There's an App for that

Could seeing a therapist be as easy as posting on Facebook? Experts says they will never replace the real interaction, but maybe they don't have to. 

Talkspace is a US based service that connects users with licensed therapists, who offer counselling by text message. Many users are Canadian. Talkspace allows users to anonymously text a therapist and receive live assistance within the hour. Talkspace Co-Founder and CEO Oren Frank founded the company in 2012 receiving millions of dollars investment. Currently this service has over 80,000 registered users.

What makes it so appealing?

1.     According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 21% of the working population (20-64 years of age)  are living with a mental health problem or illness.  Canadians who seek help for mental illness will most often take prescribed medication even though evidence shows psychotherapy  works well, if not better, for the most common illnesses (depression and anxiety) and does a better job at preventing relapse. Access to evidence-based psychotherapy, which should be the front-line medical treatment, is limited and wait lists are long.

 

2.    Treatment is available but not being used. Two-thirds of those who are referred to therapy never go. Stigma can be a huge barrier preventing people who need help from getting it. Price can also be huge obstacle. The median cost to see a therapist is $75 per session, and some therapists can charge as much as $200 or more (sessions are usually once a week and last around 45 minutes). Patients often pay out of pocket. None of the Canadian provinces cover therapy delivered in private practice, which leaves two choices for people who don't have insurance: pay out of pocket or go without.

Talkspace on the other hand costs $25 per week. Other competitors like GoLantern and BetterHelp can cost between $28-$35 per week. All of them electronically connect you with a psychologist, social worker, and mental health counsellors, so long as your phone is charged and there is Internet connection. You could even use it while at work if needed.

These apps certainly address a gap that exists around getting timely treatment and around the cost of these treatments.

But, can it be doing more harm than good?

Are we relying too heavily on the connections we develop through screen than face to face interactions? Think about it. How long do you spend on your phone or looking at a computer? We put in less effort to for in-person conversations when we simply send an e-mail or a text.

Could text-only therapy actually increase the risk of alienation and loneliness? Millennials have been on the receiving end of certain criticism like being “self-absorbed” and “technology dependent” (see  Millennial Mental Health). Maybe it is better to #putthephonedown and talk to someone, anyone and not just a therapist, rather than looking to a screen for therapy.

Should we make way for the digital therapist?  Do you think text-only therapy builds a wall for social interaction? Can therapy really be done through the medium of text messages effectively? How do you think this would impact mental health in the workplace?

Check out Dr. Essig's article: Should Buyers Beware? Hidden Risks In Talkspace's Text-Only Therapy and CBC Radio broadcast with Nora Young. We would like to know what you think!