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Every year, it seems that there is more and more that the internet has to offer. Just when we think we already have the world at our fingertips, we get more. One of the most recent additions to our collection of readily available digital services is mental health therapy — and pretty soon, digital counseling may become the norm.
When online based mental health counseling first started, it came to us through video platforms to simulate face-to-face sessions and preserve what we all know and understand to be standard mental health therapy.
By not restricting therapy to a physical office, this approach was helpful in making therapy more accessible. But it didn’t really change the way the service was delivered. Providers realized that they had to change their approach and reinvent how mental health counseling could be accessed in this era of booming communications and technology. This is when written messaging was added to the mix.
Text-Based Counseling Improves Upon Video-Based Digital Counseling
Companies like Betterhelp and Talkspace are two leaders in multi-platform Digital Counseling, offering ‘unlimited’ packages of therapy done your way — instant chat, email, telephone, and video are all fair game. Easy-to-use apps even go along with their streamlined websites allowing users to message their therapists anytime, anywhere.
While email and text based therapy does sound really great, the idea of your therapist being immediately available to you at any moment isn’t realistic until we have robot counselors (which hopefully will never happen). The reality of these unlimited packages is that users pay a monthly subscription for therapy, in which a therapy room is always open for them to leave messages. Therapists inform his or her clients the hours in which to expect responses and feedback from them.
When users want one-on-one interaction with their therapist, they can request a live session, which is typically restricted to a maximum of one hour per week. Depending on their comfort level or environmental constraints, users can request this one-on-one session to be by instant chat, telephone, or video.
Does Text-Based Counseling Really Work?
This is a question that holds many back from giving it a try and has even held back therapists from diving into this new modality. The answer is yes.
In traditional therapy, you go and see your therapist once a week (at most). This means you have one hour to somehow talk about everything you have been going through in the past week, hope to get as much guidance from your therapist as you can, *and* remember it when you leave the office.
With message-based Digital Counseling, you are able to shoot your therapist a message at any time that your stress levels have peaked, a panic attack came on or when the loneliness or sadness is at an overwhelming level. Just being able to take that moment to put your feelings and experiences into words can be therapy enough. It is an added bonus if your therapist is available to write you back, but even if they can’t message you right away — you have an archive of your past conversations readily available to reflect on whenever you need it.
From my experience as an online based mental health counselor, I have seen clients take huge strides of progress with text-only therapy — just as much as I have seen with my in-person and video based clients.
How Much Does Digital Counseling Cost?
Now that we understand that Digital Counseling is flexible, convenient and effective, let’s talk about cost.
Another pro to online based therapy is that costs are much more affordable, in large part because online providers have minimal overhead. By eliminating the need to rent a physical office space, they can reduce the cost of their services. There is also competition in the market of Digital Counseling, so providers keep costs low to attract potential clients.
The big companies I mentioned earlier, Betterhelp and Talkspace, have very affordable packages (as low as $250 per month) and they also offer financial aid to those who qualify. This is much more affordable compared to traditional counseling, however, the month-long commitment does deter some who would prefer to pay as needed.
New platforms such as Wecounsel and Icouch are now cropping up that provide therapists a space to lead their own private practice, set their own costs, and tailor services specifically to you. With these private counseling platforms, there is the added benefit of being able to search their therapist directory and choose your therapist, rather than being assigned to someone based on your needs like with Betterhelp and Talkspace.
Where Is The Best Place to Start Digital Counseling?
It is definitely important to make sure that whatever platform you use is HIPAA certified to ensure the utmost security and privacy of your therapeutic interactions (all of the platforms mentioned here are).
Then, think about what kind of therapy you are looking for and test the waters. Betterhelp offers a free week trial, and many counselors on Wecounsel (myself included) offer free or discounted first sessions.
Having a variety of platforms and communication options to choose from eases the stress of starting therapy. Most will complain that the primary reason against starting therapy is having to go to the physical location once a week. And let’s face it, most of us are incredibly nervous to sit down on that couch and look that all-knowing therapist in the eye and divulge all of our secrets. No matter how much the therapist promises to not judge you, it can still be hard to do.
Having the option to try out different platforms, start out slow, and ease from texting, to telephone, to video sessions is a lot more doable. For people with the highest amounts of anxiety, this is an incredible opportunity for them to finally get the help that they need, that they otherwise wouldn’t seek out for themselves.
Anybody can benefit from online based mental health counseling. I have personally treated a broad range of diagnoses with much success, ranging from severe mental illness, depression and anxiety, PTSD, OCD, grief and loss, relationship problems, personality disorder, sleep problems, depersonalization, mood disorder, eating disorder, addiction, adjustment disorder, career difficulties, and more. I have also provided general life coaching, wellness coaching, and general support in difficult transitory times (I have treated many expats struggling in their new countries — a population that greatly benefits from remote, online counseling!). The only thing that online based counseling really cannot address is crisis situations, and in these circumstances, the therapist will most often refer you to your local crisis line.