Online Psychiatry – What’s it Like, and Does it Really Work?

Worried about your emotional and mental health? Think you might have a diagnosable condition or personality disorder? But unable to get to an office? Online psychiatry is on the rise. 

What is an online psychiatrist?

It’s important to note that here in the UK, a psychiatrist is the only mental health care professional who can properly diagnose a mental health disorder and legally prescribe medication.

This is because they are first a qualified medical doctor (they go to medical school, then they decide to specialise in psychiatry and do further years of training).

Why would I see a psychiatrist online?

In the current pandemic climate, online psychiatry is on the rise due to social lockdown

Or it might be that you:

  • live far from a practicing psychiatrist
  • have children it’s difficult to find care for
  • are taking care of an elderly relative or disabled family member
  • travel so much you can’t guarantee you are always in the city of your practitioner
  • prefer the discreteness of seeing a practitioner over the web
  • have a physical health condition that makes leaving the house hard
  • or a mental health condition that makes going out a challenge.

Major depressive disorder , social anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), for example, can all mean leaving the house can be complicated and overwhelming. 

Can an online psychiatrist ever really be as good as seeing someone in person?

According to research, yes.  In a study on 119 depressed veterans who were randomly assigned to telepsychiatry or in-person treatment, outcomes were comparable. The veterans were also equally satisfied with their treatment, regardless if they did sessions using technology or in person.

And a review of current research on video conferencing-based telepsychiatry found it in general the equivalent of in-person psychiatry, barring in the case of elderly patients.

What can online psychiatry help with?

Not all issues are best dealt with via online psychiatrist appointments, however. And each psychiatrist might have a preference with what they will and won’t assess over the internet.

Learning difficulties, for example, can require many tests that are best done in person, as can autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

How do online psychiatry appointments work?

In many ways, it is the same as a regular, in-person psychiatry session. You show up on time, your psychiatrist welcomes you, and you start to talk.  At the end you agree on your next appointment.

But there are quite a few differences.

How is an online psychiatry session different than an in-person one?

With an online session, there might be times you arrive just in the nick of time. And it’s fine.

With an online session, this isn’t recommended. It’s essential to be at your computer at least a few minutes in advance, simply as there are more variables and you need leeway to troubleshoot.

This could look like a low battery and needing to find the power cable, a login issue, a modem that needs restarting, or a sound issue. It might be that you need more lighting. So yes, troubleshooting your technology and setup each time is crucial.

And you need to make sure you have privacy and quiet. There is no point doing a session if there is someone who can overhear you and you can’t  be honest enough for the session to be valuable.

Even during your session you need to stay aware that you are speaking clearly, aren’t obstructing your microphone, and are staying in frame where your psychiatrist can see you.

So to summarise:

  • make sure you have privacy and quiet for the duration of your session
  • arrive a few minutes in advance in case there are technology issues
  • but also ensure your technology is working in advance
  • be sure you understand the login process
  • know the software you are using to connect on
  • have enough lighting your psychiatrist can see you
  • frame yourself so your head and shoulders are visible.

Can an online psychiatrist prescribe meds?

Yes, an online psychiatrist can prescribe medication. 

If you booked your psychiatrist privately, they might be affiliated with a pharmacy where you can pick your meds up or have them mailed to you. If you are able to get your medication through the NHS, other arrangements can of course be made.

But do I really need to see a psychiatrist?

If you feel your mental health is at the point you need medication, or that you have a disorder such as a personality disorder, then a psychiatrist would be a good choice. Again, they are the only practitioners in the mental health field who can properly diagnose and prescribe meds.

But they do tend to be more expensive than psychotherapists, and have longer waiting lists and therefore wait times. So if you aren’t sure if you need medication, or if you are suffering something like typical anxiety or depression and don’t think you have further issues? It might be an idea to see a psychotherapist first.

A psychotherapist or counselling psychologist can work with you for a few sessions to get to the root of your issues. And if they think you would benefit from medication or a full diagnosis, they can refer you on to a psychiatrist.   

Ready to try online psychiatry? Our renowned London-based psychiatrists are now taking online bookings.


Still have a question about online psychiatry? Ask below. 

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