From Zoom happy hours to remote learning, one thing most of us have discovered this year is that doing something “virtually” isn’t always as good as the real, in-person thing.
But does that hold true for therapy? Even before the pandemic, psychology researchers were interested in the potential of online interventions given the convenience and accessibility of virtual treatment.
Although the jury’s still out on exactly what conditions have to be met for online therapy to hold its own with the face-to-face alternative, there’s research suggesting virtual mental health treatment can be equally effective in at least some situations.
A recent example comes in the form of a study of college students seeking counseling for mild or moderate anxiety. The 49 students who participated in the experiment were randomly assigned to receive either video or in-person therapy. The particular type of therapy used is known as solution-focused brief therapy, which centers on people’s goals and the changes they want to see in their lives.
The study found that people saw improvements in symptoms of generalized anxiety and social anxiety, regardless of whether they received in-person or virtual therapy. Moreover, there was no significant difference between the outcomes for the two groups.
That finding fits with previous research showing that, at least in some situations, therapy done over the internet can be just as effective. For example, a systematic review of studies found that cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia appeared to achieve similar results online or in person when it was delivered by a trained professional.
Of course, we can’t assume that holds for all types of therapy. There are probably individual differences as well. In fact, one survey found that people were split in their preferences for online or in-person psychotherapy.
Still, the fact that therapy from a distance can work as well as face-to-face therapy is good news in times of social distancing. It also means now is as good a time as any to make a difference in your life by talking to a mental health professional!