My experience with online therapy

(ENG only) When about three months ago I shared a very personal post about my struggles with depression and anxiety and my mental health, I had a lot of response. So many people (friends, acquaintances and complete strangers) shared with me what they are probably too scared or worried to openly talk about or share with someone they know. Because somehow admitting our flaws and struggles makes us look weak and defenseless. After keeping everything private for ages, when I once made my “coming out” about my mental health and my issues, I decided that I want to be more transparent about it. If someone, anyone, even just one person can benefit from it and be encouraged to take care of himself/herself, I’d be extremely happy. Again, I was surprised to read back then how many people feel like this and to still get answers to my post months later. That post has been the most read one ever since I started this blog so this has to mean something. I am writing this with the sincere hope someone might find it helpful, because when I talked about it with a couple of very close friends, they seemed genuinely interested in this and had some questions.

I decided to start therapy again and this time instead of “traditional” therapy, I decided to give online therapy a try. 

 

After trying to research some Italian therapists here in Berlin (Italian is my mother language, so I thought it could be easier for me to explain such important things in my original language), I found one I had positive vibes about and decided to contact her through the form she had on her website. Unfortunately I never got any reply, even though I wrote her twice. Highly disappointed, since I was in a very dark spot where I really needed some professional help, I tried to browse and look for someone else but none of them really “spoke to my heart” (I know it’s weird to judge a therapist by searching online, but hey, everyone has their methods). Something was holding me back, I don’t know exactly what: a part of that something was certainly the prices, which, as much as I understand how important the work of therapists is, sometimes with other things going on, isn’t exactly that easy to carry on your shoulders. So yes, partly I neglected my mental health for months because I was worried about not being able to afford it in the long term. And we’re talking about weekly appointments of 50 minutes each for about 70€ if not more, so that makes at least 280€ each month. Now, I’m not sure how the health system really works here in Germany when it comes to psychological therapy, but I certainly wanted a more immediate solution and didn’t want to go through a whole bureaucratic process. I just wanted someone qualified to talk to and I could work with.

I’ve heard about online therapy before and during the previous months I found myself digging a bit more into it every now and then whilst caressing the idea of going back to therapy. And when I found myself stuck into this rut, I felt like after all I had nothing to lose and decided to give it a try. So I went to www.betterhelp.com and made myself an account.

 

After setting up an account and replying to some general questions (the whole process was very easy and took just a few minutes), I was officially registered in their system and I was told that I would be assigned to a therapist within the next 48 hours. I was curious and hesitant to finally know who my therapist would be. On a side note, when signing up it is possible to ask for specific therapists (e.g. woman or man, non religious or religious etc.).

The following day, I officially had a therapist already and could start the counseling service.

I introduced myself to my new therapist, R. . Everything was very new to me, and didn’t really know if this could be something that could work for me in the long term. The first few days were just an exchange of short messages on the private chat. It felt really awkward and a bit “useless” at first. But of course, the first few days are meant to be a sort of “adjustment” for both sides, so the messages were sort of short and a bit general. After the first week, I really wanted to get started, so I asked R. when we could start doing some actual work together. She sent me the first work sheet and we scheduled the first ever video session. Ever since, we have been scheduling video sessions on a weekly basis (we took a break during my holiday in Bali) and talking through the private chat during the rest of the week. If she doesn’t hear from me a couple of days in a row, R. always sends me a short message to check if everything is fine. It has been about three months now, so I have already had the chance to make myself a specific idea of this online therapy service and its pros and cons.

Here’s what I have found out so far:

PROS

  • cheap. Online therapy is definitely cheaper than regular therapy, especially if done in the long term (the longer the time, the cheaper the price for a single month will be).
  • you can have multiple ways to reach your counselor. There is a lot of flexibility when it comes to communicate with your counselor. Communicating via private chat is always a quick option to exchange short messages, however counselors offer also phone and/or video sessions, to allow people to talk thoroughly like they would do during a regular therapy session in a therapist’s studio.
  • more time and comfort. Instead of running here and there to get to the therapist studio (when I went to therapy in the past in my hometown, I always had to get the car with the risk of getting there late if I was stuck in a traffic jam) and of course was needing extra time to get there and to come home after my appointment. By doing everything online I can simply open my laptop on the couch or on the bed or wherever I want and make myself comfortable: I don’t need extra time to get to my therapist and can feel at ease in the comfort of my own home.
  • it can be done anytime, anywhere. Because everything is done online, all you need is an internet connection and a device of your choice (smartphone, tablet or laptop), so it’s great for people that travel a lot too.
  • if the counselor that was assigned to you for some reason doesn’t really work for you and doesn’t really resonate with you, you can change him/her anytime without paying an extra fee (I didn`t go through this stage: I was assigned to R. and sticked with her. I was very lucky to find her!)
  • everything can be anonymous if you wish
  • you pay a flat rate and can talk with your counselor as much as you want and you don’t have to stick to just a pre-planned session only once a week.
  • it feels good to know that you can write immediately down on the private chat whenever you feel blue and let your worries and anxieties out as soon as you acknowledge them.
  • more privacy. If you’re worried at first that someone might eventually see you regularly going in and out of a therapist studio, well you got this solved. But please remember though that there is no shame in going to a therapist if this is what we need and want to do. However, privacy is guaranteed.
  • it sort of feels like an immediate relief. This might be totally personal, but I felt relieved already just by the fact that I had someone qualified to talk to about anything. I struggled with insomnia and sleeping problems for months, and all of those seem to have disappeared since I started taking regularly to R. .

 

CONS:

  • a lot of non verbal communication can get lost. Of course if using just the chat, the work done with the therapist feels “incomplete”. But still, even with video sessions, a few things can be missed because the two of you are not physically in the same room.
  • you don’t always get an immediate response if you use chat. Due to time difference and/or various schedules, the time of response tends to vary according to what time it is where your counselor lives or his/her schedule, which makes things a bit difficult if you are in an emergency. Even with regular therapy back at the time, I never had to impromptu call my therapist out of an emergency, so I don’t know how this usually works anyway. However, if this is the case, Better Help offers the chance to mark your message as “urgent”. If there is a serious crisis or someone might be in danger, Better Help addresses you straight to the page with all useful numbers to call in case of emergency (divided per country – please note, not every country is listed here).
  • it might feel a bit awkward at times and some human contact “in real life” might be missed. I felt a bit strange the first few days as I was chatting with my counselor, but as I started doing regular video chats with her I could connect the face with the person and it went much better. However, sometimes I would like to have the chance to meet my therapist in person to have a more “complete” and personal experience.
  • not available in all languages. There is just a limited amount of languages in which the service can be done and offered. For example, Italian is not an option so I had to start my therapy in English. I personally didn’t and don’t mind, because I am confident with this language (sometimes I might say random things and make some grammar and/or vocabulary mistakes, but that happens anyway I guess), but it might be difficult if not impossible for someone who is not very confident with foreign languages.
  • if it is about serious issues, this is not the best, fastest or most effective way of dealing with mental illnesses in my opinion. If you are in danger or in need of serious, immediate help, you might find the work in person with a therapist or psychiatrist (if needed) more effective and appropriate for you. But this is something that only you with the help of someone close to you eventually will be able to tell.

“So, to sum it up Jen, would you recommend it?” Personally, yes. I am very aware of the fact that mental health and our relationship with therapy is very, very personal, so if this has been working well for me so far, this doesn’t mean that will work for everyone else out there. I am also aware that online therapy is considered to be something a bit controversial and some people are against it. But these are my genuine thoughts about it and my real experience with it. My tip is to give it try. Worst case scenario is that you invest some money in the attempt of doing something good for yourself and your self care and you don’t like it. It’s cheaper than regular therapy, so it won’t be too dramatic anyway if things don’t work out. Remember that self care should always be a priority and taking care of our mental health is an essential step towards a balanced well being. Something that I personally find very helpful as a complementary thing to online therapy, is keeping a special journal to write down notes from the sessions and messages I have with my therapist. It is extremely helpful and comforting knowing that I can browse through my notes whenever I feel like I need a small pick-me-up. Plus, it is a great reminder of the work I am currently doing with her. I personally think that I am already making some improvements since I started my journey with online therapy and I am happy and proud that I didn’t let my fears or worries stop me from doing something good for myself.

I hope that this post can clarify some of your doubts or questions about online therapy and how it works. If you have some further questions or specific topics that you would like me to cover or answer to, please do not hesitate to write me!

I’ll talk to you soon!

xoxo

Jen

(This post is NOT sponsored. I am just sharing this with the genuine hope to give you some useful info. <3 )

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2 Comments

  1. theminiamlistninja
    November 28, 2018 / 08:11

    I’ve actually looked at Better Help the other day, because I was curious after seeing so many ads for it online! (I think it was around mental health day that lots of creators started promoting the platform – there was no escaping it). Just from looking at it I must say that I really like how the site is set up! The only thing I am not sure of is how I feel about traditional therapy. I’d love to give NLP or Gestaltherapie a try – unfortunately these are usually way to expensive and even if one want to go the paper work route – not always recognized in ones country. I’ll definitely look more into Better Help – I think it’s amazing that online therapy exists these days – that wasn’t an option when I was a kid. It must take the stress out of actually going somewhere. Thank you so much for sharing this, Jenny!! 🙂

    • December 2, 2018 / 11:35

      I’m glad you’ve found this post helpful and informative Nina! I’ve dialed with “traditional” psychological therapy in the past, and as much as I liked it and it helped me very much, it was just wasn’t right for me right now. I wanted something that could help me get through a very bad phase and wouldn’t break my wallet (it’s sad that something as important as mental health sometimes is sacrificed because of money and eventual bureaucracy). Better Help is easy to use and has been working for me so far. If you have more questions about it let me know, I’d be happy to help! <3

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