by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.
Clinical & Forensic Psychologist
Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness
Virtual psychotherapy sessions have gained popularity in recent years, thanks to advancements in technology. The ability to connect with a mental health practitioner from the comfort of one's own home is undoubtedly convenient and appealing, particularly in times when face-to-face interactions may be limited or unsafe. However, it is important to consider both the strengths and weaknesses of this modality, as well as the importance of the client being physically present in the same state where the therapist is licensed to practice.
One of the strengths of virtual psychotherapy sessions is the accessibility it provides. Clients who may have difficulties traveling or have limited mobility can still receive the help they need without any physical limitations. Furthermore, virtual sessions eliminate the need for transportation and the associated costs, making therapy more affordable and convenient for many individuals. Some research suggests that virtual therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy, with clients experiencing significant improvements in their mental health (Simpson et al., 2019).
Another strength is the increased privacy and anonymity that virtual sessions can offer. Some individuals may feel more comfortable discussing their deepest concerns and vulnerabilities when they are not face-to-face with their therapist. Encouraging openness and honesty in a therapeutic setting is crucial, and virtual sessions may facilitate this process for some clients (Gonzalez et al., 2020).
However, there are several weaknesses associated with virtual psychotherapy sessions. The absence of non-verbal cues and physical presence can hinder the therapeutic process. Certain aspects of communication, such as body language and facial expressions, play a significant role in building rapport and conveying empathy. These cues may be missed or misinterpreted in a virtual setting, potentially compromising the therapeutic relationship (Koocher & Morray, 2000).
Furthermore, the importance of the client being physically present in the same state where the therapist is licensed to practice cannot be overlooked. It ensures that the therapist follows the ethical and legal standards specific to that state, guaranteeing the client's protection. Additionally, being in the same location allows the therapist to provide local resource referrals and coordinate care more effectively, if necessary.
While virtual psychotherapy sessions offer convenience and accessibility, they cannot replace the value of face-to-face in-person sessions. Technology will never fully replicate the nuances of interpersonal interactions, particularly during times of challenges and change. The presence of non-verbal cues, the physicality of being together in the therapy room, and the ability to establish a genuine connection are crucial elements that contribute to the effectiveness of therapy (Norcross, 2011). Whenever possible, it is advisable to prioritize face-to-face sessions to ensure the highest quality of care for clients.