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Mental health issues are widespread in this modern world, yet so less talked about. Though terms such as “anxiety” and “depression” are part of multiple public discourses, most people have little to no definitive knowledge about these issues instead of more common health issues. The question is, is therapy needed for mental disorders, and how effective are these online therapists?
An online therapist can certainly diagnose you and treat your mental health concerns, thanks to the internet and technologies such as text messaging, video calling, etc. These therapists offer a range of healthcare services virtually, which include online consultations and telepsychiatry services.
If you’re convinced online therapy works, keep reading to learn more about the therapy, how it works, and its benefits and drawbacks. We will also discuss what Talkspace’s online therapy service is like and everything else you need to know about online mental health treatment and the therapists.
If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger – don’t use this site. These resources can provide you with immediate help.
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What Is Online Therapy?
Also called e-therapy, teletherapy, or e-counseling, online therapy entails offering mental health support and services over the internet.
The therapy could be provided via:
- Video conferencing
- Text messaging
- Online chat
- Internet phone
- Mobile app
- Any tool that facilitates meaningful interactions over a distance
The therapy could be offered real-time (text messaging and phone conversations) or be time-delayed (email messages).
Distant interactions between a patient and a therapist is not necessarily a new concept. Back in the day when there was no internet or the now-ubiquitous smartphone, distant communication happened through letters. Self-help groups started to emerge online during the early 1980s.
Numerous websites are currently providing mental health information, besides functioning as e-therapy clinics, such as Talkspace and BetterHelp.
How Does Online Therapy Work?
To get started with online therapy, you must find the right therapist. How well the therapy turns out primarily depends on the doctor you choose.
If you choose to work with a random psychiatrist or psychotherapist without paying much attention to their credentials, the likelihood of you finding the therapy sessions effective or beneficial would be less. After finding the therapist for your needs, your online sessions begin as a phone call or online chat.
Except for the communication format or the setting, pretty much everything works just like traditional therapy sessions. Instead of meeting the doctor in person, you could be participating in the therapy from within the comfort of your house or workplace. You can access the service via your desktop or laptop computer, or even your smartphone.
Benefits of Online Therapy
There are different reasons why an individual could choose to take the online therapy route, including:
Convenience and Affordability
Online therapy, compared to conventional treatments, is convenient and affordable. As the therapy sessions are conducted online, scheduling them as per your convenience is pretty much the norm. Online therapy costs are low, too, as therapists treating patients over the internet are likely to have lesser overhead expenses, such as office space rent.
For individuals with physical challenges or limitations, online therapy is a lot more feasible treatment choice. People who are housebound or disabled can find it extremely difficult to access conventional mental health care. Online therapists bring treatment within reach of such patients.
Online therapy affords accessibility to mental health care and information to people living in remote or rural areas. These are folks who invariably have no access to any form of mental or psychological health treatment due to their geographical location. Not to mention, taking time out of their busy lives and driving long distances could significantly burden most people needing assistance.
Fortunately, online therapy comes to the rescue of these people.
The Downsides of Online Therapy
Online therapy poses several unique concerns that include client data confidentiality, the appropriateness of the treatment for certain disorders, etc.
Slow Response Times
As online therapists are located far away or perhaps in a different time zone, quick responses are not quite likely. This snail-paced process could sting big time if you are in a crisis and need immediate help. For instance, if a potential client is going through a personal tragedy or having suicidal thoughts, it could be extremely tough or not possible for an online therapist to offer direct assistance right away.
Confidentiality and Privacy
Personal data privacy can be a big concern in psychotherapy. Like with traditional treatment delivery forms, confidentiality is essential in online therapies too. As client data is sent online, hack and privacy leaks are possible concerns to be wary of. Unreliable technology or poor internet connectivity could also be barriers to receiving proper treatment.
May Not Be Covered by Insurance
Depending on the state you live in and your health insurance cover, your e-therapy may or may not be covered. Though psychotherapy services do not cost a lot of money, the expenses could add up quickly if you’re considering long-term treatment.
The Efficacy of Online Therapy
Online therapy has received support and praise from several patients who have used and benefited from them. Multiple research reports have suggested that online therapy could help treat a variety of mental health concerns.
For many people – particularly the ones living in rural regions where there are limited traditional mental health services – this is excellent news. In cities, online therapy can supplement or enhance the effectiveness of regular treatment choices.
The following are conditions online therapy could be most effective at addressing:
Clinical depression is among the common mental disorder types, particularly in the United States. Unfortunately, a significant chunk of the affected population doesn’t seek or receive treatment. Those who seek therapy stand to benefit – be it the traditional route or as online therapies.
In a particular study, researchers found online CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), when merged with clinical care, made the treatment for anxiety, depression, and emotional distress more effective. In certain other cases, the outcomes indicated that some patients saw better results with online treatments than conventional in-person CBT.
Online therapy could also help treat panic disorder, a condition relating to anxiety. As per a study, online CBT was not just effective at reducing panic disorder and agoraphobia symptoms than in-person CBT, but it was more cost-effective too. Moreover, online CBT can be wrapped up quicker compared to group CBT.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Formerly referred to as social phobia, social anxiety disorder entails persistent feelings of fear or panic in an individual within social settings. The condition affects an individual’s ability to function socially, academically, and at the workplace. According to multiple research studies, online therapy could be effective at treating people with this disorder.
As per a study, internet-delivered CBT was equally effective at treating social anxiety disorder as in-person CBT. As per another study, from 2015, internet-based CBT was just as beneficial as conventional CBT for treating anxiety disorders.
Some of the other mental health conditions that can be treated with online therapy include generalized anxiety disorder, stress, and anxiety. The online treatment period for these different conditions could be six weeks to a few months. The therapy typically comprises CBT-based online modules, message prompts, and real-time self-monitoring.
If you are not sure whether you need therapy for your mental health problem, watch this video:
How to Find the Right Online Therapist
Just like the licenses and qualifications of “real-world” counselors and therapists are different, online therapists also vary with their credentials and training.
There is no difference between a traditional therapist and their online counterparts as far as their education and training go. But since “online therapy” is tough to regulate – as therapists could be operating from any part of the world – differentiating the excellent and reliable online therapists from the not so great ones could be a challenge.
The laws regulating training, education, the scope of practice, etc. are different worldwide.
If you’re scouring the internet to find the right online therapist, make sure you tick the following boxes during your search:
- The therapist should be working within their scope of practice. That means they must be offering services they have undergone formal training for.
- The therapist must adhere to the region’s laws and guidelines. For instance, in the United States, only people who have undergone specific training and hold the required license could legally call themselves “psychologists.”
- The therapist should have obtained training and knowledge in online therapy techniques and practices. This entails formal training (university or college courses), informal training in conferences and workshops, and online or in-person clinical supervision.
- The therapist must be well-versed with technology. This includes knowing how to use tools needed to provide psychotherapy services online and making sure client data remains secure and private at all times.
It’s advised to look for a specialist instead of a general care physician if there is one applicable to your specific mental health concern.
Can Talkspace Diagnose?
Online sites and mobile apps offering mental health services are gaining traction. TalkSpace is among the leaders in the space, offering mental health services and solutions since 2012. It provides a range of services at various price points, rendering online therapy convenient and affordable. But how good are Talkspace’s services in general?
Talkspace – A Brief Overview
Talkspace has more than 5,000 doctors/therapists available. The therapists are taken on board after a thorough background check. They are also provided special online therapy training before being allowed to interact with Talkspace’s premium clients.
Unlike most therapy websites, Talkspace doesn’t employ interns or therapists without a license and appropriate experience. Their therapists have more than 3,000 hours of actual clinical experience behind them, with additional training in specific therapy approaches.
First-time users should sign up to Talkspace by downloading the app or via its website. To maintain confidentiality, you are not expected to provide your real name – a nickname would do. The email address provided, however, should be real for future correspondence and updates.
Once the registration is over, a consultation therapist would be assigned to you, who, in turn, will assign you to a licensed mental health expert. The consulting professional will ask you specific basic questions before connecting you to the expert. The consultant will also brief you on how Talkspace functions and ask you how you’d like to address your health issue during the therapy.
During the consultation, you are given the option to connect with the specialist through live video sessions or a chat system. Before starting treatment, you must provide Talkspace emergency contact information or the name and contact data of an individual who could be contacted during an emergency scenario.
Generally, it takes up to a day or two for you to be matched with your doctor. The quickest you could be connected with your specialist is 30 minutes. Also, the interaction with the licensed therapist doesn’t begin right away. At times, it could take an extra 24 hours to receive an initial response.
However, to Talkspace’s credit, you are told beforehand the approximate time it will take for the therapist to respond. If you are using the mobile app, you’ll receive a notification on your device when a response is received.
Health Areas Covered
Talkspace offers online treatment/therapy for a range of mental health problems, which include:
- Eating disorders
- Relationship troubles, etc.
Talkspace therapists are trained in various treatment approaches, which include:
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Existential-humanistic therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
Besides offering treatment for specific health problems, Talkspace also specifically caters to teens through its “Talkspace for Teens” program, where patients between 13 and 17 years of age are offered treatment.
The conversations between the therapists and their teen clients are kept confidential unless they feel their client is in some serious trouble and could do with parent or guardian intervention.
Teens can talk pretty much about any mental or psychological thing bothering them to their therapists, including cyberbullying, vaping, academic performance issues, and general anxiety about their future.
Talkspace also provides therapy for couples. Issues commonly addressed during couple therapy include:
- Financial troubles
- Sex therapy
- Chronic health problems, etc.
Services and Plans
Talkspace provides three unique plans:
- Unlimited Message Therapy Plus: Costs $65 per week – includes unlimited text, audio, and video messages.
- Unlimited Message Therapy Premium: Costs $79 a week – includes all Plus features and a 30-minute live session a month.
- LiveTalk Therapy Unlimited: Costs $99 a week comprise all Premium features and four live, 30-minute sessions a month.
The cost of therapy for teens and couples are $65 and $99 per week, respectively. Compared to what similar online therapy sites charge, these prices are reasonable. There are zero contracts, and plans can be canceled at any time. However, for optimal results, Talkspace recommends at least a month of therapy. Plans cannot be bought for a week or two. They have to be purchased outright for a month.
Pros of Talkspace
The following are some positives of Talkspace’s online therapy services:
- The service is easy to access, with logins from a range of devices possible.
- Unlike consulting therapists, the therapists assigned to specific clients are often lauded for their practical communication skills. Unlike traditional therapy, communication is a lot more casual. Some therapists even share their personal life stories to better connect with their clients.
- The information shared with the therapists via Talkspace is kept secure and safe. Since you will be using your nickname, even your therapist may not know your real identity. Also, all chat information is encrypted.
Cons of Talkspace
Here are areas where Talkspace could do better:
- The sign-up process is a tad cumbersome and also confusing.
- The consultation therapist comes across as a bot, or the messages or responses seem automated.
- Online therapists’ casual communication approach could make the therapy come across as more supportive care than actual therapy.
- Response times could be improved. However, to Talkspace’s defense, the therapists respond promptly within the stipulated time, with the occasional delays happening if there’s a time zone difference.
- No refunds are provided for canceled plans. You could cancel and opt-out of a plan, but no money will be returned.
Talkspace has its flaws, but it has quite a few things going for it as well. With licensed and experienced therapists on board and an easy-to-use interface, Talkspace is undoubtedly a great and safe place to seek online therapy. For some, however, it could be an excellent support therapy system for their existing treatments and may not work out as a standalone treatment option.
Online therapy may not be right for everyone; however, there are several instances when people embrace this methodology. For example, those who are not comfortable being part of traditional, in-person treatments will benefit from online therapies.
Kindly note, irrespective of how reliable and capable the online therapist is and/or how modern the tools they use are, certain mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and major depression cannot be treated purely through online correspondence.
Therefore, learn beforehand if the online route would work for your condition or will it only serve as a supplementary treatment. If online therapy is possible, research websites and apps available to determine the service that fits your requirements and budget the best. Talkspace is certainly worth consideration.
- Verywell Mind: What Conditions Does Online Therapy Treat?
- Inner body Research: Talkspace Review: Should you give its online therapy service a try?
- GoodTherapy: Confessions of a Virtual Therapist: Pros and Cons of Online Therapy
- American Psychological Association: What you need to know before choosing online therapy
- Mayo Clinic: Agoraphobia Overview