Admitting you need professional help when you're going through a rough time is hard. It can be even harder when your insurance doesn't cover it, the psychologists in your area just aren't a good fit for you or you're just way too busy to get yourself to a therapist's office for an hour.
That's what happened to me. But I found a brilliant solution to all of those problems by getting therapy from the same place I go for pretty much everything else in my life: the Internet.
After some quick Googling, I found a few services that offered online counseling from licensed therapists via Skype at fairly affordable rates. The one I liked most featured profiles of all of the therapists explaining their backgrounds and specialties, which included everything from getting over an ex to eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety and job stress. I picked the one that felt right for me, and as soon as I'd had my first session, I was totally hooked.
I personally prefer to be in PJs with pizza and wine nearby, but online therapy can happen literally anywhere.
We all get stressed out, sad or overwhelmed sometimes, and having a smart, impartial person to talk to can be really beneficial, even if you're not "in crisis" (and especially if you are). So in honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week and World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10), I spoke with several experts and therapists who work online to learn more about options for online therapy, life coaching and mental health resources -- and what I learned is really, really inspiring.
Finding Your Happy Place
Bea Arthur -- who shares a name with the much-beloved Golden Girls actress by purely magical coincidence -- is a licensed therapist who worked as a domestic violence counselor before launching an online therapy company when she was only 27 years old.
"Whenever I'd tell people what I did for a living, they were really curious -- they'd often mention that they'd always wanted a therapist, but there were so many reasons they hadn’t tried it," Arthur told me. "The Internet is where all our other dirty secrets are, so I thought that if we made actual therapy anonymous and affordable and acceptable, we might really have something."
Her site, In Your Corner (IYC), which facilitates therapy sessions via Skype, chat or text, has totally taken off. It launched four years ago under the name "Pretty Padded Room" and was initially geared toward women, but has since expanded to offer options to people of all genders from all over the world who are over 18. IYC also offers an option to write a secure journal entry and get a written response back from a therapist if you're not up for talking.
"It can be really hard to say something difficult out loud with someone looking at you," Arthur explained. "Especially a stranger. So the chat, text and journal options can allow you to have at least some connectivity during a tough time, even if you’re not up for talking face to face."
I informally asked millennials about their experiences with online and traditional therapy, and most reported that their favorite part of online options is the convenience of being able to do it anywhere, at any time. At least two people confessed that they sometimes squeeze in a Skype therapy session from their car -- either during a lunch break at work, or in a quick break between other activities if they're too busy running around to find time at home.
Audra, a 26-year-old who uses the online service Blush for life coaching, said, "I have tried both traditional and online therapy, and I definitely prefer the online option. Online therapy is more convenient -- no traffic or parking, so it's easier to fit into your day. Online therapy also has the added benefit of giving the user a certain level of anonymity, so it's easier to open up to your therapist quicker than you might in a traditional setting. Now that I've tried therapy online, I can't imagine ever going back to traditional therapy."
The Blush website defines its life coaching services as "a blend between online counseling and mentoring" that is "action oriented" and "problem focused." They are specifically geared toward teen girls and women, and their services are available to users of all ages.
Dr. Jude Black, a therapist who works with IYC, pointed out that much of the stigma people fear when it comes to therapy tends to go away when they're able to do it from the privacy of their own homes. She also said she thinks online therapy is the future of mental health care.
"Life is so very busy," Black said via email. "We are a high-tech, on-demand society -- why should therapy be anything different? I truly believe we are on the cusp of what is going to be the new norm. In-person therapy will always be around for those who need intensive service, but most people just want someone to talk to, outside their world, [who can] provide perspective and help them navigate the messy things a bit better."
How-To Guides For Life
If one-on-one online therapy or life coaching still sounds a little intense, there's another option emerging: online how-to guides. One company making these, Elm, is specifically geared toward millennials. Their stated mission is to "make it cool to take care of yourself."
"There is a cultural expectation that we are supposed to inherently know how to deal with life, i.e. the death of a loved one, sexuality, being productive -- the list goes on," Elm co-founder Elissa O'Dell said via email. "If this expectation was true, then every therapist's couch would be empty. Elm's Guides consist of a series of bite-sized videos focusing on everything school didn't."
Elm co-founders Mia Pokriefka and Elissa O'Dell
Elm video guides feature "influencers" who are successful in their chosen field and deal with topics ranging from coping with death, to increasing your productivity, to finding a job you really love, to exploring your sexuality. After watching a guide, users receive interactive tools to apply what they've learn to their own lives and track their progress, a live-chat forum with the influencer and the ability to wrestle with new ideas in a forum with other community-members working through the same guide.
"Most excitingly," O'Dell said, "users get to learn from a human who has gone through what s/he is dealing with. #Empathy. Plus, users get to connect with these influencers they admire much quicker than they could on other platforms like Twitter."
"We built Elm based on what our users want," co-founder Mia Pokriefka added. "They want direct answers on specific topics (e.g. they want knowledge and tools on how to overcome a creative rut ASAP). They want to connect not only with the person teaching, but also with the community. They also want to feel entertained -- not like they need help. And we provide that entertainment through digestible videos and tangible action steps."
No More Struggling Alone
The number of options for online therapy, life guides and life coaching services are growing.
Breakthrough.com is one of the few sites that accepts health insurance; TalkSpace provides non-video, chat-based counseling; and 7CupsOfTea features trained, volunteer "listeners" and calming exercises. It's also easy to keep the Crisis Text Line number in your phone. This provides free, 24/7 support from trained crisis counselors via text message on demand.
Whatever you do, don't struggle alone. As Jen Gilbert, a 26-year-old who has done both online and traditional therapy, told MTV News, "I think that all young people need to realize that taking care of your mental health doesn't make you crazy -- it means that you're taking care of yourself ... Even investing just 30 minutes into your mental health can make a huge difference, and I think everyone should do it!"
For more on mental health, head to HalfOfUs.com.