The rapid shift toward virtual interactions, further accelerated by the pandemic, is influencing nearly all areas of our lives. The advent of telehealth is one such prominent area. While telehealth has created strides in increasing accessibility and convenience while reducing costs for providers and clients alike, there is a strong case to be made for the benefits of in-person therapy depending on your specific situation.
6 benefits of in-person therapy
- The ritual of *going* to therapy
We shouldn't underestimate the power of the ritual involved in preparing for and attending your therapy session. The simple act of setting aside time to get ready and then actually going to your therapist's office can instill a sense of purpose and determination in your healing journey. It can make you feel like you're taking a significant step towards nurturing your well-being.
- Access to a neutral and nutritive space for healing
Home environments might not always provide the desired sense of calmness. In more serious cases, they can even become settings of disarray and potential harm. By having access to a thoughtfully arranged space that prioritizes your comfort and safety, you can get some distance from your everyday life. Depending on your needs, this separation be helpful to the therapeutic process! Moreover, therapy offices are designed to induce a soothing and tranquil atmosphere. They often offer items such as fidget devices, writing and art supplies, writing materials, and even games and toys, among other supportive tools. This creates a robust sensory experience that can assist you through different stages of the therapeutic process.
- Reduced disruptions or distractions
Most people can relate to the frustration that technological snafus create. Somewhere between “Can you hear me now” and “I’m going to send you a new link” the integrity of the therapeutic relationship can be compromised. Sustaining uninterrupted momentum during your session is pivotal to providing the comfort and ease you rightfully deserve, particularly when delving into sensitive subjects. Equally important is the environment from which you are engaging in therapy, whether it’s your home or workplace. Often, the presence of others or external distractions can hinder your ability to speak freely, ultimately hurting the process.
- Holistic exchange of communication
Non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and cadence of speech, allows your therapist to better understand your state of mind and needs. Your therapist can also give you feedback in real-time based on these cues, such as “I noticed you tensed up while talking about your mother.” When these cues are absent or distorted due to technological limitations, the therapist may struggle to fully contextualize verbal exchanges with the necessary nuances.
On the flip side, the ability to observe your therapist's nonverbal signals can foster a stronger sense of connection. These cues may include leaning in attentively, employing gestures to emphasize points, or maintaining warm and engaging eye contact. By noticing their physical presence in the room, you become more attuned to the chemistry you share (or don’t share)! In this way, in-person therapy can foster an authentic, honest, and emotionally resonant connection that may be difficult to replicate over a screen. This heightened awareness can also enable you to identify moments when this connection feels lacking.
- Depth of treatment
Certain interventions become inaccessible or lose their strength when conducted virtually. For example, the impact and effectiveness of somatic and mindfulness-based practices often suffer. Additionally, specific integrative mind-body techniques such as EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) or brainspotting for trauma recovery and healing, although possible, can become more difficult and complex to administer safely. Collaborative interventions and alternatives to conventional talk therapy, like art, music, or dance therapy, as well as the integration of playful elements, incorporating visual aids such as paper or white/chalkboards to illustrate and elucidate particular scenarios during sessions, can all become more intricate and ultimately lose their vibrancy in a virtual setting.
Exposure-based interventions are more effective with in-person interactions. For instance, someone dealing with social anxiety can significantly enhance their well-being by gradually exposing themselves to consistent in-person interactions. This process helps them acquire essential skills progressively while being supported within a controlled setting.
- Effectiveness across certain ages, ability statuses, and cultures
Children may have a low attention span in front of a screen and may find it difficult to be engaged during sessions. They also respond more to visual and tactile cues. The same can also be true for those who live with attention deficits or have neurological baselines that increase susceptibility to distractions. Adolescents, or adults, who do not want to actively participate or are not there of their own volition might find the screen barrier to be a helpful escape, lowering focus and presence. Folks with certain disabilities, like auditory disabilities, might find it difficult to extract meaningful conversations over telehealth platforms. Of course, the converse is also true for folks with physical disabilities amongst others when it comes to in-person therapy.
Those belonging to certain cultures or values that do not use technology at the same rate as a majority of the United States might also find virtual communication to be inorganic. A language barrier can also feel more alienating over teletherapy platforms, as one might not be inclined to repeatedly ask for clarification. For some of these situations amongst others, in-person therapy might be a better fit.
It’s really up to you!
All in all, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to therapy. Ultimately, choosing between in-person and virtual therapy depends on your individual needs. It’s worth noting that teletherapy is also supported by research and can provide excellent results as well. It serves as a crucial channel for enhancing accessibility, so if that's your choice or circumstance, don't feel discouraged by this article. It is always a good idea to discuss this with your therapist – this way you can make informed decisions and maintain a sense of agency throughout your healing journey.