Access and Equity in Online Therapy
While online therapy has increased access to mental health services for many, experts argue it has also excluded some vulnerable populations who lack the resources and skills to benefit from digital modalities. This highlights the need for in-person options to remain available for underserved communities.
The Digital Divide in Access to Care
Proponents note that online therapy has made treatment more accessible for people with mobility issues, strict schedules and other barriers to in-office visits. Distance is no longer an obstacle for those able to connect online.
However, critics point out that large segments of the population remain unable to access digital mental health services due to the “digital divide.”
This includes individuals with limited or no internet access, those who lack devices capable of supporting telehealth, and people with low digital literacy and comfort with technology. All of these factors tend to disproportionately impact those already facing healthcare inequities like racial and ethnic minorities, elderly populations and individuals of low socioeconomic status.
The Need for In-Person Options
In response, experts argue that while online therapy can and should expand, in-person modalities must be preserved and promoted for underserved groups facing barriers to telehealth.
This includes maintaining public health clinics, community mental health centers and other low-cost options for individuals unable to benefit from remote services.
These in-person resources play a vital role in ensuring equitable access to mental healthcare – especially for marginalized communities historically excluded from the health system.
While online therapy has increased access in many ways, experts caution that it has also left behind vulnerable populations lacking the resources and skills to benefit. Preserving and strengthening traditional in-person options remains essential for promoting equity in mental healthcare – especially for underserved groups facing barriers to telehealth. A balanced “omnichannel” approach that includes both online and in-office modalities can meet the diverse needs of all communities in a just and inclusive manner.