Can Online Therapy Help Survivors?

Is online therapy a good way to helps survivors of various kinds of abuse?

Posted Nov 14, 2017

Online therapy can help many people, but can it help survivors of domestic violence or sexual abuse? I've been wondering about this. We know about the importance of working with psychologists when you're dealing with anxiety or depression, for example, but when you're dealing with serious trauma is it effective to speak to someone online? In some ways, it could be a good fit. The survivor is in the privacy of their own home. They are able to express themselves freely. On the other hand, if the person is still being abused, it might not be the safest option. I was curious to find out how an actual survivor uses online therapy. I asked Pepper Joy Greggs, survivor, entrepreneur, and mother about her experience with online therapy. Greggs had this to say:

“It gives me the power to be anonymous in some ways. It’s self-preservation and a coping mechanism for me. If I had a hard session with my therapist that week, I don’t have to get into my car and drive away with tearstains on my face. I can just pour myself a glass of wine or take a bath. I can perform self-care after having been through a traumatizing hour.” 

She makes a good point. Rehashing trauma can feel exhausting. I can see how working with a therapist in the privacy of a safe space (like your home) could feel better than sitting in an office talking about your abuse. You've already been through a lot and you want to feel comfortable and supported. An online therapist could be more effective at doing that in some ways. 

The one caveat I could see being an issue is a specific type of therapy that works better in person. EMDR is a form of therapy that focuses on eye movement and (in my opinion) would work best if done in person. It works well for people who have PTSD and trauma survivors. I can't imagine how this form of therapy would work online, but maybe I'm wrong? If you've done EMDR online please let me know.

In addition to talking to a survivor, I asked Heydon Hensley, an MSW candidate and former domestic violence advocate for his input. Hensley had mixed feelings on the efficacy of online therapy for survivors. He says:

"I think if the survivor/victim has access to a secure computer, then that could be a useful resource - BUT, depending on how much control the abuser is exerting, it's unlikely for someone that is still in a relationship to be able to safely access that resource. For folks that do have safe computer/internet access, then I think the rise of online therapists is a great boon, especially in rural areas where finding a good therapist (or any therapist at all) can be difficult, especially finding one that isn't somehow connected to the abuser/person causing harm."

Hensley makes an excellent point. If someone is being abused, their abuser might be able to access their private information more easily online than if the survivor was seeing an in-person therapist. However, if the Internet connection is secure, it could be a great option. It's just a matter of safety. 

The most important thing when dealing with abuse is to get help however you can. Whether that's speaking to a therapist in person or getting help with an online mental health professional, you can heal. It's a matter of what you feel the most comfortable with. Don't give up, there's hope!

Unsplash 2017
Source: Unsplash 2017