It’s not a stretch to say the cyber age is taking us to where we’ve never been before, a world where quick answers to vexing and often personal dilemmas are no farther away than the palms of our hands. Thanks partly to pioneering companies like Talkspace, our smartphones, and other handhelds can now serve as conduits to treating mental health issues.
Anxieties, debilitating emotions, mood pendulums, and the like, sometimes can’t wait for a convenient appointment to be made or a 20 to 30-minute drive to a therapist’s office. At least, this idea is what the founders of Talkspace based their business on, and many mental health practitioners are jumping on board their train. Yes, thanks to smartphones and similar devices, we now can carry our doctors in our pockets.
However, like all new worlds when it comes to the internet, a lot of trial and error, not to mention tweaking, comes in force on the way to perfecting such critical and sensitive services such as psychotherapy and mental counseling. Talkspace is the first to admit this and is, therefore, trying to rectify any evolving issues brought to its attention.
While the jury is still deliberating on its verdict regarding online mental counseling and psychiatric sessions, the method is cultivating an ever-increasing contingent of doctors and patients. Talkspace attests to this: It boasts a client base of 500,000 who are connecting with more than 1,500 licensed professionals remotely.
Why such a growing interest?
For one, mental health patients are just like the rest of us. They either have a car, depend on the bus, or rely on other forms of transportation. They work. They have budgets. They have families and all the commitments each of these commonalities entail. They’re trekking through life, just like the rest of us—with one exception. They need professional help in coping with certain emotions, anxieties, or behaviors.
Just like visiting a dentist or your family doctor, you need to look at your calendar, set an appointment, and make arrangements to keep that appointment when it comes to seeing a psychotherapist. If you own a car, it still takes travel time and some expenditure on fuel to get to your mental health professional.
Many of these patients may not even own a car. Many with restricted mobility, the wheelchair-bound, and those who never learned to drive or who can’t afford vehicle payments simply must depend on public transportation or lifts from friends and family.
It is therefore not hard to understand how a short series of taps on a smartphone during an anxiety crisis or other roadblock to life’s normal routines is the preferred alternative to in-person, face-to-face sessions.
A patient not only saves money on the inherent expenses of transportation but also on the expense of seeing a psychotherapist in person. Talkspace, for instance, charges as little as $32 a week to chat online with your therapist, without the hassle of making appointments. As with emails, your doctor simply gets back to you as soon as he or she can. If your message appears more urgent, they can get back sooner rather than later.
This virtual visit can save patient hundreds of dollars compared to an in-person session.
For the therapist or provider, Talkspace proves just as fetching. Indeed, mega-provider Magellan Health just inked an agreement with Talkspace to bring at-the-moment psychotherapy to its clients through the network of professionals culled by Talkspace. If you employer contracts Magellan as its healthcare provider and you need mental health therapy, you could very well be holding an online session with your therapist soon.
Some psychotherapists appreciate the fact that they can spend more time actually listening to clients and counseling them rather than dealing with office work inherent to post-personal-visitation routines. The Talkspace route proves asynchronous because of its on-demand nature.
Scott Christnelly, a psychotherapist now with Talkspace, stated in an Engadget article, “The job became more about paper and chart compliance and less about the healing relationships . . . with clients.”
Executives at Talkspace, however, remain cognizant of the potential pitfalls of their virtual therapist’s couch. They admit to already encountering a few.
For one, face-to-face sessions in which the therapist can note every physical or facial nuance of the patient and note it accordingly in their assessment proves more advantageous than texts at times. However, secure, Skype-like video sessions are available through the virtual office provided by Talkspace. Also, remote sessions don’t need to preclude in-person sessions with a brick-and-mortar therapist; these can still be arranged but just on a less frequent (therefore, less expensive) basis.
A more complicated issue involves that baited term, “instant gratification.” A patient may not deal with their entire problem in the long run if he or she can resolve momentary crises in the time it takes to change channels on a TV. Even Christnelly attests that clients can advance their progress with issues more effectively when the need for instant responses and resolutions disappears.
Talkspace has a strict of crisis intervention procedures and emphasizes that online therapy can never perform as a substitute for direct emergency intervention when it is needed. In these instances, clients are urged to pursue emergency services such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
As with handheld devices themselves, new innovations and pioneering portals such as Talkspace must live, learn, and facilitate compliance with the oaths of the medical profession. They must rectify each unforeseen issue as it surfaces, all with the patient’s best interests in mind.