It’s hard to argue that 2020 wasn’t one of the most stressful years that we’ve had in our recent memory.
With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting almost every aspect of our day to day lives and pushing us into distancing and isolation, it’s been hard to feel anything but out of sorts. Mental Health America reports that in 2020, 18% of adults — that’s 44 million people in the US – have struggled with clinical mental illness.
As the world has become more and more digital, it makes sense that mental health services and therapy have started to go virtual. There are therapists who maintain their own autonomous private practices that meet their clients with the flexibility to be in person or on Zoom. But for many people, there are accessibility issues pertaining to whether or not you have insurance that has good mental health coverage to pay for therapy, or just out of pocket costs that are barriers to access at large.
Enter Talkspace. Talkspace is an online and mobile therapy company based in New York City, offering solely online-based “talk” therapy via its iOS or Android apps. Talkspace takes some insurance providers and is an included benefits partner at companies ranging from the US Postal Service to Yelp. Talkspace also has an accessible subscription model ranging from $260 to $396 per month.
I got to try out Talkspace as an alternative option to traditional, in-person therapy in 2020 – here’s what I thought.
My previous experience with therapy
I personally have been going to therapy on and off since I was sixteen. It was easier to start then because I had the help of my family and my insurance network to find someone to work with. But after I went to college 3,000 miles away from home—and my therapist—I found it difficult both to try to maintain contact with my initial care provider and to connect with anyone new.
I essentially stopped going to therapy after I was 19, only checking in with my old therapist whenever I was back home for long enough in California, and eventually not at all once I had fully moved back.
Why I decided to try Talkspace
My expectations for success in any kind of online clinical mental health treatment are very low at large, but given the circumstances of mandated distancing across most aspects of healthcare, it felt like there would never be a better time for me to try a service like Talkspace.
Talkspace touts its core mission as making therapy more accessible “so more people could benefit from therapy and overcome their day-to-day challenges in a stigma-free environment.” I had been wanting to restart therapy for a long time, and Talkspace was my way in.
A review of my Talkspace experience
The intake process of Talkspace is essentially taking a quiz asking about what aspects of your life you wanted to talk about and work through, and what your experiences with mental health issues and treatments you’ve used in the past. I found it to be probably the cleanest and most pleasant clinical intake process I’ve ever done.
Filling out a survey online instead of having a face to face conversation with a human made it easier to open up about what issues I had faced and struggled with emotionally over the last year. After you take the quiz, you are matched with a clinical therapist who meets you in your Talkspace, which is a chatroom of sorts where you can send text, audio, and video messages, as well as photos (!!!) to give a better sense of what is happening in your life.
My therapist was Kathleen, and I really enjoyed working with her to the extent I was able to in a one month trial. I mostly left her audio messages the same way I leave voice recordings to my friends on Instagram and iMessage. We spoke a lot about things that had really been hurting me and it felt really good to finally talk about them.
Who is Talkspace therapy beneficial for?
The Talkspace therapists are professional, legit, and thoughtful, but the lack of structure in connecting with one another made it really difficult at times to make meaningful progress in terms of the emotional work I had to do. I found that you have to take initiative and be reaching out to your therapist a lot. I am prone to isolation, so I really only reached out in episodes of stress, but not during my day-to-day life.
I see Talkspace as something that is absolutely more effective and beneficial for someone that’s taking the same initiative as they would to meet a therapist otherwise in a more rigid time structure, the same way in which you would go to a scheduled appointment. My therapist eventually picked up that I needed to be prodded to speak up and lean into therapy, and actually reached out to me to have a ten minute face-to-face video meeting, but I couldn’t see her with my schedule within the time frame of the one month trial.
Talkspace final thoughts
I was happy overall with what I got out of it, but I really do think that the people who will benefit most will actually text and reach out to their therapist as frequently as it is permissible. (For the five work days a week you are guaranteed a response if you reach out to your therapist.) If I do more work with myself emotionally to allow myself to be more involved, I absolutely see myself using Talkspace again, and recommend it to people looking for alternatives to traditional therapy. But for now, I’ll be hunting for someone to meet in real life.