Millions of people struggle with mental health issues at some point in their life. For many of them, seeking help can be a challenge. They may not want to talk to someone knowledgeable about what they are going through but on the other hand, they may lack the time or ability to travel to an office for therapy.
It’s all too common to find that it is difficult to get an appointment with a mental health therapist or psychologist who is available when you need them and within driving distance of your home or work. That is why many people are turning to online therapy for the mental health support they need.
While some people use an online therapist for convenience and flexibility, this approach also gives some patients better results than traditional in-person therapy. For example, people with depression and anxiety often respond well to online counseling for those issues.
Online therapy sessions can take place on video or via instant messaging. They’re often available at all hours of the day and night and can be more affordable than in-person counseling. Some insurance plans cover part or all the cost of online therapy. It’s convenient to have that option. But there are some steps you can take to get even more out of online counseling. Let’s look at some of these.
Define your goals.
The first step to achieving great results from an online mental-health treatment plan is defining your goals. This could be as simple as advocating for your therapist to try a new approach or as complex as deciding to cope with your depression in a different way this year.
Before you contact a counselor, it’s important to decide at least one thing you hope to get out of the experience. Whether it’s talking through issues that make you anxious or finding a way to sleep better at night, identifying your goals before you meet with someone will help ensure that the treatment is effective and time-efficient.
The best goals are specific, ambitious, and realistic. Think about what you want to accomplish rather than what other people might think you should do. For example, “I want my conversations with my partner not to make me feel nauseous” is much better than “I don’t want my anxiety to affect our relationship.” Take some time before your first session and come up with something concrete.
Find a therapist you feel comfortable talking to.
It’s important that you feel comfortable talking to your therapist. Most mental-health providers understand how difficult it is to open up about mental-health issues, and many therapists will go out of their way to make you feel at ease. If for whatever reason you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, look for a new one. A therapist who doesn’t feel like a good fit may not help you as much as another, so don’t hesitate to try several until you find one you feel comfortable with.
Be honest with your therapist.
Take a minute to think about what you are looking for. Do you want to communicate with a therapist after you’ve had a few rough days, or do you want to share a very personal experience? Are you hoping to talk about something that hasn’t happened yet and maybe won’t happen at all? It is important to be specific about why and how therapy could help you. Your therapist should understand your expectations.
Be prepared and on time for your appointments.
To get the most from online therapy, treat these sessions like regular face-to-face therapy sessions. Be on time for your appointment and be prepared. If you must reschedule or cancel an online session, let your therapist know as early as possible.
If you think you might miss an appointment due to a technical glitch (such as the app not working properly), email or phone the therapist ahead of time to discuss what options are available if this happens. When logged in to your session it’s important that you turn off any background noise (such as music) and mute yourself when not talking, so that you can hear what’s being said more clearly and ensure there are no distractions from background noise during the session.
Keep a journal in between sessions.
There are many benefits to keeping a journal between online therapy sessions:
• You can write down your thoughts and feelings.
• Your journal can help you remember details about your experiences that you might otherwise forget.
• It can help you track your progress, as well as give you insight into the issues you’re facing.
Be open to other types of treatment than just counseling.
You can get a lot of value from online counseling but if it turns out not to be the best therapy treatment for you, don’t fret. There are a variety of options to consider beyond online counseling.
For instance, different people respond differently to various medications. If you’re interested in taking medication, make sure your psychologist or psychiatrist is aware and can refer you to a doctor who can prescribe what works best for you.
Alternatively (or additionally), some people turn to alternative treatments like mindfulness meditation and yoga to stay healthy and combat stress. Find out how your therapist feels about this.
Know that your mental health is a lifelong journey.
As you start to treat your mental health like you would your physical health, a few things will happen:
• You will feel better
• You will be more productive and happier
• You will sleep better, function better at work, and generally perform better in life
Online mental health therapy helps many people live better lives, but it takes time to see significant changes in your mood and mental health. Be patient.
Online mental health therapy can be an effective way to reach out and get help. But every person is different, and not everyone responds equally to online therapy. It’s crucial that you take the time to find a therapist who understands you and provides the kind of care that works for you.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes online mental therapy isn’t the best choice for all clients in all situations, but it can be an effective tool when you can form the right client-therapist relationship. Internet therapy services don’t have to be a replacement for live therapy, but it can help complement and enhance it.