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Virtual Counseling: Is Online Counseling for Teens and Young Adults Effective?

These days you’d be hard pressed to find a teen or young adult who doesn’t have a smartphone attached at the hip. And that’s probably just one of several “screens” they have access to. Like it or not, screens are here to stay, and almost anything can be found on-line today, including therapy. Virtual counseling, tele-health services, and on-line therapy are all descriptions of the same thing. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, it is exactly what it sounds like…mental health services provided virtually, with the therapist in one location and the client in an entirely different location. Sounds simple enough, right? But is it as effective as traditional, face to face, in-person therapy? In a word, yes.

Virtual counseling is just as effective, especially for teens and young adults, as in person counseling. In fact, when it comes to mental health support, on-line counseling has a few key advantages. The first is comfort level. Our teens and young adults understand the virtual world better than most of us parents. They have almost certainly experienced on-line learning, on-line classes, or on-line training at some point, and for many it may even be the norm. For them, the idea of seeing a therapist for the first time might be daunting, but being able to do so in a way that is more comfortable and familiar makes it less scary. For teens or young adults who might be struggling with clinical issues that make it more difficult to leave the house, such as depression or social anxiety, having access to mental health services in a way that works for them is especially helpful. They can connect with a support person from the comfort of their bedroom if they want, in their pajamas, with the family dog or cat sitting in their lap. It’s much less intimidating which makes it much more likely that they will engage in services and get the help they need.

Secondly, it’s convenient. Teens and young adults are often busy, as are their parents. Virtual counseling not only offers an advantage as far as comfort level, but it makes it possible for these busy Gen Z’ers to access support when they might not otherwise have had the time or opportunity. It removes a barrier. It’s much easier to meet with your therapist on-line when you get home from school at 3:15pm than it is to coordinate a ride from Mom or Dad, drive to the appointment, have the appointment, and drive home. When you’re a teen with tons of homework to get done or extra-curricular activities to work around, that extra time and energy matters. And parents are often juggling multiple kids’ schedules in addition to their own. Teens often feel empowered being able to manage their own appointments without having to rely on anyone else or coordinate with other family members to get there.

Similarly, young adults are often working or attending school. Their schedules are hit or miss, and they may or may not have access to transportation. Consider the young adult in college living on-campus without a vehicle, or the 20-something working and living in a big city relying on mass transportation, for example. For these individuals, being able to receive therapeutic support virtually is one less hassle. Virtual counseling provides the opportunity to get their needs met without adding additional stressors. It’s simple, easy, and convenient.

For the teen or young adult living in a rural area, access to mental health services nearby is very often an issue. Again, being able to meet with a therapist on-line is a very effective way for them to get the support they may need and that they deserve.

When seeking on-line services for your teen or young adult, be sure to talk to the provider about the way they deliver these services. Because body language and eye contact are so important, look for those therapists who offer the virtual format versus phone or texting only. Ask them to explain how it works and what on-line platform they use. A well-qualified therapist will talk you (or your teen or young adult) through their process, and go over informed consent related to tele-health the same way they would for an in-person appointment. And while it may seem less personal than being in the same room with a therapist, a qualified therapist will be able to set the tone in the virtual experience, creating that unique connection and establishing the rapport that makes for good therapy.

There’s no denying that our world looks a bit different having gone through a world-wide pandemic. One of the positive things to have come about is the normalization of on-line and virtual services that we just didn’t have as much access to before. Because of the pandemic, insurance companies made allowances that they hadn’t had to before, and suddenly virtual counseling became much more common. Fortunately, on-line therapy is here to stay. For teens and young adults who are so accustomed to doing things on-line, virtual counseling is a comfortable, convenient, and extremely effective way of meeting their mental health needs and maintaining emotional wellbeing. To learn more, call (805) 842-1994

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