Iman Balagam, Writer for The Sunday Edit at Sunday Riley, recently discussed her experience with digital therapy – a new venture about which she was uncertain in the beginning. However, after a month of working with a licensed therapist via Talkspace, Balagam concluded that the online platform allowed her to seek the help she needed while overcoming the common barriers that many patients face with traditional therapy.
It’s no secret that accessing quality care for mental health can be difficult and costly – most insurances won’t cover the sessions, and in many communities, there is simply a shortage of mental health professionals. Beyond these practical barriers of cost and accessibility, there are also the dozens of personal excuses that people make on a daily basis, covering up their discomfort or avoiding stigma as they explain perceived reasons they cannot start or continue therapy: I don’t have the money. I don’t have the time. I am not comfortable sharing with people I do not know. My issues aren’t that bad. I am embarrassed. It’s hard to find a therapist….And the excuses continue.
However, Talkspace, an online therapy platform, found a solution to these very real barriers and personal hang-ups alike: They built a platform to help individuals just like Iman. In 2012, entrepreneur couple Oren and Roni Frank founded Talkspace with the vision of providing “therapy to all.” The experiences of Iman are testimony as to the reasons why such an online platform can be beneficial to so many.
Getting Started is Simple
Traditional methods of finding a therapist can be overwhelming. First you have to figure out who takes your insurance, then you have to call around and try to find someone that seems to fit your criteria and your schedule. Then, you have to go get to know them. If they are not a good fit for your values or personality, you have to start the exhausting process all over again. However, with Talkspace, the process is made simpler – log on, answer a few questions about your challenges, and connect with a therapist.
Iman recalls, “I took a short assessment where I answered a series of personal questions to get matched to a licensed therapist. I was also asked to make a list of bullet points listing my treatment goals and if I had any positive or negative experiences from past therapy. I wanted my sessions to center around themes of self-esteem, anxiety, and healthy coping mechanisms. After submitting my final answer, I was given three options of therapists to choose from, along with their expertise and educational background. It was a pretty seamless process and I chose a nice woman named Wanda.”
You Get More Time to Share
A second major concern with traditional therapy is that your time to process and talk is strictly limited when you are working with a traditional therapist. For most people though, their problems continue daily and sometimes present themselves at erratic times rather than on an orderly and predictable schedule. When the time comes to go see the therapist, you may have forgotten what the major problem was that was stressing you out because of other life events that distracted you, or you may not feel as emotionally attached to a problem at that moment, limiting your ability to process or connect to the underlying problems. However, online therapy allows users to share at any time and in various methods with their therapists, ensuring that the emotions get out and are verbalized. This allows the therapist to more deeply understand what is impacting your day-to-day functioning.
Iman recalls “While I loved traditional therapy, it was hard to make time for it once I started working. Appointments were always during work hours, and by the time I scheduled an appointment, I forgot what was bothering me in the first place. With the app, it was easy to word vomit because I did not have to face anyone in person, which I had previously found to be intimidating. And because you are not limited to an hour like in traditional therapy, I had an infinite amount of time to talk about myself. I felt as though I was working on the manuscript for my autobiography. It was hard deciding what was necessary to share and what was meaningless… On my commute to and from work, I would send multiple voice memos discussing what happened that day or what bothered me. I tried to stick to one central theme per rant, but there were definitely times I sent panicked messages in the dead of night when struggling to fall asleep. These were all benefits that are not possible with traditional therapy. Plus, I was not worried about keeping up appearances for Wanda. Since I could not see her facial expressions, I felt unfiltered and free of judgment.”
Talkspace Digital Therapy Helps Overcome The Smaller Challenges in Life
Many people who might benefit from therapy do not seek it out because they are not suffering from a major mental health diagnosis. Digital therapy can provide a safe space for just these people. In fact, Talkspace does not claim to be taking the place of traditional therapy – those with major, life-threatening mental illnesses should seek the help of a professional in person. However, for those who might like help navigating the day-to-day struggles related to anxiety, addiction, depression, eating disorders, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), questions about their sexuality, and/or relationship troubles with friends and family, digital therapy might offer the perfect support.
Iman reports, “I am a big believer in journaling or venting to friends to help process my feelings. The difference with Talkspace is that you get a helpful response from a professional. Friends can be amazing support systems, but they can also be busy, biased, or dealing with their own personal problems. Thanks to Wanda, I no longer had to worry about irritating my friends by talking about the same problem for the fifteenth time. No problem is too minuscule to discuss on Talkspace, nor too redundant. I can vent about my friends without the slimy feeling of being fake. It is almost like screaming into the abyss. But this abyss is HIPAA compliant and gives you science-backed advice.”
“The app really helped me deal with the day-to-day chaos by giving me someone to vent to. I could unpack the deeper meaning behind why little things were bothering me, and I had someone to validate my feelings. However, if you are someone going through something more serious, I would recommend paying for the live video sessions or using this as a daily filler while waiting for an in-person.”
Helps People Heal
You will rarely hear someone walk away from a long relationship with a therapist stating that they wish they had never started. The benefits of therapy are long lasting and life-changing – therapy can help people learn how to communicate effectively, which can promote better relationships; therapy can help individuals identify the issues that may be causing stress, anxiety, and/or depression, and help them learn coping skills to replace bad habits; therapy can help people feel less isolated with their problems; and therapy can help people gain a new perspective on life, to name a few benefits. These results are, however, contingent on the individual’s commitment to working on themselves and challenging themselves to grow.
In her final conclusion, Iman explained that she herself was graced with the positive impact of digital therapy:
“Having someone to vent to at all hours of the day has really helped me feel less alone. In the past month, I was able to let go of toxic relationships, come to terms with my anxiety and develop more confidence. Whereas before I looked to those around me to help me feel less broken, I now feel whole on my own. Talkspace takes your mobile phone and turns it into a virtual cheerleader. Getting the help you need has never been easier.”
Many people doubt the effectiveness of online therapy. Fortunately, there is a growing body of rigorous study and evidence behind online therapy. Universities around the world are offering concrete and compelling reports confirming this method can help patients with their daily struggles. The University of Zurich concluded that “Online therapy is at least as effective as face-to-face therapy,” while The Lancet (journal) reported that “Therapy is effective when delivered online by a therapist – with benefits maintained for more than eight months.” In addition, the American Psychiatric Association wrote that “Online video conferencing reduced psychiatric-related hospitalizations among participating veterans by 25%,” and Columbia University claimed, “Computerized cognitive behavioral therapy led to greater satisfaction with treatment than traditional therapy.”
The broad range of studies conducted on the methodology continues to support the concept, but you need not take our word for it. Everyone is different, and it is ultimately up to each individual to log on and try it for themselves to determine if the method is right for them.
Experiment for yourself with the Talkspace app on iOS or Google Play.