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.
In your research you might have even found practices or individual therapists in your area who might be a fit for you. You may have also noticed that there are also lots of great therapists on therapy apps, such as Talkspace and Betterhelp, that also offer what look to be great therapy and counselling. This can feel super confusing and make it hard to know if the right choice for you is a therapy app or an in-person practice.
If you’re somone who just wants to find a great therapist, you may be wondering: Which option is right for me? Should I choose a therapy app or an in-person psychotherapist? Are there any other options?
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. Our goal for you is to help give you all the information you need to know about the key differences between a therapy app and in-person therapy. This information will help you make the right decision for you.
To help answer this question, we’ll dive into:
- What is a therapy app and how does it work?
- What is in-person therapy and how does it work?
- The pros and cons of both options and why you may choose one over the other
By the end of this article, you’ll know the differences between the two types of therapy 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 quite cost effective and easy to schedule.
What are the advantages of using a therapy app?
- No travel time: Since the app therapy experience is entirely virtual, you won’t need to travel, park, or contend with traffic to see your therapist. This can be a huge advantage for clients who have busy schedules, have families or demanding jobs.
- Affordable: Since many apps bundle the therapy experience (ie: 30 minute sessions plus texting) apps are typically an affordable option for therapy.
- Outcomes: Research has shown that virtual therapy, in some cases, can be just as effective as in person therapy - depending on the issue being worked on. While there are certain issues that are less suited to online therapy, such as crisis situations and psychosis, common issues like anxiety and depression are usually treated just as effectively.
- Comfortability: Some people find it easier to connect to a therapist online, rather than in person. 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?
- 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. In addition, 15% of clients who attended virtual sessions didn't feel as connected and comfortable as they were in in-person sessions.
- 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 client outcomes are slightly better in person.
- Privacy: Apps require you to provide your own private space for sessions. Some people 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.
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?
- Focus: Some clients 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.
- Quality of Outcomes: Studies have shown that clients have overall higher levels of satisfaction with in-person therapy vs. online 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. In person therapy is suitable for a generally wider range of client concerns.
- 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.
What are the disadvantages of in-person therapy?
- Travel Time: It can be annoying to travel to a therapist’s in-person office, especially if there are traffic and parking issues.
- 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 for someone who doesn’t like in-person interactions or has a condition like social anxiety.
- Cost: In-person sessions are usually not bundled and are pay-per-session, meaning the cost may be higher, depending on the practice.
- Convenience: 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. In-person scheduling can be more tedious and less “instant-access” for clients, especially for people who 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.
- 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? Some people do 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.
- Do you feel awkward or anxious around people?
If you have a condition like social anxiety or simply don’t want to interact with people in the real world, online therapy is likely the better option for you.
- 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.
- 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.
- Are you already leaning toward a particular practice or a therapist?
Some clients don’t have a huge preference for what kind of medium they’re using - whether in-person or a therapy app. Instead, they’ll simply find the practice or therapist that’s right for them 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?
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.
So which one is right for you?
We now 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 anytime for our clients.
If you’re interested in booking an intake session here at KMA and starting your therapy journey with us, fill out the “Register Online” form here. Or you can book online using our online scheduler here.