Menu

Teletherapy: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 04, 2021

Can’t see a mental health professional in person? Teletherapy might be an option for you. It’s done over the phone or through video. You connect with your therapist in many (but not all) of the same ways you would for an in-person session, just from a distance.

What Do You Need?


All you need is a phone, tablet, or computer and a private place to talk. For a video connection, you can use any number of devices that have an internet connection. Some therapists use special platforms to help ensure the privacy of sessions.

Does It Work?

More research is needed, but it seems teletherapy can work just as well as in-person sessions. Keep in mind that everyone is different, and it may not be the best fit for some people. Examples include:

Kids who are abused or neglected. They may not respond as well to teletherapy. This could be because they are close to abusers in the home environment or because they don’t feel safe enough to talk about trauma.

People who work at a computer all day. They could find it draining or unhealthy to add even more screen time to their day.

People with attention problems like ADHD. They might find it harder to focus during a video chat or phone call compared to an in-person session.

Some kids and adolescents (ages 10-19). They may find it awkward or feel like they don’t have enough privacy.

Most research about therapy involves in-person sessions, so researchers will need more data to make firm conclusions about when teletherapy does and doesn’t work best.

Advantages of Teletherapy

Teletherapy allows more people access to mental health treatment. For example, if you live in a rural area, the closest therapist could be a long distance. Or you might have other things that make it hard to get to appointments. These include:

  • An ongoing illness
  • Physical disability
  • Childcare issues
  • Transportation problems

Limitations of Teletherapy

The technology itself could pose a problem. You may have little experience using a computer or smartphone. Your software could be out of date. Or you might not have access to dependable internet or cell phone service, or any access at all.

Non-verbal communication, like body language and eye contact, are more difficult to follow in a digital setting.

There are also concerns about the possible loss of privacy, or confidentiality, that is central to the therapy process. This might be because someone at home is listening or because an online communication system isn’t completely secure.

And in an emergency, like when someone has a breakdown or is close to suicide, teletherapy limits the therapist’s ability to quickly respond.

If you’re considering harming yourself, there’s help available. Please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Columbia University Department of Psychiatry: “Teletherapy: One Step Removed.”

Mental Health America: “Teletherapy During COVID-19: What The Research Says.”

MentalHealth.gov: “Get Immediate Help.”

Psychology.org: “How Does Teletherapy Work?”

The Family Institute at Northwestern University: “Teletherapy.”

World Journal of Psychiatry: “Review of key telepsychiatry outcomes.”

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.