfort level with technology, individual needs and session expectations will play a huge part in determining if online therapy fits.

Not sure where to start? Here is Wealthysinglemommy's list of Top 7 online therapy sites.

Advantages of face-to-face therapy

Face-to-face therapy provides a personal experience and additional benefits such as:

  • Predictability – An office visit secures a designated time and place to receive therapy and may help with establishing a routine for care. 
  • Visual cues – Clients experience the therapist’s body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. If you lean toward sensory interaction or are extroverted, this may help.
  • Safety – Mental health conditions in which a person may be in crisis or a danger to themselves or others may benefit from face-to-face counseling.
  • Variety – Some therapeutic approaches require in-person meetings such as animal-assisted therapy, expressive arts therapy and music therapy. 

Disadvantages of face-to-face therapy

Therapists must protect your privacy, but there is the very real possibility that you could run into someone you know while walking into, or out of your appointment. This may be especially troubling when dealing with custody issues if your ex-spouse is looking for fuel to deny or limit access to your child.

Other disadvantages include:

  • Expense – According to GoodTherapy, an online therapy resource site, an in-person session can cost $65 and up, per hour. Online options tend to be much more affordable. 
  • Waiting – Instead of getting therapy right away, you must wait until your scheduled appointment time. Depending on the client load of a therapist, that could be weeks or even months in the future.
  • Scheduling – Typically in-person counseling requires scheduling an appointment during business hours, or otherwise working around the counselor’s availability. This may mean taking off work early, or otherwise creating inconvenience for you.
  • Travel time – Traditional therapy requires you commute to the appointment, which adds time on either end of the session. Most of us are busy! 

Advantages of online therapy

There are many benefits of going online to help you sort things out. First, it is often less expensive than traditional face-to-face therapy. 

How much does online therapy cost?

While the cost of face-to-face therapy varies by therapist and location, you can expect to pay anywhere between $100 to $200 per session. It is typical to have more than one session per month. 

Online therapy offers unlimited plans for a lower price point:

BetterHelp ranges between $40 and $70 per week.

TalkSpace plans start at $65 per week for unlimited access.

Online-Therapy.com has plans starting at $31.96/week.

These plans are often billed monthly and have no contractual obligation. 

Benefits of online therapy

Besides cost effectiveness, other great reasons to consider going online include:

  • Cost savings – Online therapy companies typically charge a flat monthly fee for unlimited access to counseling, starting at $40 per week with BetterHelp. This is far, far less expensive than traditional in-person therapy which can start at $70 per 50-minute session.
  • Time saving – Instead of spending time commuting to your therapy session, you can do a chat, video or phone session at your kitchen table after your kids’ bedtime, on your lunch break in the car, or waiting for the clothes to dry in the basement. No driving or travel required. 
  • Immediacy of access – With 24/7 access to your account you can get help now, instead of waiting several weeks to get an in-person appointment through traditional therapy. Inquire about real-time chat availability if you favor back and forth interaction. 
  • Control – If you have social anxiety or agoraphobia, you don’t have to feel trapped in a physical place to get help. You decide what place feels right and can access your account at any time. 
  • Anonymity – No one will know that you’ve used online counseling unless you share. There is no risk of running into anyone inside or outside of a therapist’s office.
  • Privacy – Reputable sites adhere to regulations set forth in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). HIPAA protects how your personal information may be accessed or shared. 
  • Expanded choices – Access to the Internet and a desktop, laptop or smartphone gives you your pick of thousands of licensed professionals — no matter where you live. This is especially helpful if you live in a small or rural community, where there may not be a lot of counselors to choose from. 
  • Flexibility – Switch therapists easily if the first one isn’t a match (it often isn’t). 
  • Convenient. Whether you are a busy mom, are using couple's counseling (even if you're not married) online therapy is far easier to schedule.

24 important questions to ask before paying for online therapy

Finally, some online counseling services use proven techniques such as cognitive behavior therapy or CBT, which is recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA).

CBT treats a range of mental issues such as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and anxiety by restructuring thoughts and yields long-term, positive results. Check with your online provider to inquire if CBT is offered. 

Disadvantages of online counseling

Some studies laud the effectiveness of online therapy, but the technology is relatively new and may not be suited to every situation. It depends on the person and the level of care needed. 

Another consideration is that health insurance may not cover online therapy. Costs may be out-of-pocket, but this is increasingly true for all therapy.  

As online therapy choices increase, some states like California, Georgia and Texas are requiring insurance companies to cover online counseling services according to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA). The ATA is a Washington D.C.-based non-profit focused on advancing the reach and changing the perception of telehealth services, such as online therapy.

Some online therapy companies that work with insurance providers include:

  • Breakthrough
  • Amwell
  • Thriveworks

While online counseling companies like BetterHelp, TalkSpace, Faithful Counseling, iTherapy, and Online-Therapy.com don’t take insurance directly, you can still check with your insurance provider about reimbursement for sessions or consider using a flexible spending account.

To determine access to insurance coverage of online therapy, sometimes referred to as telehealth or online mental health services, contact your insurance provider. If you are covered by Medicaid you may have access to WellCare — a portal to access free, online therapy.

If you require documentation from court to show completion of therapy, you must check to see if the online counseling site will comply and whether the court will accept it. 

And, since anyone can set up shop on the Internet, be sure the service verifies the licensure of participating psychotherapists, and complies with federal HIPPA laws.

Reputable companies including BetterHelp, TalkSpace and Online-Therapy.com screen the credentials of therapists they partner with. You can view their information and do your own verification. One good resource is the Psychology Today therapist lookup tool

Selecting an online therapy provider has the same caveats as choosing a face-to-face therapist. Both methods can stand alone, but may have power if used in tandem. Thankfully, you have a choice.

Ready to get started with online therapy? Check out leading provider BetterHelp, which gives you access to thousands of certified counselors for the convenient, secure, and affordable help you deserve.

Connect with a BetterHelp online counselor >>

About Robyn Evans

Robyn Evans is an award-winning writer, inspirational author, and occasional songstress (especially in the shower). Born and raised in Baltimore, she focused on helping women make healthy choices for body, mind and soul. She’s a grateful bonus mom to a photographer son and activist daughter and works with young writers through a non-profit organization. Robyn writes for corporate clients, is a former feature writer for The Carroll County Times, has written for The Baltimore Sun and is the author of three books. Learn more about Robyn here.

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