Should I Do Online Therapy? My Review of BetterHelp
It’s no secret to my friends and family that I’m kind of a stressy person. Whether I’m studying for an exam, preparing to begin a work project or just shopping for a pair of shoes, I always seem to be dealing with some level of anxiety that most people only experience on occasion. For years I tried to ignore it, convinced I’d grow out of it or grow into it, so to speak, but as the years wane on and I gain more and more responsibility, the anxiety just shifts, it never fully goes away.
That’s why this year, after seeing all of those big-eyed guys and gals in the BetterHelp ads plastered all over my Facebook and Reddit feeds I decided to sign up and see what this online therapy thing is all about. Here’s how it went and what I learned about seeing a therapist from home.
What is Online Therapy and How Does it Work?
First, before we dive into my experience with BetterHelp, let’s go over what online therapy is and how exactly it works. Just like in-person therapy, with an online platform like BetterHelp, you’ll speak with a therapist who specializes in mental health conditions like phobias, panic attacks and disorders.
To start, you’re going to go through a short screening process and the first question will be if you feel you’re a harm to yourself or others. If that’s the case, you probably won’t be accepted to platform, instead you’ll be directed to your local emergency room.
If you indicate that you are NOT a harm to yourself or others, you’ll enter the website to get matched to a counselor. From platform to platform, this process might vary. On BetterHelp, they asked me questions like if I wanted a counselor with religious leanings, one that was experienced with the LGBTQ+ community and if I preferred a counselor of the same sex and what my specific mental health concerns were.
What Happened After I Was Matched With a Counselor
After giving that initial information, which took just a couple of minutes to complete, I was matched with a counselor. I’ve never used dating apps, but I imagine it was close to the same elation of experiencing your first Tinder match. Someone wanted me! Then, I was asked to provide my matched counselor with even more information that included questions and criteria like:
My gender identity
A quick screening for depression and other mood disorders (questions included how often I feel down or hopeless, any recent appetite changes and how well/often I sleep).
All of this was done in my “counseling” room.
How My Therapist Got to Know Me
After reviewing my initial screenings my therapist began to communicate with me in that counseling room I mentioned. Here, she would send me what are basically emails asking me questions about my childhood, my current struggles, my mental health history and any concerns I might have (like how my dad is bipolar and one of my siblings has a personality disorder) to help her narrow down her best approach for making sure I benefit from therapy.
She sent me even more screenings to see if I have any bipolar tendencies, since it can be genetic, and even screened me for OCD at my request. In the first week we exchanged several emails each day as she got to know me.
Getting a Diagnosis
Within the first couple of weeks, my therapist had ruled out a lot of things and narrowed in on some obvious concerns, finding that most likely, I have and have dealt with since childhood, Generalized Anxiety Disorder stemming from the effects of growing up with a parent who had undiagnosed bipolar with psychosis.
Now, you may not be looking to online therapy for any kind of diagnosis. Maybe you’re going through a hard time, like a job loss or the loss of a loved one and you want to talk to a qualified counselor to keep your mental and emotional health steady. Or maybe you already know you have seasonal affective disorder and you’re simply looking for support to help you stick to a routine - online therapy is great for those things too, you don’t have to go into it hot and heavy looking for someone to fix you like I did. But if you are looking for that, just so you know, I found help here.
It’s nice because now when I’m filling out forms at the doctor or even just trying to navigate life, it helps me to have a name for this thing that plagues me and it helps other providers, from my dentist to my GP to know how best to treat me based on this GAD diagnosis.
Staying in Touch With My Therapist
Something that’s really cool about online therapy is that I stay in touch with my therapist daily. I can email her whenever I want and if she hasn’t heard from me in a few days she’ll message me to see how I’m doing. I can also schedule “live” sessions and the options for these are:
- A live instant message chat
A phone call
A video call
So far, I always pick a phone call, that way I’m not adding stress to myself trying to clean up my home office but so I’m still getting a more personal way to talk with my therapist besides just chatting through instant message.
Homework and Resources
Apart from our weekly live sessions and daily email correspondence, my therapist can also assign homework or informational sheets for me to do. This helps her guage where I’m at and how to handle certain events like a panic attack or a negative social encounter.
For the most part, these resources are rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) techniques.
The Good: What I Like About BetterHelp
Full disclosure, I’ve never seen a therapist in person, so I have nothing to compare this experience to but I can say that this has been way less scary than I thought it was going to be. Because, I mean, outside of the fear I feel thanks to my anxiety disorder, I also think most people would agree that it’s kind of uncomfortable to bare your most embarrassing stuff to a complete stranger. That’s one of the best things about BetterHelp - you’re not just diving in, in-person and dealing with all of the social anxiety that comes from that. Instead, you have a level of control over the interactions and what you share, when. You can proof-read your email before you send it to make sure you’re not just babbling and focus on the things that are really bothering you, like say, panic in the grocery store checkout line or feeling sad every time you get off the phone with your mom. Therapists only have a limited amount of time they can spend on you, online or not. Online gives you the advantage of spending your time together wisely.
Some other things I love about BetterHelp are:
How easy it is to choose how I communicate with my therapist. I love that when I’m busy I can just email or chat with her and that during the duller, colder months we can video chat and it gives me good reason to do my hair that morning.
I can switch counselors. I don’t WANT to switch counselors, but if I did, the option is right there in my platform, easy peasy. No calling up an office and cancelling appointments, no searching for a new therapist.
The platform is customized to ensure you’re matched with a counselor who suits your needs and does all of the vetting for you. That means that instead of culling through Google trying to find a local therapist near my home who fits the criteria that’s important to me (female, non-religious, specializes in mood disorders) and then calling their office to see if they’re accepting new clients, BetterHelp does this for me in just a few minutes.
I didn’t have to wait for an appointment. If I were seeking an in-person therapist, I might have to wait days to weeks to even longer to actually meet with one. That’s because I’d need to pick from the limited availability in my area and go by their schedule. The truth is, when I was looking for a therapist, it was because I really needed to talk to someone right then. Within just a couple of hours of signing up with BetterHelp, I was talking to my therapist. What a relief!
Using an online therapy platform ensures that there are checks and balances for your counselor. This is so cool to me. As stressful as the idea of a ratings and review system can seem, when it comes to the person aiding me in my mental health journey, I appreciate that they’re held accountable by a company whose name depends on the success and quality of their therapists. If I were to visit a private therapist locally, and felt like things weren’t working well for me or the therapist wasn’t high quality, or worse, somehow harmful, who could I even go to to remedy that? This is a way to receive help from therapists who are regulated and continually assessed.
I have social anxiety! Having access to a therapist from a place where I feel comfortable is imperative to me actually following through with seeking therapy.
What is Your Main Reason For Seeking Therapy Online?
The Bad: What I Don't Like About BetterHelp
Now that I've been using the platform for half of a year, there's some stuff I don't dig about it, like:
- They really push surveys on you. I frequently receive surveys within the app asking me to review my therapist. I understand that this is an attempt to hold counselors accountable and measure whether or not they should be on the app at all and I think that's smart but I also hate the idea of people's jobs hinging on arbitrary surveys. The first time I was prompted to take one, the survey wanted to know if I'd been feeling down in the past two weeks. I had been, because of circumstances outside of my control. It seems like the platform could have used my answer to decide that my therapist wasn't doing their job properly when really they have no control over my mood, they can only encourage me to keep a healthy perspective.
- It's pricey. All therapy is pricey and I'm not going to get into my frustrations with the state of healthcare in America, however, with my particular disorder it's very helpful for me to see a therapist long term and BetterHelp won't take my insurance.
The Kind of Weird: Things to Keep in Mind About Seeing a Therapist Online
As much as I appreciate BetterHelp and online therapy in general, there are drawbacks. Here’s what you need to remember about seeing a therapist online:
They can’t help you if you indicate that you’re suicidal. In this case, they’re going to direct you to your local emergency room. This is for your own safety.
It’s not on-demand. Yes, you’ll receive way more communication than you would with an in-person therapist, but this is still not an on-demand service.
An online therapist can’t assess your physical state. This might not seem important but I do believe that with some disorders, it’s good for a therapist to be able to assess your physical state to be able to give you the best help possible. They won’t be able to see if you’re displaying weight loss or weight gain, if you look like you haven’t slept much recently or if you’ve bit your nails down ‘til they’re bleeding.
FAQ's About Online Therapy
Is Online Therapy Free and If Not, How Much Does it Cost?
No, online therapy isn’t free. I don’t know what other services cost, but through BetterHelp I’m paying a couple hundred per month for therapy. This is including a special discount based on my income. Remember, an in-person therapy session will also usually be offered on a sliding scale and one session typically costs somewhere north of $100.
In my area, an in-person therapy session is around $95. So, considering this, I’m saving several hundred dollars per month by utilizing an online platform.
Is it Covered by Insurance?
I can’t speak for all services, but BetterHelp is not covered by insurance.
Are Online Therapists Legit?
At least I can vouch for the ones at BetterHelp. These counselors are all certified. These aren’t randos who are like “I eat organic oranges for breakfast and pray to my cat every afternoon before giving my niece advice pulled straight from my college-day poetry.” These are actual licensed therapists who have received formal schooling/training and who are licensed to practice in their state. Which means, by the way, that your therapist will always live in the same state as you since they are only licensed to practice in the state where they received their training.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2018 Em Clark