I found myself sitting across from a therapist for the very first time two months ago. I had a personal life-changing event occur and needed to speak to a professional. It took me a good 30 minutes and a few pep talks in the bathroom outside her office before I finally mustered up the courage to shake her hand, take a seat in the sunken-in chair and spill my guts to a stranger with a lot of degrees and even more years of practice.
But after three sessions, I never went back. It was less about my therapist. She was great. If there ever were a time for me to say this and really mean it, it would be now: It wasn’t you; it was me. I found it hard to leave work and commute to my session and make it there on time. Plus, there were days I just wasn’t up to talking and if I canceled day of, I’d still have to pay for my session.
That’s when I started toying with the idea of going virtual for therapy. After doing research and giving it a go, I realized there are some significant benefits to using a virtual therapist.
Do it from your couch
When you go the virtual route, you no longer have to shower, put on clothes, and look presentable to speak to your therapist for 30 minutes or an hour. You can roll out of bed, still be in your pajamas or just have a session while you’re on the couch and eating dinner at the same time. For some, just the pressure of making sure they look put together and carving out enough travel time to make it to their standing appointment on time is enough to make them cancel a session or rethink the whole idea of having a therapist in the first place.
The virtual therapy option can be less expensive for people whose insurance plans don’t cover therapy sessions. Most virtual therapy websites take insurance and provide plans and discounts for recurring sessions. Check with your insurance provider to see if virtual therapy may be the most cost-effective way for you to seek guidance and help.
Drop the stigma
It can feel a little bit strange sitting in the waiting room beside other people who are going to a therapist in the practice or who are waiting to see your therapist after you’ve gone in. Some people want to keep it a secret that they see a therapist for fear of how others will perceive them. While there has been a general shift away from stigma surrounding mental health treatment, avoiding waiting rooms and offices can be an easy way to abandon the fear of being seen marching in to talk to your shrink.
Some days, you may feel as though you’d rather just speak with a therapist via text message or chat instead of face-to-face, and that’s OK. Having a virtual therapist allows you to pick the option of how you feel like communicating that day. So if you find yourself in a state of mind where it’s easier to communicate without having someone look directly at you, you can chose a text or phone option and turn off the video.
Read a transcript
You may find yourself spending the majority of your session with a therapist jotting down every single piece of advice they give you. Some virtual therapy programs provide you with a written transcript after your session so you can refer back to the conversation and the next steps your therapist recommends you take.
If the reason you haven’t seen a therapist is because you don’t want to confess what’s going on with you to anyone, you can try virtual therapy and stay completely anonymous. Some virtual therapy websites don’t even ask you for your name. You can provide only the amount of information that you are most comfortable giving your virtual therapist.
How to pick a virtual therapist
If you’re looking to give virtual therapy a try, ask your current therapist if they offer online services or spend some time reading reviews of patients who have given virtual therapy a chance. When selecting the right website to use, compare pricing, capabilities (whether they offer both a text and video option) and what their refund policy is in case you don’t like the service and would like to switch back to in-person therapy instead.
When I was on the hunt for the perfect virtual therapist, I started by asking friends who I knew turned to the online option for their therapy to suggest websites that they preferred and why they had a good experience. I also did research on my own, starting with the website Virtual Therapist Network and was able to search for therapists by filtering them based on different preferences, such as sliding pay scale, credentials and a free consultation.
Before picking your virtual therapist, I highly recommend doing three consultations. That way, you can test virtual therapy out and see if you find someone who is a good fit for you and the situations that you are going through.