Does Online Couples Therapy Work? The Pros & Cons of Online Therapy

A couple on a couch both looking at a laptop screen.

Does Online Couples Therapy Work? The Pros & Cons of Online Therapy

Tara Thomas

Hey, I'm Tara, relationship coach & couples therapist.

I'm definitely a weirdo, and have never traveled a conventional path-
It sucks because the world isn't designed for misfits, sometimes it's myself I'm rebelling against, and being a weirdo can be lonely.

I swear a lot, think life is too short to waste on drama & bullshit, and dream of a world where we ALL belong.

Tara Thomas

Hey, I'm Tara, relationship coach & couples therapist. I'm definitely a weirdo, and have never traveled a conventional path- It sucks because the world isn't designed for misfits, sometimes it's myself I'm rebelling against, and being a weirdo can be lonely. I swear a lot, think life is too short...

Post-panny, many of us still use Zoom for work or to connect socially, and most of us have a pretty good handle on it. But does online couples therapy work? This blog takes a look at the most common mistakes people make, and covers how to get the most from online couples therapy.

Table of Contents

    Like every service, couples therapists range from amazing life-changers to horrendous hacks and bad actors. And, like every service, taking that into an online space can have both benefits and challenges.

    A couple on a couch both looking at a laptop screen.
    Image by vgajic from Getty Images

    Does Online Couples Therapy Work?

    As with any form of couples therapy, there are a number of factors that contribute to whether you get good results;

    • The level of skill of your couples therapist
    • The relationship you both have with your couples therapist
    • Whether you believe in the value of couples therapy
    • The length of time you've had challenges
    • The level of frustration, resentment, or anger within your relationship
    • Each partner's willingness & commitment to do the work during, between, and after sessions

    Let's take a look at some of the logistics, benefits, and challenges of online couples therapy, and how to get the most out of your sessions.

    Choosing a Couples Therapist

    Research has shown that the quality of your relationship with your therapist is more important than the type of therapy you choose. It's a key marker of your likelihood for successful outcomes; no therapeutic alliance, no results.

    That's why choosing the right couples therapist for you is the most important thing you will do.

    You'll find a huge range of practitioners when you search for "online couples therapy". Within those search results, there's varied skill levels, experience, approaches, and personalities. Consider broadening your search terms to capture some other couples therapists-

    Some other terms you might try as well as online couples therapy include;

    • Relationship Coaching Near Me
    • Marriage Counselling Newcastle
    • Relationship Counsellor Newcastle
    • Couples Counselling Hunter Valley
    • Relationship Psychotherapy Near Me
    • Relationship Therapy Newcastle

    You also need to know that folks who come back on page 1 of your search are not necessarily the best or most popular. Some are paying more money for advertising. The others are doing better with their website SEO. Neither of those things reflect couples therapy skills, okay? You might find a terrible couples therapist on page 1, and a fantastic couples therapist on page 15.

    I have written a detailed guide to choosing a therapist here: Couples Therapy Newcastle: A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing a Therapist

    What Sucks About Online Couples Therapy?

    Someone sitting in front of a computer. They are pinching the bridge of their nose under their glasses and look tired.
    Image from Canva.

    For the best results in couples therapy, it's wonderful when all the partner/s are physically in a room together.

    Just the commitment required to make that happen is a factor in the success of a session. When partner/s arrive in my client room for a session, they've already made a big mental commitment, had to overcome logistical obstacles, and arrive in a space not knowing what to expect.

    Those factors alone mean that face-to-face sessions just have a special something that can be missing (but isn't always!) from online couples therapy.

    A couples therapist who is experienced with running online couples therapy sessions should have good strategies to mitigate & manage those limitations.

    Some of the other limitations to online couples therapy (versus face-to-face sessions) are;

    Technological Factors

    • Let's be real right now, internet service in Australia is shit. There. I said it. That means that dependent on location, service, and time of day, you might struggle to access adequate bandwidth to run a video call.
    • Access to the internet. We don't all have access in our homes to internet, let alone at speeds that facilitate online couples therapy. That might mean using internet at someone elses house, or in another location.
    • Knowing how to use the platform. You may not be familiar with the platform for your online couples therapy, which can add stress & frustration to interacting with your couples therapist.
    • A therapist who is proficient online. P'raps you're all over it, but your couples therapist sucks at tech and makes the session feel weird & clunky.
    • Challenges with sound, picture, and random glitches. It doesn't matter how many times you test it, from time to time internet gremlins just fuck with your shit. This is an inevitable part of online couples therapy, and requires a bit of extra time allowance to cover this kind of eventuality.

    Physiological Factors

    • Zoom fatigue is a thing. If you spend much time on computers during the day, especially on online meeting platforms, online couples therapy might feel like the last thing you want to do.
    • Poor posture, and less movement. It's easier to forget we have a body when we're just looking at talking heads! If you are sitting awkwardly to see your screen, or be seen on screen by your couples therapist, you might find yourself with strange aches & pains post session. Again, an experienced online couples therapist should help manage this through their session.
    • Harder to build real rapport & a therapeutic alliance. Human bodies are designed to collect & interpret a vast amount of information from their environments, as well as to connect with the nervous systems of other humans in their vicinity. While we do have the capacity to do those things in a virtual space, they're greatly reduced.

    Logistical Factors

    • Higher potential for interruption - Your couples therapist has created a space to see clients that allows you to leave your day-to-day interruptions and focus completely on your relationship. If you are doing online couples therapy from home, you have a much higher potential for interruption from children, phones, deliveries, and even thoughts about your to-do list!
    • Seeing your own face - this is a super weird part of online couples therapy. Being able to see your own face can be really distracting, and trigger thoughts about how you look, or wondering about what your therapist thinks about how you look. Definitely recommend turning that off in your platform of choice!
    A young couple sitting in the doorway of  a green dome tent with a laptop. They are looking at each other and smiling. There are trees in the background.
    Photo by SimpleFoto from Canva

    What Rocks About Online Couples Therapy?

    Once you do a bit of preparation to overcome what sucks about online couples therapy, there are some incredible benefits that far outweigh the challenges!

    Suddenly you are freed from your geographical location, and able to work with couples therapists from around the globe.

    And you don't even have to wear pants!

    (I mean, you probs should in case you need to stand up for an activity... but you do you!)

    Some of the other benefits to online couples therapy (versus face-to-face sessions) are;

    Freedom of Location

    • Work with couples therapists around the world. Not being limited to your local area means you suddenly have access to a huge spectrum of therapists with different backgrounds, skill sets, and personalities. That's a fuck yeah from me!
    • No travel. No traffic, no parking, no travel time...
    • Choose your environment. Being in your home environment can really help your nervous system to relax, and help you be more comfortable in your own room with your own things. You can set the temperature, bring pillows, make your favourite tea, and generally set the mood.
    • Don't need to be in the same place. A work trip, FIFO job, or even a holiday can really interrupt the momentum of your couples therapy. Online couples therapy means that each of you can dial in from a different location, or keep your scheduled appointment while you're on holidays and have more mental space & energy to work on your relationship together.

    Logistical Factors

    • No travel time. I know I kind of already said it... but as an introvert with ADHD and chronic fatigue any time I don't have to go anywhere is a huge win.
    • No child care. Many couples say that finding someone to take care of their kids while they come to their sessions is really tricky. Like, you only have so much goodwill in the babysitting bank and you'd rather use it for fun! Or they feel uncomfortable about telling people why they need the support. Either way, online couples therapy solves this problem straight up (though it creates a new one - see below for how to get the most from your online couples therapy sessions).
    Three people around a table looking at their laptops. They are smiling & laughing.
    Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash.

    Getting the Most From Online Couples Therapy

    There are some super simple things you can do to overcome the limitations, and get the most from your online couples therapy.

    Pre-session 

    Technology;

    • Download, update, and test platform (Zoom, Skype, Google). This is self explanatory, but I gotta say I'm shocked at how many people try to download and set shit up like 10 minutes before we're scheduled for our session!
    • Consider using TV screen. If you can see your therapist on a TV screen at a good distance (the way most people already have it set up), then you can set up your laptop closer to your face so your couples therapist can also see you really well. It should go without saying, but test this too.
    • Test microphone & speaker. I already said it... test. your. shit! Seriously, this is precious time to invest your time, energy, and attention into your relationship. If you spend time in your session troubleshooting tech, you're doing everyone a disservice.

    Location;

    • Make sure you are in a quiet location where you won't be disturbed. Don't worry about your background, please choose a location where your internet, privacy, and comfort are optimised.
    • WHERE YOU WON'T BE DISTURBED! This might mean locking a door, putting a sign up, or having a robust conversation with the other humans in your home.
    • Make yourself comfortable. Check when you are both sitting that you can comfortably see the screen, and that you are both comfortably on screen from the waist up for your couples therapist. Sometimes we sit unnaturally still while using video-calls, so try and set this up well from the start.

    Preparation:

    • Make sure you won't be disturbed- turn off phones or switch to silent.
    • Arrange childcare. Ideally your kids aren't at home with you. Murphy's Law means they inevitably interrupt.
    • Arrange child distraction. If childcare isn't an option, set the kids up so they are distracted. Put on a movie! Let them watch their favourite show! Happy parents far outweighs a little extra screen time.
    • Fetch equipment. Bring water, tissues, pen & paper. Make tea if you like. Don't rely on your memory, especially when you are emotional. Taking notes is a strategic way to get the most from your session.
    • Schedule time before the session. Take an extra ten minutes after setting up to get in the headspace for your session. Arriving rushed can influence how you show up.
    • Be on time. I mean, or don't. You're an adult, and it's your time & money! This is just how to get the most from your online couples therapy.
    • Schedule time after your session. Do some gentle movement to get back into your body after being online. See to any emotional care required for yourself or your partner. Take notes for yourself about your impressions of the session - your couple therapist, the work you did in session, things you noticed & learned, and any other things you'd like to remember.

    Post Session

    Implement;

    • Schedule time to conduct the experiments you came up with in your session as possible solutions
    • Schedule time to review your notes from the session, and for any homework
    • Schedule time to talk to your partner about the session

    Feedback;

    • Notice what worked well, within your session and let your therapist know
    • Give your therapist feedback about what didn't work, what they might have missed, and ask any questions you have

    Preparation:

    • Come to your next online couples therapy session prepared with an update on how you have been, and input into what you'd like to focus on

    Developing an Action Plan

    Online couples therapy is a wonderful option to give you increased access to the support you need for your relationship.

    1. For more about the logistics of couples therapy, head to my blog and check out the category Couples Therapy where there's lots of information to guide you through the process.
    2. If you're curious about online couples therapy with me, you can read my FAQ or schedule a Meet & Greet with me.
    3. Put together an Action Plan. You can do that by talking it through with your partner/s using the headings above to guide you. I've also put together some checklists you can use to step through the process which you can purchase below.