How Is Online Couples Therapy Possible?
By Jon Jaehnig
Updated March 17, 2020
Reviewer Nicole Gaines, LPC
Nearly every relationship can, at one time or another, benefit from a little outside help. When two people manage to admit this and start planning their next step, a kind of breakthrough has already been reached.
What exactly this next step will consist of can be a difficult choice, however, and can vary drastically on several factors. Your relationship type, your personalities, how long you have been together, and other factors can all change what this next step will look like for your couple. Until recently, where you lived was one of these factors. Your geographic location could contribute to determining your access to things like couples counseling. However, pursuing online couples therapy offers advantages in terms of cost and convenience, but is it effective?
How Does Online Couples Therapy Work?
Therapy has traditionally taken place in person, so the idea of online couples therapy can sound a little strange. Let's start with the basics.
Different platforms work differently, but here is how the ReGain platform works. In online couples counseling, you sign into the service and are matched with a counselor. However, because different couples have different preferences, you can usually get a new counselor if the first one that you are matched with doesn't work for you for any reason. We'll talk more about the counselors available through online platforms a little later on.
Once you have set up things, you can choose whether or not to invite your partner. Of course, you and your partner may decide together to enter into couples counseling. Alternatively, you may start online couples counseling on your own and invite your partner later - or not. There's nothing wrong with undergoing couples counseling as an individual, but the process usually works best when both partners are involved.
From there, the process resembles a chatroom or message board in other social media sites. You and your partner enter text on a special page that is only visible to you and your counselor.
If your counselor is online when you type your message, they can respond immediately, similar to the live chat services offered by many websites. If your counselor is not online or in session with another client when you post, then they can see your post and respond the next time that they are available.
Some people like this system because they can take time to craft their posts or to write longer posts without feeling like they are keeping their counselor waiting. If this doesn't sound like it's for you, you can always try to set up "appointments" with your online counselor by scheduling a time to both be available - similar to scheduling an appointment with a counselor that you see in person.
When you set up appointments, you can also choose to do a voice call, video chat or even real time texting sessions where each party can see the other person's text messages as they are being written. Some people like this more, some people don't. It may also limit the kinds of devices that you can use. The chatroom-like feature that we described above can be used through any device with an internet connection. Voice and video calling, however, have minimum hardware requirements like microphones and cameras. Of course, these days, even most mobile devices have this technology.
If the idea of online couples, counseling still seems strange to you, think about it as being just another form of telecommunications. After all, you probably use similar technology at work or even to communicate with your doctor. Online therapy isn't that different.
Is Personal Touch That Important?
As it happens, the answer is actually "no" in almost every case.
Whether we want to or not, we all send certain signals that influence how those around us see us, and by extension, how they feel. If the therapist's inflection stumbles on a certain word, he phrases a question awkwardly or even has some kind of off-putting physical feature; it can harm instead of help a couple's progress.
Jung (one of the founders of psychoanalysis) found that he could achieve better results with his patients if they sat with their backs to him. In couples counseling, the therapist's role is that of a sounding board and advisor, not an active participant. In this way, some couples find that the level of detachment available in online counseling can be helpful.
This is especially true in couples counseling because some people are worried that their couples therapist might be "picking sides." Not being in the same room as your couples therapist during the sessions can help to make the couples therapist feel more like a neutral agent. Further, some people feel like talking to a couples therapist over the internet helps them feel more comfortable with the situation. Couples counseling can be scary, and going to an office can be intimidating. Talking to a couples therapist over the internet can feel more like asking a friend for advice.
Some people may miss the feeling of speaking to a therapist, but as more of us get more used to communicating with people over the internet, people feel increasingly comfortable with these modes of communication. After all, therapy as we know it was pioneered in the late nineteenth century when the idea of real-time communication with someone who wasn't sitting next to you was impossible. In some ways, we may be giving couples therapy an unfair shake by expecting it to stay in the past when we have so many exciting technologies to bring it into the twenty-first century.
As mentioned above, if you do feel like you need to feel like your couples therapist is there with you rather than just sending typed replies, you can always try to schedule voice or video calls.
Doesn't Online Couple's Therapy Hinder Communication?
The online medium precludes picking up body language cues, and text messages can't convey a tone of voice. However, this turns out to be less of a disadvantage than you might think.
The largest part of couple's therapy is indeed learning how to communicate more effectively, and an important aspect of this is simply learning to say exactly what you mean. Writing down your thoughts instead of speaking forces you to examine just what your desires, feelings, and expectations are. This process means having to slow down and think about what you want to express instead of blurting out whatever comes to mind.
How Do You Know You're Talking to Someone Qualified?
If your relationship is at all important to you, you'll probably be concerned at the low fees online counseling services charge. However, this is mostly because they're set up to provide counseling more efficiently, with each therapist being able to "see" far more patients than would be possible in an office.
Different websites have different criteria for their workers. Some of them rely entirely on volunteers who may or may not have any formal training at all. Going this route may end up being useful but is equally likely to be a waste of time. In the United States and most other countries, it happens to be illegal to call yourself a licensed counselor without a minimum of an advanced degree and substantial practical experience, meaning that online services that are responsible for vetting their therapists' credentials will only employ people with the same qualifications you would expect of anyone in the profession.
The good news is that because of the legal requirements involved with online counseling, most websites that offer these services say up-front what kind of qualifications they require their counselors to hold and how their counselors are vetted. You should always read up on the website before you use it so that you can understand exactly what you are getting before you start.
If you are a particularly thorough person, you can always try to check a counselor's credentials yourself. Most of them will have profiles on professional networks like LinkedIn-although most counselors would not appreciate your finding them on social media sites like Facebook. You can also try to contact the state organization that licensed them to practice. This can be quite a bit of work, but it's reasonable to be suspicious of people that you meet online, especially if you are going to be trusting them with your mental health and the health of the relationship.
The Benefits of Online Counseling
Many couples prefer receiving online relationship counseling. Opening up about your relationship with a stranger is usually difficult, but the anonymity the internet offers can make this significantly easier, meaning that progress can be made more rapidly.
Another factor is simply that it becomes unnecessary for both of you to make time for an appointment during office hours. You can talk to someone experienced in helping couples at any time, from wherever you are.
That's one of the biggest benefits of online relationship counseling. Many relationships run into trouble when they are being carried out over long distances as is required sometimes because partners are studying or working apart from one another. If the distance is a problem for your relationship, there's no possible way that both of you could attend couples therapy together in any way other than online.
Last but not least, traditional therapy is expensive. It's possible to use an online service for months for what a single session with an office-bound counselor can run to. It may seem easy to make jokes about "cheap therapy" but, as discussed above, all kinds of couples can benefit from couple's therapy, not just wealthy couples. Now, thanks to online relationship counseling, not only the wealthy can afford it.
To learn more about starting relationship counseling online with ReGain, click the link.