Pros and Cons of Online Couples' Therapy

In This Article

Virtual health services have become more commonplace over the last decade, and the coronavirus pandemic has expedited their popularity. Even from the confines of our homes, we have access to one-on-one conversations with medical doctors, dermatologists, and therapists.

While most telehealth services focus on individual care, online couples’ therapy is also available, either through a therapist or counselor with an online practice, or one of a number of subscription-based programs that provide access to therapy through text, email, or chat.

Learn more about how a couples’ therapy session might differ from in-person counseling, the benefits and potential drawbacks, as well as guidance on how to find an excellent therapist.

Overview

Online therapy goes by many names—e-therapy, teletherapy, telecounseling, e-counseling, and even cyber counseling. In many ways, it's the same as therapy you’d get from an in-person session, only your conversations take place through text, email, or video chats. Online therapy for couples is similar, only both you and your partner are present and the goal is to improve your relationship dynamic together.

“In the session, your therapist will guide you through exercises and communication practices. The goal is to help you improve the quality of your relationship, increase or renew the friendship factor, enhance your intimacy through deeper emotional connection, and navigate and resolve conflicts effectively,” explains Jennie Marie Battistin, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) based in Burbank, California.

In terms of structure, usually each person is given a chance to speak so they can air their concerns and complaints while the other person actively listens. The therapist facilities these sessions, guiding the conversation by asking questions and helping the couple reach agreements and understanding of each other.

As is the case with all forms of therapy, how many sessions you decide to partake in is up to you and your partner, informed by your therapist’s recommendation. Some can resolve in a few months while others benefit from ongoing sessions over the course of years.

Benefits

In general, couples’ therapy opens the door of communication and can strengthen what many would consider their most important relationship.

“Sessions can reveal hidden worries and underlying patterns, set the tone for ongoing communication, and help you create goals and modify behaviors into the future,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a NYC-based neuropsychologist. “Additionally, couples might feel they can hang on to their grievances until their session, so their day-to-day also gets better because there’s a place they can bring their disagreements.”

In terms of the benefits of online couples' therapy versus in-office sessions, there are a handful to consider:

  • It’s Convenient: Having no commute to a therapist’s office often allows for easier scheduling, especially in cases where work schedules might collide or if you have children. When something meshes well with your schedule, it’s easier to stay the course.
  • You May Feel More Comfortable: Walking into a foreign space with someone you’ve never met and airing personal details is hard to do. Though it’s still a difficult process when at home, being in the safe cocoon of your space might make it easier.
  • Learned Skills May Translate Easily: “Practicing communication skills in your home may help to translate the skill to real life, which can help increase the accessibility of using the skill day to day,” says Battistin.
  • It Opens the Door to Long-Distance Relationship Counseling: If you’re in a long-distance relationship and unable to consistently participate in traditional therapy, online couples’ therapy is a viable alternative.

“To ensure your session goes well, being open minded and accepting is the first step," says Dr. Hafeez. “It also helps to write out your individual and couple goals, as well as your complaints or worries, so you don’t spend your time being sidetracked and later feeling you never got to say the important things.”

Note that in some cases the goal or outcome of couples’ therapy is to help you determine whether it makes sense to remain in the relationship. In cases where you’re in a relationship that’s not demonstrably unhealthy but otherwise might be better ended, couples’ therapy can help you amicably separate.

Potential Drawbacks

While there are many benefits associated with online couples couple therapy, it’s important to acknowledge some of the potential drawbacks, as well. Those might include the following:

  • It’s Harder to Read Body Language: “With a virtual session, there’s a limited understanding of body language and interaction specific to in-person behaviors in online sessions,” says Dr. Hafeez. While some body language can still be read through a screen, some important cues might be missed by your therapist.
  • Interruptions Might Occur: Children, knocks on the door, pets, internet connectivity issues, and other interruptions are more likely to take place. Dr. Hafeez also points out that you might speak more quietly or with more hesitation if you live with others or have children for fear of being overheard. All these factors can impact the flow of your session.
  • Sessions Might Feel Less Intimate: Since you’re communicating with a therapist through a screen, sessions can feel less personal. This might make it harder to open up and make yourself vulnerable.
  • Sessions Are Trickier to Control: Though not always the case, Battistin says it can be difficult to keep more volatile couples calm without having the physical presence of the therapist.

Generally speaking, in situations where there have been physical altercations it is best to schedule an in-person, one-on-one therapy session versus an online or virtual session. Additionally, Battistin says that one-on-one sessions (virtual or in-person) are ideal if one person is struggling with deep depression or a mental disorder.

Finding a Therapist

Several studies have suggested that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy, permitting you’re speaking to a skilled therapist.

“I recommend seeking a private practice therapist who primarily has specialized in couples’ therapy in-office, yet offers online when the need arises. It’s also best to seek a therapist who has completed additional training in couples’ therapy; preferably they’ve obtained a level three or certification level in couples' therapy modality,” says Battistin. “You might be surprised to learn most therapists have had only two to three classes in conducting couples’ therapy while pursuing their master's or doctoral degree.”

Dr. Hafeez adds that it’s also important to look for the following credentials: LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist), LMHC (licensed mental health counselor), LCPC (licensed clinical professional counselor) and MFT (marriage and family therapist).

“Additionally,” she says, “a social worker with training in couples’ therapy could be a good fit. And always, the persons with the greatest training in any type of counseling are those with doctorates (PsyD or PhD).”

The following directories can help point you in the right direction:

Online Platforms

There are several online platforms that have emerged as alternatives to private practice therapists. Some platforms are better suited than others to provide couples' therapy. There are differences in how you can choose or change your therapist, and video chat may not be available on every platform.

As the field of online therapy continues to develop, however, it's likely that these platforms will expand and refine their offerings to suit more specific needs, including couples' therapy. If affordability is a concern, there are options to explore.

A Word From Verywell

The advent of online couples’ counseling has provided more flexibility to couples across the globe who desire to navigate their relationship with the help of an expert.

In cases where virtual is the only option—during stay-at-home orders, while traveling, in a long-distance relationship, or in situations when commuting simply isn’t a possibility—virtual sessions may prove an excellent alternative to in-person sessions. All couples have their own needs, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of online couples’ therapy to determine if it’s the right move for your relationship.

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Azy Barak, Liat Hen, Meyran Boniel-Nissim & Na'ama Shapira, A Comprehensive Review and a Meta-Analysis of the Effectiveness of Internet-Based Psychotherapeutic Interventions, Journal of Technology in Human Services, 26:2-4, 109-160, doi:10.1080/15228830802094429

Additional Reading
  • Interview Dr. Sanam Hafeez, April 2019

  • Interview with Jennie Marie Battistin, LMFT, April 2019