Why Face-to-Face Counseling is Worth It

By Katie MacDougall, LPC

The American work force has undergone key structural shifts in the last decade, especially since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. One such shift has been the rise of the gig economy, which is changing the way we order groceries, get from place to place, and even how we address mental health issues.

While this swell in focus on psychotherapy has served to raise awareness and remove some of the stigma associated with mental health and corresponding treatment, delayed effects are now surfacing that may cause more harm than good to the behavioral health industry.

A popular model for mental health services are paid platforms where users connect with therapists (or coaches) in a virtual-only setting. There is often a subscription model and users can connect through texting or the app at all hours of the day. You may have heard about these services through an ad on your favorite podcast or perhaps you’ve tried it yourself. 

Yes, these services seem to remove certain barriers such as traveling to a therapist’s office, cost, finding a good fit with a counselor, among other common hurdles, but is this model the best long-term model when it comes to pursuing therapy and mental health?

And is this model helpful long term for private practices?

In short, no.

Simply put, the goals in a counseling relationship are best achieved face to face and can’t be replicated on a platform with therapists who are taxed beyond their capacity, underpaid, or who may not even be licensed therapists.

Here’s why that should matter to you:

On-Demand Platforms Place Hidden Burdens on Therapists

While selecting and chatting with a therapist on these apps seems as easy as swiping and typing in a few details about yourself,  these therapists may be under pressure from the companies whose main focus is profit, not the client.

Therapists and coaches may be limited to certain lengths of messages or forced to hit a large maximum of words in messages, no matter the reason a client may be reaching out for help.

At Morning Light Christian Counseling, our therapists are freed from these burdens because we are self-employed; however, we are also empowered by state and national ethics codes and laws. Let me explain. When a counselor is self-employed (aka working in a private or group practice setting), he or she is under less pressure to focus on profit. Instead of hitting a certain number of hours (or dollars) per day or week, a therapist gets to choose how to structure his or her schedule based on the needs of the clients they serve and the needs of the therapist to maintain health as he or she helps others (and trust us, you want a healthy therapist). Of course, our therapists are fully licensed in the State of Oklahoma, so we have numerous ethics codes and laws that regulate our practices as well. These codes and laws mean our standards are higher than unlicensed mental health professionals.

In other words, the combination we offer in face-to-face, private practice counseling means you get the best care possible! 

Hidden Cost of Convenience for Consumers

As a society, we are conditioned to carrying out much of our lives on our phones: we stay in touch with family, order groceries, organize events, consume news, and play games, all on this tiny rectangle.

Why not add mental health to that category?

The thing is, an app is not going to be successful at pursuing solid therapy to address real mental health challenges. The effect just isn’t the same. These are pursuits that are best addressed in a face-to-face relationship.

For instance, the physical disconnect between your therapist and you on the app may make it easier to discontinue your therapy plan before you have a chance to see positive change.

In an article for Mental Health Match, the disconnect between actual therapy and virtual therapy is further highlighted:

In those few weeks, many clients superficially engage with a therapist who may not be a good fit for them, and then quit. There is no structure or relationship building to help them understand how therapy works or what they should expect from it. 

These clients end up with a negative perception of therapy and a very restricted view of what therapy is and how it can help them. Thus, many clients’ experiences with these platforms are their first, and last, with therapy.

There is nothing convenient about counseling. If you’re looking for a quick fix, counseling is not it. At Morning Light Christian Counseling, we wholeheartedly believe in tools that produce lasting, effective change. These tools are often quite efficient. However, they are rarely on the timelines we expect (sometimes they’re faster and sometimes they’re slower). The process of healing requires endurance. If a client wishes to experience real growth, gig therapy does not have the grit that truly building a relationship with a therapist does. It is in the grit and grind of that therapeutic process where a client will truly experience change.

Information privacy and the sharing of information with third parties is another hot topic with the ever-increasing amount of data shared online. Mental health apps are not immune to these privacy challenges either. 

Consumer Reports looked at several popular apps and found that many of them sent information to third parties, such as Facebook and Google. This kind of data is often used for advertising or other business research. And while it’s a common practice, it may not be something you expect from apps that deal with mental health.

“We didn’t see these apps sharing details about your condition or what you’re telling your therapist. But they may be letting other companies know you’re using a mental health app,” Consumer Reports Tech Editor Thomas Germain said. (News4Jax)

While the convenience of a “counselor in your pocket” may initially be attractive, we hope you’ll pause a moment longer and consider the ramifications of solely relying on this therapy model.

In an article for Psychology Today, Devon Frye writes, “There is only one you. You have been entrusted with the marvelous (yet frequently arduous) privilege of caring well for your whole being.”

Part of stewarding yourself includes knowing how to select quality therapy and opt for the best course of action even if it may not be the easiest or shortest course of action. The good news is, we promise it will be worth it. We will be with you every step of the way.

We are ready to build a relationship with you and help you achieve your mental health goals. Schedule an appointment with us today.

About the Author

Katie MacDougall holds a Master of Divinity with a specialization in Counseling from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as well as a Bachelor of Science from Oklahoma City University. She is an ​Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Certified Therapist, which is a research-based method to help those suffering from traumatic events.

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