Every year, millions of people in the United States and around the world struggle with mental illness. This roughly translates to 1 in 5 Americans struggling with mental illness each year. However, half of those cases go untreated. As mental health illnesses continue to rise, is virtual therapy the solution? Some mental health tech startups want us to think so.
The Rise of Text Therapy
Research on the efficacy of virtual therapy is still in the early stages. Yet, that hasn’t stopped many tech startups from launching their idea of text therapy. Pioneers in the industry, including TalkSpace, have around 700,000 users, while BetterHelp is close to the 1 million members mark.
The rise of text therapy can easily be attributed to the increase of smartphones overall. But, the conversation around mental health and breaking down the stigma is also part of the reason why digital therapy is seeing growing demand.
With digital therapy, users can go at their own pace without moving from their couch. It’s a more private approach to therapy, particularly helpful for those who can’t let go of the stigma associated with asking for help.
Studies about Text Therapy
While text therapy apps and websites are promising, the studies to back their claims with evidence are still taking baby steps. Unlike video therapy, which has been well-studied, text therapy lacks peer-review studies. Although companies are conducting studies to prove the efficacy of these programs, trial sizes are too small. For example, one study looked at the effects of this type of therapy, but it only analyzed the results of 30 participants, and there was no control group.
One study analyzed 22 mobile apps claiming to help people self-manage their depression symptoms. Researchers found that people with mild to moderate depression symptoms benefited the most. Those with significant depression symptoms didn’t see the same progress.
By far, the most promising use of mobile apps for mental health. One study found that those who used anxiety-focused mobile apps experienced a considerable reduction in anxiety symptoms. The study found that replacing face-to-face interactions with a mobile app showed no significant loss of treatment efficacy.
Therapy is often missing from schizophrenia clinical treatments. However, one review of five studies found that people with schizophrenia can experience great clinical benefits from using a mobile app for therapy sessions.
How Text Therapy Works
Each text-based therapy offer is different. Overall, they guide you through a quick assessment to match the right therapy based on your therapy needs. For example, when I tried TalkSpace, I mentioned I needed help with my relationship, then the platform directed me to a couples counselor.
Once you’re matched to your therapist, the app prompts you to choose a plan. Unlike traditional therapy where you pay by the session, in this case, you’ll have to pay a membership or subscription-style fee. They can start at $65 per week and go as high as $400 per month for a couple of sessions.
Now, you have the option to communicate with your assigned therapist via text messages, video calls, or audio messages. Text therapy isn’t live – unless you choose that option – which means you send a text to your therapist, and they’ll respond maybe once or twice a day. So, don’t expect a fluent conversation with your therapist.
There’s an option to schedule live text-messaging sessions, as well as video calls, so you can have that direct interaction with your therapist in real-time. The cost for those is often additional.
Audio vs. Text vs. Video vs. In-Person – How to Choose?
Unfortunately, there’s no right choice here. For many, text therapy is a non-intimidating way to start their relationship with therapy. Other people prefer face-to-face interaction, in-person or video therapy, while others are fine with the occasional check-up with an audio message.
It takes time and effort to explore the various options and choose the right one for you. In the end, finding a therapist (in my opinion) is like choosing a partner. You need chemistry, respect, and a feeling that you’ve found the right match to make it work.
After trying some of these services, I still preferred the in-person therapy session as the text-message option made me feel as if I was voicing all my troubles to an online bot that was gathering my data. But, hey, that’s a topic for another discussion.