Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Online Therapy Could Transform Mental Healthcare. But Will It?

At a time when more accessible options are needed, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Let’s face it, therapy is inaccessible.

While there’s a demand for mental healthcare — over half of Americans surveyed in 2018 considered or pursued treatment — most Americans find it too expensive or hard to get.

Couple that with long wait times, social stigma, and the limited options when finding a therapist who can understand your lived experience (particularly when you identify as LGBTQ+, disabled, or a person of color), and there can be a mountain of additional hurdles.

When it comes to managing our mental and emotional health, cost is often the number one barrier.

One study found that 47 percentTrusted Source of respondents with a mood, anxiety, or substance use disorder who needed mental healthcare named cost or not having health insurance as their reason for not getting help.

And that percentage seems to be increasing.

If you’re uninsured and looking for a therapist, you may be spending around $100 or more per session. Those rates can increase, too, depending on geography and different specialties, and go as high as $300 per session.
It begs the question: What, exactly, can those in need of help with so few resources do — if anything?

Left in the lurch, more and more people have turned to online resources like Talkspace, 7Cups, and, more recently, ReThink My Therapy to get their mental health needs met in a more accessible, relatively affordable way.

For people who might be skeptical like I was, in 2015 researchersanalyzed 30 studies of 2,181 patients, and the results were encouraging: It seems that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) is just as effective as in-office CBT for treating anxiety disorders.

A 2017 dissertation also indicated that online resources and tele-mental health were equivalent to face-to-face care in various settings and an acceptable alternative.

This is an incredibly important finding. When mental illness is left unchecked, people who experience severe mental health conditions can die earlierTrusted Source than the general population — making access to effective care literally a life-saving effort.

For clients like Lea Taylor, who turned to 7Cups when her husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer 5 years ago, the accessibility of these services is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Taylor was balancing the roles of mother to 3 children and primary caretaker, so she needed a safe space to turn to any time of the day, where she could unload some of the darker aspects of her life in real-time.

Taylor shares with Healthline, “I had these large, heavy things that I just needed someone to listen to and assure me I wasn’t a bad person for thinking.”

The ability to meet clients where they are — in many cases, for a fraction of the cost — is often a game-changer for those in need of mental healthcare.

It’s inspired people not just to seek out help for themselves, but to reimagine how mental healthcare operates altogether.

ReThink My Therapy was founded by Connor Gallic, a graduate of Drexel University who set out to make mental healthcare accessible and affordable for all. He was frustrated by the current healthcare stats and upset that companies were profiting off of people’s mental health.

On the phone with Healthline, Gallic recalled his own issues while in school trying to find help. “I just remember trying to find insurance and everything was so expensive, and there weren’t many solutions out there.”

ReThink My Therapy offers both online therapy and psychiatry — with unlimited availability — for a monthly fee of $60.

Gallic is quick to point out that the pricing for these services is quite cheap, but explains that they approached the pricing with the intention of prioritizing access over profits.

The team is now able to offer a no-frills platform, complete with virtual medical professionals that you can book an appointment with at any time.
“Do we want to make a ton of money off therapy? Like what good does that do us?” Gallic explains. “It’s better if we’re actually trying to help people.”

Rethink My Therapy operates not unlike any other teletherapy platform. After a short intake where clients are asked to fill out a small questionnaire, they’re sent through a list of matched accredited therapists and social workers who are available almost instantly.

At what cost, though?

While ReThink My Therapy offers its services at just $60 per month, its interface is much simpler in comparison to others. Talkspace, comparatively, starts at $260 per month, and Breakthrough comes in at $560 per month, with each platform offering its own unique features.

Promisingly, many platforms like Gallic’s are also looking to be included under employer benefits packages. He’s in the process of working to have employers recognize ReThink My Therapy as part of their employee offerings.

“We have a sister company that works with employer groups,” he says, hoping that it will encourage more and more people to seek out and reap the benefits of mental healthcare from the comfort of their own homes.
Having reliable access to care isn’t the only benefit to teletherapy, either.

Taylor Goodrich of Dallas, Texas started using Talkspace when she was provided with a discounted coupon for a month. She was intrigued enough to try it out, as she found herself too anxious to leave the house for regular appointments.

When Goodrich started with Talkspace, she filled out an intake form, listing all the things she was looking to chat with someone about and what she wanted in a therapist. The match made was exactly what she needed.

“My experience has been that it’s a much more low-pressure environment. It’s also been a much lower cost,” with Goodrich typically taking advantage of the coupons and deals that Talkspace offers, another perk with teletherapy not typically seen with traditional, in-person care. “I think right now it’s $40 a week!”

Sarah Flynn of Detroit had been working her office job with insurance for close to 4 months before she was abruptly let go. She was just in the process of getting insurance when she tells Healthline, “It felt like everything had been ripped out from underneath me.”

Thanks to a trusted friend, she looked into Talkspace which was $260 monthly for their Unlimited Messaging Therapy Plus. She thought it was expensive at first but then realized the benefits.
“You know, when you factor in the cost of gas and travel and the time that [it] takes you to get there, plus the actual cost of the therapy appointment, it was all worth it to me.”

Flynn has seen significant improvements in her health and happiness since using Talkspace, explaining that having the ability to speak to someone “at her fingertips” was invaluable.

“This is the future, you guys. Like, let’s not try to kid ourselves that the ice caps aren’t melting and everything’s on fire, but hey — you can talk to a therapist on your phone!”

Access to care will be an ongoing battle, but online therapy is a promising alternative in a space where it’s desperately needed. While still relatively new, the results are already encouraging. And with mental illness being such an isolating experience? For many, what online therapy provides is ultimately priceless.

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