You'd be hard pressed to find someone who has not had to make changes to their everyday lives in the past month. Day-to-day interactions have all transitioned to virtual — work meetings are now hosted on Zoom and hanging out with friends happens over FaceTime. Also going virtual are therapy appointments, which are now taking place over computer or smart phone. If you have yet to dip your toe into counseling or have yet to meet with your therapist since the quarantine began, you might be wondering how virtual therapy actually works.
While virtual sessions might not be the same as face-to-face communication, mental health professionals, including psychiatrists and therapists, are seeing benefits from the switch. "During this time of social and physical distancing and isolation, many people are struggling with preexisting and current mental health issues and it's so important to have the support of their therapist and be able to continue working together," Dr. Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a psychologist at Therapy Group of NYC, tells TZR. "People who were considering therapy and may be putting it off because of scheduling or weekly commitments are finding they now have more time and can start seeing a therapist virtually, as most have switched to tele-therapy completely, including our practice."
And therapy from home is a better option for some. "Teletherapy also breaks down some of the emotional, mental, and physical barriers towards seeking out therapy," Valentina Zuric, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York, tells TZR. "There’s a low barrier to entry by being in the comfort of your own home, snuggled with your pet, or drinking from your special coffee mug."
If you're worried about your insurance covering virtual therapy, there's some good news. "In response to COVID-19, more insurance providers have made exceptions for tele-health services, so this was a relief for my clients," Zuric explains. "Moving to a secure platform that complied with HIPAA, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, to mitigate privacy risks, was also seamless because one of the most essential components of my practice is my online billing and scheduling program, Simple Practice, which also offers secure tele-therapy technology. My clients receive a reminder text and email 10 minutes prior to their session, which results in streamlined communication."
For your actual sessions, there are several options to choose from, including Simple Practice, which Zuric mentioned above. "It's a great practice management software for all of my work needs, like scheduling, case management, Telehealth, and therapy notes," she explains. "They're also 100 percent HIPAA compliant, whereas other similar systems like FaceTime and Skype do not meet HIPAA's standard."
Zoom and Google Meet are also preferred methods for secure therapy sessions. "I've mostly been using Google Meet, sometimes Zoom, as some clients prefer this platform, and VSee," Wimer explains. "With any of these platforms, I send a link to access the video conference and we 'meet' at our regularly scheduled time. So far I've run into very few technical issues and have found most video platforms to be pretty smooth and easy to use." Out of all the platforms she prefers to hold her sessions through Google Meets as it's easily accessible for most of her clients. "With Zoom and VSee, the software needs to be downloaded on a computer or phone, which can be a source of confusion and frustration for some," she notes.
Now if you're new to therapy and don't have a therapist you're regularly seeing, there are plenty of online resources to turn to. Below, find five virtual therapy options that will allow you to get help at home.
Virtual Therapy: BetterHelp
At $65 per week, BetterHelp offers unlimited text-based sessions and one sessions of live therapy. Once you sign up you'll be matched with a professional who fits your personal preferences and the areas you want help addressing. (If you aren't happy with your matched counselor, you're able to switch.)
It's important to note, however, that according to its website, "Services offered using this site are generally not covered by health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid." That said, the prices are comparable to co-pays of many insurance plans. Although insurance is not taken, if you can't afford the counseling, you can apply to receive financial aid.
Virtual Therapy: Talkspace
On Talkspace you'll find therapists that specialize in all areas of behavioral help including anxiety, depression, relationships, and even the COVID-19 program. Plans offered are the Unlimited Messaging plan, Talkspace for Teens, and Couples Therapy. These plans range from $65 to $95 a week, and Talkspace also takes insurance.
Virtual Therapy: Larkr
Like Talkspace and Betterhelp, Larkr matches users with a licensed therapist. To begin the process, there's a questionnaire to determine the best match. If you don't like the therapist you're assigned, you can opt for a new one. Larkr specializing in areas such as addiction, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, relationship issues, and PTSD. "Our sessions are 50 minutes and cost $85, we do not require or even offer subscriptions," Shawn Kernes, co-founder and CEO of Larkr, tells TZR. "We also offer free self care tools such as a mood journal, daily challenges to do things for self or others, and guided meditation."
Virtual Therapy: Regain
Regain specifically focuses on relationship therapy. Two users share an account where they talk to a licensed counselor together, and both can see all written communication. In addition to messaging, sessions can also be held via video. But, only two-way sessions are allowed, no three-way sessions. If one partner wishes to speak to the counselor alone, they can request a private live session. Couples are matched with the professional based on preferences and the types of issues they are facing. Regain also allows users to opt for a different counselor if they feel their match isn't right. The fee is $65 per week, which includes unlimited messaging and weekly live sessions. You can apply to receive financial aid if you can't afford Regain.
Virtual Therapy: Bloom
With Bloom, you are your own therapist. The app provides guided videos with exercises to help with daily stress, anxiety, while also working on improving confidence. These guided sessions teach users motivational tips, ways to reduce stress, breathing techniques, and more helpful takeaways. The app has a seven-day free trial, so consider this option if you're still unsure about starting therapy. After the trial is over, the fee is $4.99/month, billed yearly at $59.99.