What to Expect From Your First Online Therapy Experience


At its core, online therapy’s objective is similar to that of brick-and-mortar therapy: provide tools, solutions, and ways to reframe your current issues, allowing you to overcome challenges in many areas of your life.

Online therapy differs, however, in that it puts therapy in the palm of you hand and enables you to share your thoughts and challenges anytime you wish. This makes therapy more convenient and affordable for those who are new to the experience. Additionally, online or text-based therapy (like Talkspace) is known to be as effective, if not more, than brick-and-mortar therapy.

How do I start therapy?

Deciding to start therapy can be a hard decision when you’re experiencing a mental health issue, so congratulations on reaching this benchmark. Decades of psychotherapy research and practice prove that therapy is effective in improving individuals’ mental health, rest assured that you’re making the right choice. Now, you just need to find the option that works best for you. Some factors to consider are your schedule, budget, and insurance plan. You can check with your insurer regarding therapists in your area, or consider an online therapy provider like Talkspace.

Here’s what to expect when beginning your online therapy experience, and how to set expectations for positive outcomes along the way.

Matching with a Therapist

Matching with a therapist who understands why you’re seeking therapy — and fits your personality — is crucial to helping you achieve your mental health goals.

While Hollywood paints therapists as stuffy, older men with legal pads, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Therapists are uniquely compassionate people with diverse backgrounds. They can be as quirky and fun as you are, which helps build an important connection as you begin to work together.

Professionally, online therapists at Talkspace are fully vetted (or “credentialed” in industry terms). Regarding education, 95% of Talkspace therapists are masters-level educated, with the remaining 5% having completed their PsyD or Ph.D.. It’s mandatory that they’re independently licensed at the highest level for their state’s requirements, pass a background check for potential malpractice or medical sanctions, and qualified to diagnose mental health issues. They also complete rigorous training on how to use an online therapy platform and methodology surrounding technology-based therapy, like text therapy.

In sum, online therapists at Talkspace are 100% qualified to provide therapy or counseling both in-person and online.

How therapist matching works

When beginning your online therapy journey, matching with therapists is handled in a few ways. Traditionally, the first person you’ll interact with is a consultation therapist. This is a certified therapist who is an expert in matching your needs to another practitioner — your actual therapist — who focuses on that specialty or has extensive experience or training with your condition or issue. Examples of therapist specializations include: LGBTQIA+ identitiespost-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related traumas, or common conditions like anxiety and depression.

Additionally, you may have a preference for a male or female therapist or someone whom you share a cultural background with. Online therapy providers do their best to consider all preferences when matching you with someone within your state who completely understands your needs and experience.

Therapist matching technology

Some online therapy companies are now testing matching algorithms that help accurately pair you with a therapist based on a series of questions you’d answer. No matter the matching method, it’s important to be honest during the process and the problems you’d currently like to overcome.

Starting the Conversation with Your New Therapist

After you’ve been matched with a therapist, you’ll spend a short time getting to know each other and discussing your therapy objectives. It’s kind of like a first date, but much less awkward. Sometimes your therapist will have a brief intro video that tells you a little about themselves and often you’ll have an introductory video session. Then you’ll enter into treatment, often a text-based chat, but you can also send video, audio, and picture messages to your therapist. It’s all about ensuring your comfort with the process.

There are two common questions that arise at this stage: “What do I talk about” and “How do I want to communicate with my therapist.” Let’s delve into these next steps.

Setting Therapy Goals

The question “What do I talk about?” largely depends on what you’d like to get out of therapy. A common misconception is that therapy topics are always related to hitting rock-bottom or experiencing a crisis. While this can be the case, therapy is really just about removing roadblocks in your life and being happier.

Roadblocks can be as simple as:

  • “I’m having a hard time deciding what to do next in life.”
  • “My partner and I aren’t talking, and when we do we have arguments.”
  • “I’ve lost my passion for my job, and it’s affecting my work.”

Creating a list of a few topics you’d like to discuss online therapy will help you — and your therapist — get a feel for where you’re at in your life, and what’s most important to work on in the moment. This reveals another misconception about therapy: the only thing you discuss is your troubled past.

Communicating in Online Therapy

With online therapy, you can literally lay on the couch in your pajamas and talk to your therapist. And you can speak your mind in a few different ways: via text, audio, or video.

Text-based messaging

Talking to your therapist via text isn’t exactly the same as with a friend on Messenger or WhatsApp, but it is the most common way to communicate in online therapy. In online therapy, the texts are asynchronous, meaning that you send a message (or bunch of messages) and your therapist responds a little bit later the same day and usually twice per day. If you text semi-regularly, this adds up to what you’d cover in a 45 minute in-person therapist session.

The flexibility to share what’s on your mind on a break at work, in between classes, or on a bus-ride home, ensures you don’t have to wait an entire week before discussing with your therapist to find a solution. Plus you can drop in your favorite emojis!

Audio messaging and sessions

Using audio messages in your therapy journey has a few advantages over text-only messages. It allows you to discuss in greater detail about a specific issue.

Maybe you’re feeling tongue-tied on a first date. You can quickly record a message for your therapist who will hear and read the nervousness in your voice. You can also hit record whenever and speak your mind while you’re working on other tasks, like getting dinner ready or while shopping.

Video messaging and sessions

If you’re transitioning from face-to-face therapy to online therapy — maybe because it’s more convenient and affordable — you can still have a face-to-face discussion by using online therapy’s video options. It can either be like the video selfies you send friends over Snapchat or like Facetiming your best friend.

There are two video options: video messaging, where you record a video and share whatever you’d like, or live face-to-face video sessions (which probably more closely mirrors a brick-and-mortar therapy experience). The main difference is that your couch is likely more comfortable than the one in a therapist’s office.

Again, depending on your preference and online therapy plan, the choice of how you talk to your therapist is yours. Therapy is about communicating however feels most comfortable.

Setting Expectations for Therapy Outcomes

In many ways, we’ve gotten used to instant gratification (same day Amazon delivery, anyone?), but you shouldn’t put a price or limit on your personal happiness. Noticing the changes that result from online therapy does take some time, but according to those who’ve stuck with it, it’s absolutely worth it.

Most people cut their therapy journey short few a reasons: they’re not seeing results fast enough, they don’t vibe with their therapist, or they run out of things to talk about. The good news is that these issues are entirely solvable.

Improvement Happens Over a Few Months

If you asked one hundred people what they want most in life, you’d most likely hear this common answer: to be happy. If you asked those same people what would make them happy, you’ll likely get 100 different answers, with most of them resembling “travel to Europe” or “buy a new car.” It’s fair to say, however, that these might be only fleeting solutions.

Happiness isn’t about material possessions, our job title, or who you’re with, it’s an internal thermostat. But often you have control over the dial, simply because you decide how you feel about something. For a lot folks, therapy has proven to offer long-term improvement for their happiness, so why wouldn’t you ensure you put in the time it takes to get there?

Online therapy does have the potential to “speed the process up,” by allowing you to share your thoughts daily, rather than having to wait once a week for each visit to a brick-and-mortar therapist’s office. The more weight you get off your shoulders daily, the lighter your load and easier it will be to achieve your goals — whatever they are.

And science supports sticking with therapy, even if you perceive it as long process. Research shows that up to 67% of clients who remain in therapy for at least three months report improvement in their problems.

Therapist fit is crucial

Sometimes, after a few weeks, you find you don’t “click” with our therapist. It happens, but it’s no reason to quit therapy. It just means you need to find the person out there who’s a better fit for you!

Online therapy makes it easy to switch therapists. Instead of having to go back to hunting on Google, asking friends again for recommendations, or searching a list of providers on your insurance website, you can just switch and try again.

With online therapy, your progress and discussion can be shared with the next therapist if you’d like. This way you’re not starting over completely, your new therapist is picking up right where you left off. This seamless switch helps you continue to progress, which in turn ensures you’ll meet your personal therapy goals.

You can never run out of things to discuss

As mentioned earlier, therapy topics can range from what’s bothering you in the moment to serious, trauma-related discussions. Personal growth is continual no matter our age, and online therapy helps you work through anything.

If you’re not sure what to say next, it can be as simple as this: “I’m having a bad day.”

Leave a comment

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

I agree to these terms.