Is online therapy or face-to-face better? Prepare to be surprised

by | 14 January 2024

Successful therapy involves connecting not just with your feelings but with your therapist. In this digital age, is it possible to achieve that online? Or are you missing out by not meeting face-to-face? It’s time to explore the pros and cons. What is best for you and your well-being? You may be surprised at the answers.

The case for online connection

Convenience

Online therapy allows you to access therapy with minimum disruption to the rest of your day. It literally takes 50 minutes with no need to factor in travel time.

Accessible

Therapy via your computer means you can access the therapist of your choice, no matter where you live. This is particularly useful if you want a particular kind of therapy, such as sensorimotor psychotherapy, which is hard to find in the UK. Or if you’re living in another country and want a therapist who speaks your language. If you live in a rural location, you might also find it hard to get to the therapist of your choice easily, and online therapy can really expand your options.

Helps you find the right therapist for you

You can expand the pool of accessible therapists, increasing the chance of finding a therapist who feels like a good match for you. In therapy, you need to feel safe and at ease. Most therapists will give you a brief consultation to help you determine if they are the right person to work with. Even if you want face-to-face therapy, you might want to meet with a few first to see if you feel comfortable, and online meetings are an easy way to do this.

You might feel more comfortable

If you have a history of trauma or are prone to experiencing dissociation, you might feel safer doing sessions from your own home. A good therapist will work hard to support you in managing your emotions, but therapy can be difficult and upsetting, and you might prefer to be able to just shut your PC down and not have to travel home afterwards.

Your physical health will be less of a barrier

If you have problems with fatigue or are worried about exposing your immune system to germs, an online session may be less tiring and more practical.

May be cheaper

While I charge the same for online or face-to-face sessions, some therapists charge slightly more for face-to-face to recover their room hire costs (usually about £10 per session). If you cancel a session at short notice, you’re less likely to be charged if the session is online, as it’s easier for your therapist to reallocate their time to admin.

Does face-to-face therapy offer any advantages?

Does face-to-face therapy offer any advantages?

Increased visibility

No matter how good the tech setup is for you and your therapist, getting the same level of visibility in an online session is hard. Human beings rely heavily on non-verbal communication. You will find reading your therapist easier if you’re sat in a room with them so you might feel safer. Similarly, your therapist will find it easier to get an understanding of you if they can also see your non-verbal communication. Some models of therapy (such as sensorimotor psychotherapy) rely a lot on the therapist and client becoming more aware of how dialogue is matched by the client’s bodily tensions and gestures. They might even use these gestures for therapeutic exercises as part of the healing process. Whilst this is possible in online work, it is quite a lot more restricted.

Increased presence and connection

Think about conversations you’ve had with friends and family over Zoom versus when you’ve met them in person. Do you find it as easy to connect online?

Your therapist will work hard to ensure you feel they are with you during online work. But when you’re sitting in a room with someone, it’s much easier to feel their energy and sense their presence. It’s not impossible to get a sense of your energy via online work, but it is much easier when you’re sitting in a room with someone to tell if their energy has reduced.

Increased interoceptive awareness

Interoception is our ability to recognise our internal sensations and reactions. The ability to detect what is going on in our bodies. (This is such an important part of therapy that I will write a blog on this subject specifically). Many therapists make use of their interoceptive reaction to a client to understand what the client is experiencing. Whilst you and your therapist will have an interoceptive reaction to each other online, this is stronger in a face-to-face meeting.

More productive silences

Silences are a normal part of conversation. Sometimes, they are there as a space for reflection. Sometimes, they are heavy with emotion. Sometimes, they serve to underline a point. In online therapy, you might feel pressured to keep talking due to the reduction in other communication channels.

You might feel safer

If the issues you want to discuss impact your relationship, you might feel safer having the conversation in a neutral space where you know you won’t be interrupted.

Choose the option that works best for you.

If you’re going to reap the benefits of therapy, it needs to be convenient and be in the format that works best for you. 60% of clients choose online therapy, and therapists enjoy online work too, so it’s an option that’s here to stay. But you might want to try out both or even opt for a hybrid model where you meet occasionally in person but more frequently work online.

At Octopus Psychology, we enjoy delivering therapy both in-person and online. If you want the chance to discuss what might work best for you, feel free to get in touch in person or online!

Dr Naomi Murphy

Dr Naomi Murphy

Post Author

Naomi is one of the UK’s most respected forensic clinical psychologists. Recently appointed Honorary Professor of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, she qualified as a clinical psychologist in 1997 and as a consultant clinical psychologist in 2003.