An Honest Review of Online Therapy for Social Distancing

As we live through the Great Quarantine of 2020, online therapy may be piquing your interest. The world is in a time of uncertainty, which is psychologically stressful (and isolating), and in person therapy may feel too risky to participate in during social distancing. Another advantage of online therapy is that you can get into it pretty quickly, compared to the waiting lists, phone tags, and referral ordeals associated with in person therapy. People from the rare disease commmunity may be feeling particularly vulnerable for various reasons– many rare patients are in high risk groups, others may be worried about hospital burden. In this time, it’s important to look out for your mental health.

Better Help and Talkspace ads have been running through the podcast sponsor circuit for a few years now, and so now might be the time to learn a little bit about them. In this article, we’ll run through a few options.

1. Your Regular Therapist, Just Online

If you already have a therapist who you like, that’s awesome! Ask if they do video or phone conferencing– a lot of mental health professionals do. They probably don’t want to catch the virus either and may be happy you asked.

2. Talkspace

Talkspace is the only platform I feel most equipped to personally talk about, since I started using it about a year ago so I could really thoroughly research this article (just kidding, I use it because I’m generally pretty anxious.) I’ve tried out different types of therapy throughout my life– individual counseling, group, and digital, and I think they all have different strengths. Plan prices range, but they’re 65-100 dollars a week– which is on the inexpensive end for therapy. See if your insurance covers it too. The cheaper plans (mine) offer unlimited texting, and lets you record video and audio messages, but it’s pretty limited when it comes to video calling. The more expensive plans offer more video meetings.

When I signed up, I watched different videos of therapists talking and just randomly picked one based off gut vibe. I actually really like her! It’s definitely different than in person therapy– I leave a message and she responds twice a day (or less if I don’t message that often). I usually do audio or text, because the video messages are only two minutes long– but I liked leaving videos in the beginning to establish a relationship. I started Talkspace for a few reasons– my schedule wasn’t really conducive to in person therapy, and I also felt like I just kind of needed therapy. I wasn’t in a crisis, but maybe a bit of a funk. I felt bad asking my friends to offer more emotional labor than they could really afford, so I wanted some extra support. I was working on mental health in a lot of different ways, and a therapist seemed like a good person to bounce things off of and keep me in check– I imagine it like when you’re bowling but you’re a child or just kind of bad at bowling so you use one of those guide ramps to keep the ball going as straight as possible. You’re still the one holding the ball, and it could still go off path, but you’ve got a little help to keep it going in the direction that you want to.

Something cool I realized after signing up for Talkspace is that, as the ads say, the therapists are like, real people and real licensed therapists. It’s not that they’re some mini-therapist who isn’t qualified, but, like you, they often have some logisitical reason it’s easier for them to work from home– like young children. They have opinions and a sense of humor and will tailor the therapy for you. If you don’t click with your therapist, you can change.

It is, however, still different to in-person therapy. I think human conversation is important, and it’s a little different when you’re taking turns sending messages. Often what happens is this: I’ll send a long message about an argument or something and go on and on, and by the time I read her message the next morning, it’s already resolved or I’ve lost interest in it and I want to talk about something else. Of course, stuff like that happens with in-person therapy too– on Tuesday you can’t wait to vent about something that you no longer care about by your Thursday appointment. Sometimes the app can be pretty glitchy too, but after a year of sticking with it, I’d say: yes, Talkspace can work.

3. BetterHelp

Woooh now that the Talkspace essay is over, we’ll talk about the similar platform, BetterHelp. My impression is that Talkspace vs BetterHelp is like Uber vs Lyft– there are differences but same general idea and a similar price range. The reason I chose Talkspace was actually pretty random– basically, I downloaded both and looked at the therapist options on both apps. There was a lot of overlap– it seemed like some therapists did both! Ultimately, I just liked the vibe of one therapist who was only on Talkspace, and so I chose the app to go with her. I’m happy with that decision. If you want to learn more of the nitty-gritty differences, you can check out an in depth comparison here.

4. Non-Therapy Mental Health Apps

If you don’t want to shell out like 60 dollars a week, I get it. There are other options too– if you like mindfulness and meditation, you can check out Calm (partially free), Headspace (free for healthcare professionals during COVID-19), and Insight Timer (free). There are also apps that can help with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy like MoodKit ($4.99) and many others. I like mindfulness apps (also, did you know meditation can help with some aspects of chronic pain?), but find that I kind of just ignore notifications asking if I’m drinking water from apps that I know don’t have a person behind them. But that’s just me. You might like them.

5. Crisis Hotlines

If you’re in a crisis, please don’t try to resolve it using only a meditation app! There are lines dedicated for urgent situation– you can find a lot of them here. If you’re stuck with an abuser during quarantine, there are resources for you.

6. COVID-19 Offerings

A lot of platforms are providing special offers right now to deal with social distancing and the Coronavirus pandemic. One thing I like to do is just google “[insert brand name] + Covid” to see if they’ve posted anything. For example, Talkspace is offering a free Facebook support group and a specialized course in anxiety related to the virus, among other things. I swear they didn’t sponsor me.

There are a lot of resources out there, and hopefully you can find the one that fits you and your needs. We’re all in this together, and right now it’s time to make sure we’re doing all we can do support each other and our own mental health. Did we miss any? Let us know!


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