students engaged in online learning

Does virtual therapy really work?

For many teens, the thought of sitting in a therapist’s office may sound excruciating. Pouring out their feelings to a stranger may feel like being asked to move mountains. And for you, the parent, dragging them across town to a session, waiting for an hour in the car, just to drive your eye-rolling teen back home also may not sound great, even if you are worried about them.

This is when virtual therapy sessions might sound like a good option.

With the rise of telehealth at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual psychotherapy has evolved to meet the unique needs of adolescents. Virtual therapy has been around for decades, but technological advancements have created new opportunities for therapists, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists to offer remote mental health services.

Online therapy is here to stay, but many parents wonder whether it is a good idea for their teens. Wouldn’t it be better if your kids weren’t stuck in front of a screen?

Whether you’re navigating different online therapy platforms or considering transitioning from in-person therapy to virtual – here’s everything you need to know about online therapy for teens.

Benefits of online therapy:

Virtual teen therapy can help teenagers understand their mental health, learn lifelong communication strategies, reduce their chances of developing a chronic long-term illness, and manage their symptoms. Here are some reasons why virtual programs might be a good option for your family:

  • Research shows teletherapy provides strong therapeutic results. Most teenagers enjoy chatting online, and, having grown up with video calls, are completely comfortable accessing therapy virtually. Especially for teens struggling with anxiety, this can be a good small step towards connection building.
  • Teletherapy is more convenient. For most parents and teens, online therapy is the most convenient option. You don’t have to worry about commutes to and from the therapist’s office, and your teen doesn’t have to interrupt their schedule for therapy appointments. For families in rural areas or without transportation, online appointments may be the only option for care.
  • There’s less stigma attached. Sometimes, teens feel embarrassed about therapy and might fear that their peers will find out they’re going to therapy. Online counseling and other telehealth services can help your teen access treatment from the comfort of their own home so they never have to worry about awkward confrontations or waiting room anxiety.
  • Virtual therapy can be a more affordable option. Some online therapy platforms offer more affordable mental health services than traditional therapy. Without the costs of a brick-and-mortar facility, services can cost less.
  • Fewer negative contagion Many teen mental health disorders have a contagion element. We see this often with self-harm and eating disorders. Many other teens will follow suit if one teen self-harms in a group. Or if one teen is selling drugs, they may try to rope their peers into their drug use with them. In online groups, there is less of a chance for that contagion to happen.
  • Less time to talk yourself out of not going to therapy Many therapy goers know that sometimes the hour, or even the day before a therapy session, can be very stressful. It can be easy to try to talk yourself out of going, imagine “running into traffic,” or psych yourself out of the session. Especially if there’s something you really want to avoid talking about. Therapy can bring up a lot of painful emotions and isn’t necessarily “fun,” even though it can feel very liberating after having a breakthrough. Virtual therapy makes it easier to be present and do what you need to do without spending so much time worrying about showing up.

Innovation in teletherapy

Therapists and clinicians have been innovating in virtual care over the last few years. There are ways to take advantage of the virtual environment to keep teens engaged in therapy that are just not possible in person. At Antelope Recovery, we have utilized animal therapy, digital jam boards, nature therapy, getting teens outside, and even playing Minecraft with teens in therapy groups. One of the largest obstacles to having success in therapy is engagement. As we say in AA, “Show up long enough for the miracle to happen.” When we cut therapy short, we don’t give it a chance to help us. Virtual care allows us to reach teenagers who may not engage or show up in an in-person environment. This is a massive advantage and so important to continue investing in and developing as virtual care evolves and grows.

Teen completing virtual IOP program

Downsides of virtual therapy

  • Privacy can be challenging. If you don’t live alone, have thin walls, or share a space with someone, finding a place where you can be alone for your session can be challenging.
  • Tech Glitches. Make sure you have a good connection! You may run into classic problems like your screen freezing or being stuck on mute. On the bright side, your therapist will probably expect this to happen occasionally and be able to help you sort out the issue.
  • It can feel less personal even though it’s still a one-on-one conversation. Talking over video isn’t quite the same as being in a room together. You can’t read body language as well.
  • More time on a screen Our teens are already on the screen so much. Is more screen time useful? We don’t think this is a huge problem – part of our job is teaching teens responsible screen use. Sometimes, screen use is essential for navigating our modern world. Using screens as a tool for receiving essential therapeutic support is a great use of technology compared to social media, video games, or Netflix use. During online therapy, it is wise to turn off access to other web browsers and step away from the computer after the session for a while.

Get support today

The effectiveness of virtual therapy is a topic of growing importance, especially in today’s digital age. While it may not be the perfect solution for everyone, numerous studies and real-life success stories attest to its potential to bring about positive change and healing. At Antelope Recovery, we recognize the value of flexibility and accessibility in mental healthcare. If you have any questions about its efficacy, please reach out to us. Our experienced team is here to provide guidance and help you make the best choice for your mental health journey. Your well-being is our priority, and together, we can explore the most effective approach to support your needs.