Mental Health from Afar

I am a big fan of therapy. And now, more than ever, having a mental health expert to wade through life’s big tidal waves with is tremendously helpful. Here’s my argument for why you should give it a go—especially if your only option is to do it from your living room.

When I started therapy three years ago, I never could have imagined how quickly the sessions would turn into the most sacred hour of my week. In fact, just walking into my therapist’s office, with the familiar leather couch and floor-to-ceiling windows, began to trigger an immediate stress relief response in my body like nothing else could.

Enter 2020, the year of crisis and change. The room, the warm lighting, the hugs—all the little details—disappeared in an instant and gave way to Zoom links, texts and phone calls. And I had to rethink therapy. Was it worth it to continue virtually? Did video calls from my makeshift home office really do anything?

So began my foray with remote therapy.

Already having a connection with my therapist, I chose to venture into the virtual doctor’s office with her. And I’m glad I did. While some of the physical comforts were removed, having the consistency of a scheduled time to address my feelings and emotions remained the most important aspect of the practice and definitely saved some sanity during a tumultuous year. I did, however, learn a tip or two in the process:

  1. Do Zoom or other video calls if possible. Texting and phone calls are great, but seeing your therapist’s face is far better because you know they are focused on listening to you. It’s also helpful for a therapist to see you. They can tell if you’re tired, having a hard time being still, or experiencing other signs of anxiety or depression.
  2. Stick to your time. Sometimes personal schedules are harder to stick to when you’re working from home because it feels like you should always be in front of your computer. Make your virtual therapy appointment a priority and treat it as important as an in-person visit.
  3. Embrace the format. Recognize the benefits of doing therapy from your living room. Show up in your sweatpants. Let your dog curl up next to you for extra comfort. Make your favorite cup of tea or coffee. Light a candle. The possibilities to increase your wellness are limitless when you’re at home.

I’m lucky that my therapist and I found ways to work around the change. But the pandemic got me thinking about the many other people who would be looking into therapy for the first time since general stress has never been so high. Also, there seemed to be a whole new crop of options—from apps that promised to promote calmness to late-night texting with a certified professional.

I was curious, so I dabbled with a bunch of the options out there, and many are more than worth a try. Here’s what I found:

TOP FOUR ONLINE OPTIONS

BetterHelp

BetterHelp is the darling of the podcast and social media worlds. This online portal is referred to by thousands of personalities on a multitude of platforms. And with good reason.

PROS: The online therapy giant combines just the right amount of professionalism with friendly usability for younger generations. The end result is contact with dozens of reputable therapists in your immediate area.

CONS: Predictably, the process starts with a comprehensive set of online questions, from employment status to thoughts on the pandemic to spirituality to sleeping, eating and drinking habits. It’s clear why these questions are asked, but giving so much personal information up front can feel vulnerable on an online platform. Also, it’s the priciest of the options I tried, but still has packages based on your income, insurance and ability to pay.

Talkspace

Similar to BetterHelp, Talkspace is primarily concerned with matching people to licensed therapists to conduct online sessions. They are quickly rising to the top of the sea of options.

PROS: This platform is more playful and socially engaging. Their communications with clients often include a host of interesting facts and asides, and the introductory questionnaire is far more interactive. Also, the price point is lower than most traditional therapy sessions.

CONS: The actual therapists available were limited. They offered only three different options, two of which fell outside my preferences for a female in the local area.

7 Cups

This platform is all about community. While they can match you with a therapist, one of the main goals is to connect you with other people who want to talk. It’s more like group therapy than one-on-one.

PROS: You can benefit from this platform without paying a dime. You can join the chat rooms, post questions, respond to others, and engage in community from the comfort of your living room.

CONS: If you do want to connect to a licensed therapist, you will have to make your way past a bunch of bots and their questions to get there. The most valuable part is posting with new friends.

MDLIVE

This is the standout option if you want to get straight to the point without any niceties. It feels just like going to an actual doctor’s office, minus the waiting room.

PROS: No cheeky messaging, bright graphics or gimmicks. Answer a few basic questions and connect with a long list of qualified and verified professional therapists.

CONS: What might be pros for some, might be cons for others. Younger generations, or those seeking a bit more congeniality, might be put off by the straightforward nature of this platform.

More Reflections

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