Online Therapy For Addiction
In the years following the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant shift toward the online world. Work-from-home jobs, online delivery services, and online schooling have all become a part of the “new normal” post-COVID. Perhaps one of the biggest areas this shift has been noticed is the healthcare industry, specifically the online therapy space.
Online therapy has increased in popularity so much so, in fact, that in the years following the pandemic, nearly 56% of people enrolled in a therapy program transitioned to an online provider, with more than 90% saying they would recommend it to someone.
Online therapy and remote treatment programs are revolutionizing how people everywhere are receiving support for a variety of conditions, including substance use disorders. Furthermore, therapists and addiction specialists alike agree that online platforms not only help those who may not have proper access to treatment, but also those who may be wary about taking those first, oftentimes most difficult, steps.
What Is Online Therapy?
As the name would suggest, online therapy is quite similar to traditional, in-person therapy, however, the entirety of the program is conducted virtually. Online therapy can be done over the phone, through text messages, on a website, or through virtual video conferencing which is most common.
Psychologists, therapists, and other mental health experts will often refer to online therapy as telepsychology, teletherapy, phone therapy, or even web therapy. While it can take many names, online therapy simply refers to therapy that is provided by any type of technology.
Traditional addiction treatment methods, like inpatient facilities, often tend to be underutilized. In fact, according to the American Medical Association, while more than 20 million people nationwide had a substance use disorder in 2019, only 10% received treatment. This suggests that these traditional methods of treatment may not be completely meeting the needs of people who are seeking them out, or that there is simply a lack of access to treatment in large parts of the country. This is where experts believe online therapy could make a major difference.
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Can Online Therapy Be Useful For Addiction?
While online therapy has its foundations in treating mental illness, there is no doubt that it has had success in helping those who struggle with a drug or alcohol addiction, especially when it is implemented in an aftercare plan. In fact, numerous studies have shown that people who undergo online therapy for the treatment of substance use disorders show significant improvement over those who do not receive any treatment or who try to attempt treatment on their own. Other reviews of similar studies have shown that online therapy may help someone cut back on their substance use immediately after treatment and in long-term follow-up.
Many times, people who struggle with addiction also have a mental health condition, known as a co-occurring disorder. In fact, as many as 50% of people who report having a severe mental health disorder also report having an issue with substance abuse. For those needing assistance with addiction treatment, online therapy can provide counseling programs that help an individual understand the underlying co-occurring mental health issues that may be driving them to use substances.
Additionally, many support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) have adapted their meetings to be able to accommodate those who may wish to attend virtually. Although not every group does this, being that it is done online, a person can attend from just about anywhere so long as they have access to a computer and high-speed internet.
It’s important to note, however, that online therapy is not, and should not be, a substitute for treatment. This is especially true for those who may be battling severe addiction or mental illness. Online therapy also is not suited for those with suicidal thoughts, borderline personality disorder, or who may have a mental condition like schizophrenia that can cause hallucinations or delusions.
Benefits Of Online Therapy
Online therapy offers many benefits that, for some, may outweigh those of traditional in-person therapy. Below are a few of the most reported bonuses from people who use online therapy:
One of the major benefits of online therapy, especially for those who are struggling with an addiction, is the added layer of privacy it offers. Often, people who have a substance use disorder will feel guilty or shameful about their substance abuse. This can be due to the stigma surrounding addiction, fear of being misunderstood by friends or family, or simply out of denial that they are struggling with addiction.
For some, the fear of being recognized by a co-worker, friend, or family member while entering or leaving a treatment facility is enough to keep them from seeking treatment. Being able to access treatment from anywhere, at any time, may make it easier to seek help, especially among those who wish to maintain their privacy.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of online therapy is its accessibility. As previously mentioned, only about 10% of people who needed help for a substance use disorder in 2019 received it. While this is assuredly due to a variety of factors, there is no doubt that one major factor is simply that a large portion of the country simply doesn’t have access to treatment.
In many parts of the country, especially in rural areas, treatment centers can be few and far between. Online therapy can not only provide treatment to those who don’t have access to it but can put them in touch with treatment professionals with whom they would have otherwise never been able to see. The availability of online therapy may help improve access to both mental health care and substance abuse treatment and in turn, make it more likely for people to get treatment.
Often, one of the major barriers to seeking treatment is the sheer commitment a treatment center poses. Whether it’s an inpatient or outpatient facility, taking time off of work, forgoing personal obligations, or finding childcare can all prevent someone from getting help.
While online therapy is by no means a substitute, studies have shown that people who try online therapy first may be more likely to seek out traditional, face-to-face treatment services in the future. Additionally, studies have also shown that people who undergo online therapy as part of an aftercare program are more likely to stick with their in-person therapy sessions.
Drawbacks Of Online Therapy
As with any treatment method, online therapy is not without its drawbacks. For some, these drawbacks may outweigh the affordability and convenience of online therapy, which is why it’s important to fully understand your options before choosing whether it’s right for you.
Insurance Will Not Always Cover Online Therapy
Unfortunately, the affordability of online therapy comes at a cost. While it differs from person to person and from plan to plan, many insurance plans will not cover the cost. In recent years, more and more insurance providers have begun to offer partial or full coverage for online therapy. Often, plans that cover some or all the cost will have certain stipulations or requirements to receive coverage. For example, an insurance provider may only cover sessions that include video or virtual conferencing. Because of this, it’s always important to check with your insurance provider before making any decisions about online therapy.
It Can Lack Connection
While the convenience of online therapy is hard to beat, for many, the lack of in-person communication can present a host of challenges. For one, it can be hard to read body language or convey emotions properly over the phone or through video calls. Sessions can feel less personal, and it can sometimes be hard to feel completely understood. Furthermore, connectivity issues like poor internet connection or inclement weather can make sessions frustrating or even force cancelations or rescheduling.
What To Expect
There are many questions people have regarding online therapy. Aside from more basic questions about insurance coverage and the type of platform being used, one major question many people have is simply: what should I expect?
Online therapy relies heavily on technology like phones, computers, and other smart devices to help deliver treatment. Using these devices, there are several techniques that many providers use to help facilitate mental health and addiction treatment services. These may include:
The most common type of service provided during online therapy is individual, therapist-led therapy. Using online video, text messaging services, phone calls, or other methods, a therapist will meet with the client virtually for an allotted amount of time on a recurring schedule, much like traditional therapy. Many platforms that people use on a daily basis, such as FaceTime or Skype, are not HIPAA certified, which means a therapist will likely use other platforms like VSee, Doxy.me, or Zoom to communicate with clients.
Sometimes, people may choose to utilize more computer-led therapy sessions. These are usually interactive, online courses or services that have little or no interaction with a therapist. These are often preferred by people who may have mental health conditions like social anxiety disorder, or who may be ashamed or nervous to see a counselor about an addiction.
How To Get Started
If you’re looking to get started in an online therapy program for addiction, it’s important to reach out to a qualified, licensed provider first. Typically, a provider will list front and center on their website if they are licensed or not, however, it’s always important to make sure for yourself before reaching out.
Like traditional therapy, finding a therapist you are comfortable with is another major part of choosing where and how to get treatment. While it can seem difficult to find the right therapist, many providers will help match you with someone that fits your needs.
If you’re ready to start your online therapy journey, get matched with a therapist today.