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What are the differences between online vs. in-person behavioral healthcare?






September 13, 2023

A lot of families ask me about the difference between virtual behavioral health support, like coaching or therapy, and in-person treatment. It’s a great question, so I want to take some time to unpack it here. 

Online therapy, sometimes known as teletherapy, offers mental health support from the comfort of home via the internet. Some virtual providers offer live video sessions with mental health professionals, along with messaging apps and other supportive online tools. 

In-person behavioral health, including therapy or coaching, involves meeting with a mental health professional face-to-face, typically in a clinical setting or a therapist or coach's office. 

Every person seeking care is different, and both types of support can be highly effective. But by providing virtual support, more people than ever before have access to the care they both need and deserve. 

The benefits of virtual support for families 

As a private practitioner, I was overwhelmed by the number of kids and teens in need of mental health support. And as a mom of two, I knew that I needed to do something to make care more accessible. That’s why I co-founded Bend Health as an all-virtual solution for families. 

Research shows that virtual behavioral health can offer several advantages over in-person therapy for kids. Some reasons why virtual behavioral health may even be more beneficial than in-person care include:

  • Accessibility: Since you can connect with a provider from your home, virtual behavioral health services eliminate geographical barriers. This option makes behavioral health services more accessible to children and families in remote areas or areas with limited mental health resources. And it allows access to qualified providers regardless of location, which can be especially helpful for families facing transportation challenges or those that have limited mobility.
  • Convenience and flexibility: Virtual care allows for flexibility in scheduling sessions at convenient times without the need for travel. This can be especially helpful for busy families with packed schedules (we see you!), as it cuts out the commute and wait times. 
  • Comfort and familiarity: Who doesn’t love being cuddled up on their couch with a cozy blanket and all of their surrounding creature comforts? Being in a familiar environment, such as a child's home, can create a sense of security, making it easier for kids to open up and engage in therapy. It can also reduce anxiety associated with visiting unfamiliar clinics or meeting face-to-face with a therapist.

  • Reduced anxiety and stigma: Virtual therapy eliminates the potential stress associated with visiting unfamiliar clinics or meeting face-to-face with a therapist. It also offers increased privacy, which can reduce the perceived stigma and increase acceptance of seeking help and participation in treatment. 

  • Engagement and technology integration: Many kids are comfortable with technology and enjoy using digital tools. That’s right — therapy can actually be fun sometimes! Virtual therapy can leverage this familiarity to engage children through interactive platforms, games, or therapeutic applications, making the sessions more engaging and enjoyable. 

Plus as a clinician, these tools provide me with a lot of context. I can understand what a child or teen’s environment looks like and I can ask them about things like their toys, which helps us build rapport. They can do things like take me on a tour of their house, I can meet their pets, and they can even tell me about posters they’ve put on the walls! I get to know more about their interests and stories and that can be hard to do in a foreign, sterile clinical setting.

  • Parental involvement: Virtual therapy allows for greater parental involvement and participation in the therapeutic process. Parents can attend sessions, actively participate, and learn realistic strategies to support their child's behavioral health outside of therapy sessions.

  • Parenting guidance: Parents can receive advice, coaching, and parenting strategies tailored to their child's specific needs. Virtual therapy offers a window into the real environment of the child so that the therapist or coach can observe more natural iteration and give advice.
  • Early intervention: Virtual behavioral health allows for early intervention in the comfort of the child's home. Parents can seek support and guidance for early developmental or behavioral concerns, ensuring that appropriate interventions are implemented promptly to promote healthy development.

  • Activities and measurement between sessions: Life happens outside of scheduled sessions so having telehealth tools, like activities and learning curriculum, allows a person to get support when they need it the most. Plus, when we’re able to use assessments to track symptoms between sessions, there is a better understanding of what their day to day is like and how we can best help. It can be difficult for people to remember everything that happened and report back in a session. It’s much easier for a practitioner to look back at assessments and activities to a full picture. 
  • Increased confidentiality: Virtual therapy sessions can provide a greater sense of privacy for teens, making it easier for them to discuss sensitive topics without the fear of being overheard or seen in a traditional clinic setting. It can also allow teens to take ownership of their mental health journey, giving them a sense of independence and control over their therapeutic process.

We’re seeing more and more benefits to virtual therapy and coaching every day. And that’s really exciting news because it means that more people will have access to care and will begin to feel better faster! 

Each individual is different, so it’s best to look at all types of care that are available and decide which is best for you. Remember that our team at Bend is always here to help, so don’t hesitate to reach out if your family could use some extra support — all from the comfort of your home.