The importance of mental health might have more of a spotlight now than ever before, but effective therapy remains inaccessible to many people in need of it. The cost and time commitment, in particular, can send potential participants running in the other direction, but our digital age has cooked up yet another technological solution for the qualms of mankind: online therapy.
Counseling can provide a number of benefits; whether you’re suffering from a mental illness, working through problems in your personal life or relationships, or simply going through a rough patch, therapy can teach you coping skills and help you understand yourself. It can be extremely cathartic to vent your indignation about the world to an objective advisor, and therapists are adept at teaching patients how to relieve stress.
It can be terrifying to share your darkest secrets with a stranger, let alone one who is taking notes. The thought of having to reflect upon your past mistakes and deeply-rooted insecurities drives fear into the hearts of many, especially people struggling with anxiety, which can turn every “How does that make you feel?” into an interrogation. And if you’re particularly vulnerable to judgment, you’ve got a recipe for a rather unappealing treatment.
Furthermore, committing to regular therapy sessions is expensive and time-consuming. Weekly sessions require you to rearrange your schedule, arrange transport and budget for new expenses. Therapy also sometimes calls for “homework,” which can entail making minor changes to your behavior or remembering seven days’ worth of ups and downs to discuss at the next meeting. The price and inconvenience of therapy can transform it into just another stressor.
But online therapy changes the game. Gone are the days when you’d have to drag yourself out to appointments, just to play the silent game with your therapist; now, you can connect with experienced, licensed professionals from the comfort of your own home. All you need is a phone or computer with access to the internet.
So how does it work? At its core, online therapy mirrors its counterpart: You discuss your troubles with a psychologist, who responds and asks questions to help illustrate your mind. However, there are a few key differences that make it a better option for some people, including its cheaper cost and accessibility.
Most sites grant users access to a 24/7 messaging system with a mental health counselor, and although your therapist only responds once or twice a day during the workweek, you have constant and unlimited access to communication with them. This means that you can record your crises as they unfold, preventing you from forgetting key information about what triggered them or how exactly you felt.
You have total control over when and what you share, no matter your schedule. You could start your mornings or end your evenings with your insights for the day, and if you’re really just not in the mood, you can take a break and skip it for the day.
Dedicating even just 10 minutes to reflect upon your day can greatly improve your mental health. Online therapy can provide benefits quite similar to those of journaling, including reduced stress and anxiety, and coping skills to deal with your daily dose of distress. The plus side is that a trained counselor reads your diary and advises you on your problems without judgment, providing new insights that you might never have realized on your own.
— talkspace (@talkspace) September 3, 2019
Writing out your thoughts allows you to organize them and lets you recognize what’s rational and positive, and separate it from the irrational and the negative. A therapist simply makes the process easier and acts as a sounding board that can bypass your biases.
That being said, not every therapist is the right match for a particular patient. Online therapy platforms match you with counselors in a way that grants you agency over your treatment. In real life, it’s difficult to “shop” for mental health professionals; you either click with one or you don’t, but in-person therapist “breakups” are awkward and discouraging. Online therapy, on the other hand, allows you to break off communication swiftly and painlessly, and you can switch out for someone new with a couple button presses.
Depending on the site, online therapy can also offer video and phone communication if you crave the personal feel of traditional therapy. And there are plenty of platforms to choose from, each with different features and prices. Some advertise general therapy, with massive rosters of professionals with knowledge in various areas, while others market more specialized services, like marriage counseling or addiction rehabilitation. They do have one key common trait: They’re all great alternatives for anyone with a busy life, especially students.
College might be a time for growth and self-discovery, but it also comes with endless stress, and nearly every student could benefit from mental healthcare. Unfortunately, many universities don’t seem to prioritize students’ mental health over their performance, and without appropriate access to long-term counseling on campus, the cost and inconvenience of offline therapy forces suffering students to set aside their desire for stress management.
Online therapy allows you to work through your worries while bored in class, taking a break from all your coursework or even at a party. And it’s not just students that can benefit; the various platforms can work for anyone, and phone apps make it possible to message your therapist from anywhere in the world, at any time, as long as you have Wi-Fi or cell service.
If you’re looking to prioritize your mental health, but you can’t commit to in-person counseling, online therapy could be the right choice for you. Our modern world hasn’t just brought advances in technology; it’s also ushered in a more progressive cultural awareness of therapy and mental health. As we further normalize mental illnesses and bring discussions of mental healthcare out into the open, services like online therapy will likely become more commonplace and widespread. So be a part of history, and try it out for yourself.