Read the original article at Popsugar.com
Written by: Aviel Kanter

Taking care of your mental health should always be a priority — especially during this new normal we’re all experiencing. And therapy is such an invaluable resource that should be easily accessed by anyone and everyone. However, it historically has been more difficult for some people to actually start going to therapy. Barriers to entry like cost, commute, stigmas, and simply knowing where to start are all common things that hold people back from making that first appointment.

So while the pandemic has been extremely hard on people, it’s also forced everyone to get creative with new technologies or adding enhanced features to services that were already available. Virtual therapy is booming, and there are so many different platforms on which to access mental health counseling. We spoke with Dr. Vincent Bellwoar, a licensed psychologist and certified school psychologist, about why virtual therapy is so important right now and to break down many platforms that offer virtual mental health resources.

Why Should You Try Virtual Therapy?

While virtual therapy has been around for quite a while, the pandemic essentially jump-started the mental health community, along with insurance companies, into offering it as a standard practice. “Over the last year, many have realized that virtual therapy works,” Bellwoar said. “One of the most important benefits of virtual therapy is that it increases access to a mental health professional. You don’t have to drive across town to see your therapist. You can do it during your lunch hour. You can do it in your PJs at home. You can live in a rural area and get access to therapists 100 miles from you. And keep in mind that therapy isn’t just for those who are having serious mental health problems. Therapy is used by many high-functioning folks who simply want to optimize their life.”

And right now, people need therapy and support more than ever. “The degree of anxiety nationwide and worldwide has gone up exponentially,” Bellwoar said. “Anxiety at this level impacts and severely exacerbates every other mental health diagnosis like OCD, bipolar disorder, depression, phobias, and social relationships. Moreover, the research is clear that such levels of anxiety and exacerbated mental health drastically impact medical conditions such as heart disease, GI problems, and many other medical conditions.” With so many people currently suffering from mental health issues, medical conditions, family problems, and missing important social interactions, access to mental health counseling is perhaps more important than ever.

How Is Virtual Therapy Making Counseling More Accessible to People?

For one thing, young people are much more fluent in digital platforms, so it makes sense that they would feel more comfortable applying those skills to their mental health as well. Things like video sessions, phone appointments, and even texting have made therapy much more widely available. It also allows people with transportation issues or who live in rural areas to get care at home, and individuals with medical conditions to receive mental health treatment without having to travel.

Beyond that, removing the element of the office can encourage people who wouldn’t necessarily try therapy otherwise to give it a go. “Access to virtual therapy and digital counseling resources reduces the stigma of perception for individuals in terms of going to a professional at an office,” Bellwoar said. “It makes it much simpler for marginalized communities to reach out and request assistance.”

Finding the Right Virtual Therapist

First things first: how do you find the right therapist? “Sometimes, this can seem like finding a needle in a haystack,” Bellwoar said. “Just because your friend had success with a therapist doesn’t mean that therapist is a good fit for you. You’ll have a feeling within the first session or two as to whether this therapist is the right fit for you. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably a good sign that you should try another.” Start by looking through the list of providers your insurance company has online. Look up their personal websites, and see if any look like a good fit. And most importantly: don’t get discouraged! It may take having a session with a few different counselors to find one that clicks — and many offer a free first-time consultation.

When looking for a therapist, it’s important to find someone who is licensed, preferably in the state you live in. You should also keep in mind that there are different types of mental health professionals that have varying levels of training and can perform different roles. Psychiatrists (with an MD or DO degree) typically perform medication management only in 20- to 30-minute appointments typically every one to three months. Therapists come in three different varieties: psychologists (with a PhD or PsyD degree), social workers (with a master’s degree and LCSW licensure), and counselors (also with a master’s degree and an LMHC or LPC or LMFT licensure designation). Psychologists have the most years of training followed by social workers and counselors.

Paying for Virtual Therapy

The next thing to be mindful of is cost. The cost of virtual therapy really depends on if you have insurance and what platform you use. If you go to a therapist who is covered by your insurance, you’ll likely just pay a copay per visit (somewhere around $20 to $50). If you see someone who isn’t covered by your insurance but your insurance plan covers a part of that cost, you’ll probably end up paying around 75 percent of the appointment fee. If you don’t have insurance or it doesn’t cover it, you’ll probably end up paying the entire cost of the visit out of pocket. Some therapists allow you to set up payment plans if you’re having trouble affording your sessions.

Each of the platforms below also have different monthly or per-visit costs. It’s important to note that these apps usually don’t take insurance, so you’ll be stuck paying out of pocket up front. Remember to “be wary of quick fixes,” Bellwoar said. Therapy requires work. “We are complex beings,” he said, “and each one of us has a unique history. Real change takes time and effort. Don’t skimp by looking for an easy solution. Do it right.”

Platforms Offering Virtual Therapy

There are some advantages to these types of counseling apps — ease of signing up, access to your therapist, and anonymity if that’s preferred. But there are a few aspects to be mindful of before signing up. While the people on the apps are generally licensed providers, you may not be getting the full picture. Commercial insurance plans vet and credential providers — since insurance companies sometimes don’t cover sessions on these apps, you may not get the benefit of that vetting process.

When looking through these platforms, Bellwoar said to keep this checklist in mind:

  • The person should readily answer any questions you have, such as explaining how the therapy process works and how your personal information is kept secure while doing treatment over the internet.
  • They should appear genuinely warm and friendly
  • They should be ready and willing to provide information on their education and degree, licensure, years of experience, and specialized training and expertise in the specific area which is affecting you.

The best option (if you are able) is to do video sessions directly with a licensed mental health professional — and remember that virtual therapy isn’t a full-time substitute for in-person sessions. “While virtual therapy is a wonderful development, doing live, in-person therapy is the most rewarding and enriching experience,” Bellwoar said. “The clinical relationship and trust created between the mental health provider and the client is critical.”

Talkspace

Talkspace’s platform is based on messaging — texts, audio messages, and video messages. While Talkspace partners with a few insurance plans, its sessions are billed as monthly subscription plans starting at $260 per month. All its providers are licensed — it has a network comprising clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, professional counselors, and psychologists who have at least 2,000 hours of clinical experience.

BetterHelp

BetterHelp sessions will run you $60 to $90 per week depending on your location, preferences, and therapist availability. Unlike Talkspace, BetterHelp provides both messaging and live phone and video appointments. BetterHelp’s practitioners are clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, professional counselors, and psychologists who are qualified and certified by their state’s professional board and have at least three years and 1,000 hours of hands-on experience.

MindRight

MindRight is specifically built to help aid in systemic healing for youth of color. The mission is to make mental health support radically accessible and inclusive. MindRight provides real-time coaching over text message — the coaches are young professionals, former teachers, community members, and college students. MindRight is free for people ages 13-25 connected to the company’s community health partners, and for those unaffiliated with current partners, you can purchase low-cost membership starting at $80 per month.

Some other apps and resources specifically designed for marginalized and intersectional communities: Ayana TherapyThe Loveland FoundationHurdle (takes insurance).

TeenCounseling

This platform is dedicated to helping teens ages 13-19 and their parents deal with issues like coping skills, anxiety, stress, self-esteem, depression, bullying, anger, and eating disorders. Sessions will cost you $60 to $90 per week depending on your location, preferences, and therapist availability and take place via text messages, live chat, live phone sessions, and live video calls. All the counselors on TeenCounseling.com are licensed psychologists, marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, or professional counselors. All of the counselors have a master’s degree or doctoral degree in their field and have been licensed by their state’s professional board.

PrideCounseling

PrideCounseling provides online counseling to the LGBTQ+ community, and all the counselors specialize in dealing with issues specific to that community. You can communicate with your therapist via text messages, live chat, live phone sessions, and live video calls. Counselors are licensed psychologists, licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, or licensed professional counselors. All have a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in their field, have been certified by their state’s professional board, and have at least three years and 1,000 hours of hands-on experience.

Some other resources specifically designed for the LGBTQ+ community: National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color NetworkOpen Path.

ReGain

ReGain focuses on couples’ and relationship therapy. Sessions will cost you $60 to $90 per week depending on your location, preferences, and therapist availability. ReGain’s platform uses text messages, live chat, live phone sessions, and live video calls. Counselors at ReGain are licensed psychologists, licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, or licensed professional counselors. All have a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in their field, have been certified by their state’s professional board, and have at least three years and 1,000 hours of hands-on experience.