Recent weeks have been challenging for many people, with the arrival of COVID-19 leading to a sudden shift to physical distancing and disruption for many in their personal and professional lives. This may be a time when more people than ever would benefit from individual psychotherapy, but may not think this is an option at present, given that in-person meetings are strongly discouraged. Like many clinics, out of necessity, we made the rapid transition from seeing our clients in person for therapy, to working completely virtually. This means that we are “seeing” clients either through an online video medium or telephone.

Virtual therapy is accessible and helpful for many people.

Understandably, you may question whether online or telephone therapy can be “as good” as in- person therapy.  Some people express concerns that something will be lost when the therapy session is not face-to-face.  Fortunately, this is a topic that has been researched over a number of years, and so there is a lot of evidence that online/phone therapy options are just as effective as in-person therapy.  For instance, a meta-analysis (a study that combines the results of a whole bunch of studies) that was published recently found that online and phone sessions were just as helpful as in-person sessions for individuals with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and adjustment disorder.[1]

Coping alone is difficult. Reach out for help if you need it.

Since we primarily provide Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) at our clinic, we also looked at how internet-based CBT fares compared to in-person CBT.  We found another meta-analysis[2] that looked specifically at in-person CBT versus internet-based CBT for the following disorders: major depression, panic disorder, social anxiety, and generalized anxiety disorder. This study found that internet-based CBT and in-person CBT were equally effective.  This is definitely good news for those of us currently providing (or receiving) online or phone-based CBT!

Almost all of us have gone through a tremendous shift in the way we live our lives.  To some extent, it is normal to be having a hard time.  That said, if you find you are so depressed or anxious that you are not able to function, you may benefit from speaking with a mental health professional.  If you have a pre-existing mental health concern, you may be in a more vulnerable position when it comes to coping with a major event like a global pandemic.  Phone and online therapy are good alternatives to in-person therapy.  Please don’t wait to get help if you need it now.

Author: Dr. Jennifer Boyd, C. Psych.
Psychologist at Waterloo CBT Clinic

References:
[1] Varker, T., Brand, R.M., Ward, J., Terhaag, S., & Phelps, A. (2019). Efficacy of synchronous telepsychology interventions for people with anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and adjustment disorder: a rapid evidence assessment. Psychological Services, 16(4), 621-635.

[2] Andrews, G., Basu, A., Cuijpers, P., Craske, M.G., McEvoy, P., English, C.L., & Newby, J.M. (2018). Computer therapy for the anxiety and depression disorders is effective, acceptable, and practical health care: an updated meta-analysis. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 55, 70-78.
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Can Online or Phone Therapy Really Help Me?

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