In-Person Therapy vs. Therapy App: Which is Right for Me?

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Published Date|
June 28, 2022

In-Person Therapy vs. Therapy App: Which is Right for Me?

While researching options for counselling, you might have wondered what is the ACTUAL difference between a therapy app and seeing an in-person psychotherapist.

With great local therapists and tons of options on therapy apps, it can feel super confusing to know if the right choice for you is a therapy app or an in-person practice.

Working with KMA Therapy since 2008, I’ve seen many examples of clients who have come for in-person sessions as well as used therapy apps (and also seen clients use a hybrid of both) and have personally witnessed their outcomes.

I'm here to give you all the information you need to know the key differences between a therapy app and in-person therapy and make the right decision for you.

By the end of this article, you’ll know the differences between the two types of therapy, their pros and cons, and which option is best for you. 

What is a Therapy App and How Does it Work?

A therapy app is an app designed to help people receive therapy and counselling services virtually through text therapy, video chat, and email support. 

There are many apps for therapy that have been developed over the years, including TalkSpace and BetterHelp. A therapy app can offer therapy from hundreds and even thousands of therapists from different cities, regions and countries on the same app. As a client, depending on the app, you would sign up with the company on your computer or mobile device and receive the sessions virtually.

Therapy apps typically offer subscription services that include some combination of access to weekly counselling in addition to text support. These bundles are usually cost effective and easy to schedule.

What are the Advantages of Using a Therapy App?

Therapy apps can be a convenient and cost-effective way to get the care you need.

Pros of therapy apps include:

  • Affordable: Since many apps bundle the therapy experience (ie: 30 minute sessions plus texting) apps are typically an affordable option for therapy
  • Helpful for common issues: Research has shown that virtual therapy, in some cases, can be just as effective as in person therapy for common issues like anxiety and depression
  • No travel time: You won’t need to travel, park, or contend with traffic to see your therapist, which can be a huge advantage if you have a family, busy schedule, or a demanding job
  • Comfort: You might find it easier to connect to a therapist online, rather than in person, as being in your own space may help you be more comfortable and open up during sessions

What are the Disadvantages of Using a Therapy App?

Therapy apps are often less effective at treating mental health issues like psychosis or crisis situations, and can leave you feeling isolated and disconnected from your therapist.

Cons of therapy apps include:

  • Quality of Support: A recent study conducted by the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare showed that clients who attended virtual sessions felt less supported and encouraged during online therapy compared to in-person therapy, and 15% of clients who attended virtual sessions didn't feel as connected and comfortable as they were in in-person sessions
  • Privacy: Apps require you to provide your own private space for sessions, and you might find it harder to concentrate at home - if you’re living with a spouse, a family, or at home with your parents you’ll need to find a way to be comfortable and know that someone isn’t listening at the door
  • Insurance: Since many apps offer services of thousands of therapists, many won’t be licensed in your local vicinity. It’s very important to check with your insurance provider (as well as the app) to see if they will cover services from a therapy app
  • Value for Cost: If the app does not offer a bundled service (ie: texting), these online sessions are typically similar in cost to visiting an in-person office, even though in-person sessions can be more effective

therapy app pros and cons

What Is In-Person Therapy and How Does it Work?

In-person therapy is one-on-one or couples counselling that’s held in person, usually in the office of your registered health professional.

During in person therapy, you sit face to face with your therapist and discuss the issues that are bothering you. Many in-person therapy practices have multiple practitioners.

Many local practices also offer online therapy as an option: Clients can attend therapy in person when they wish, but can also opt for a virtual session when they need it.

What are the Advantages of In-Person Therapy?

In-person therapy is an effective way to treat more complex mental health issues, and can help you feel more connected to your therapist.

Pros of in-person therapy include:

  • Focus: You might find it easier to focus on therapy in the privacy of the therapist’s office, versus at home where there are distractions, children, and family members
  • Insurance Coverage: In-person therapists are required to be licensed in the geographical area of their office, and therefore are more likely to be covered under insurance
  • Quality of Outcomes: Studies have shown that clients have overall higher levels of satisfaction with in-person therapy vs. app therapy
  • Flexibility: Most in-person psychotherapy practices also offer the option of opting for online sessions, meaning you can have flexibility if needed but still have the option of face-to-face contact when you need it
  • Suitable for more client groups: There are many client groups for whom online therapy is not a suitable option, including clients who need crisis intervention, a diagnosis, help with severe clinical issues, and who have conditions where the therapist needs to evaluate the client’s in-person presentation

What are the Disadvantages of In-Person Therapy?

In-person therapy can take up more of your time and energy than simply opening up your therapy app.

Cons of in-person therapy include:

  • Travel Time: It can be annoying to travel to a therapist’s in-person office, especially if there are traffic and parking issues
  • Cost: In-person sessions are usually not bundled and are pay-per-session, meaning the cost may be higher, depending on the practice
  • Awkwardness: While some people find online therapy awkward, other people find it more uncomfortable to discuss their issues in person - this may not be a good option if you who don't like in-person interactions or experience social anxiety
  • Inconvenience: While many in-person therapists do offer online sessions, their practices are generally smaller and don’t provide instant access to thousands of therapists at the client’s fingertips like apps do - In-person scheduling can be more tedious and less “instant-access," especially if you want to see a therapist quickly

Which is Better for Me - a Therapy App or In-Person Therapy?

Both therapy apps and in-person therapy have been proven to be effective choices for receiving therapy treatment. But you might be wondering which one is better, or which one is right for you?

While there is no “one size fits all” answer for your therapy journey, here are a few helpful questions to ask yourself to determine which option might be right for you, or if a hybrid of both makes sense.

1. Do you value an in-person connection? 

Are you the type of person who thrives on in-person connections? Or does the sound of staying home sound better?

You might feel more energized after meeting with friends or colleagues and want the experience of the 1:1 support, so knowing whether an in-person connection will make an actual difference for you in terms of how you feel can help you decide which option is right for you.

2. Do you feel anxious about getting to your therapist's office?

If you have a lot of anxiety about the process of finding a therapist, figuring out how to get to their office, and navigating conversations with their administrative team, a therapy app might be a better choice for you.

3. Do you have a job that requires Zoom meetings regularly?

If part of your job involves Zoom or online meetings, how do you feel afterward? Do you feel energized or drained?

Some people feel energized, while others get Zoom fatigue. Keeping in mind your own reaction to online meetings can help you decide which option is better for you.

4. Do you have insurance? If so, what does it cover?

It’s important to check with your insurer to know which health professionals are covered under your plan.

If your plan covers psychotherapy or psychology but it’s limited to your geographical area, an in-person practice in your area is likely going to be the choice that is covered.

5. Are you already leaning toward a particular practice or a therapist? 

You might not have a huge preference for what kind of medium they’re using - whether in-person or a therapy app. Instead, you might simply find the practice or therapist that’s right for you and just go through the process that’s offered.

If you have a feeling someone may already be right for you, it may be the right option to just see what they offer and try it out.

Can I Use a Therapy App and See a Therapist In-Person?

Absolutely. Many clients choose to use both a therapy app and see a local counsellor for in person sessions.

Having the benefit of in-person sessions as well as support from an app can be a great hybrid option to maximize your success in treatment. 

Next Steps for Beginning Therapy

After reading this article, you know there are a couple of mediums through which you can get therapy and counselling. As a client, you have many options for choosing a therapist as well as ways you can receive it.

Studies show that, whether you receive help from a therapy app or an in-person practice, that getting any kind of counselling is better than getting no counselling at all. So you can give yourself a pat on the back for doing all the research you need!

At KMA Therapy, we are a psychotherapy practice with five in-person locations in Toronto, and we also offer the option of online sessions throughout Ontario anytime for our clients.  

If you’re interested in booking an intake session here at KMA and starting your therapy journey with us, Register Online. You can also download our free Therapy 101 Guide for more information.

If you'd prefer to keep reading, check out these related articles:

About the Author

Kimberly is the founder of KMA Therapy and one of Canada's most experienced media relationship experts. She received her doctoral degree in Counselling Psychology in 2015 at Middlesex University, where her doctoral research studied the emotional psychology of entrepreneurs. She also has a Masters Degree in Music Therapy from Wilfrid Laurier University and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Guelph.

Author |
Kimberly Moffit
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