A few months ago, I changed health insurance plans and my new insurance was not accepted at my therapist’s office so I was being charged about $100 per session, which honestly isn’t even that high but I just couldn’t afford to keep going on a student budget. After months of neglecting my mental health and reaching somewhat of a breaking point, I started looking online for remote therapy alternatives to traditional in-person therapy and talkspace was immediately on my radar.
When you first go onto the website you go through a free initial assessment with the therapist on that ‘shift.’ The assessment honestly isn’t their strongest point – it feels a lot like the messages are just copied & pasted and that they’re just feigning empathy regarding why you’re pursuing therapy, if you’ve ever done therapy before, etc. Eventually this person sends you a form to fill out, a lot of which you’ve already said so you end up repeating yourself. There’s also a place on the form where you can write any preferences for your therapist (male/female, younger/older etc.). I believe that part of the reason it sounds scripted is because, legally, they have a very narrow set of language they’re allowed to use in their assessments.
After that, you select a payment plan – paying monthly, quarterly (for 3 month period) or annually (for the whole year upfront). The longer the period you pay for, the cheaper it comes out to be per week. Initially, talkspace started as just messaging therapy but they have now added a live session component and each video chat is about 30 minutes. The unlimited messaging only comes with a complimentary ten minute live chat as a way to ‘meet’ your therapist before starting your journey together.
These are the current plans that are available for one-on-one private chat:
- $32/week of Unlimited Messaging Therapy (billed as $128 monthly)
- $43/week of Unlimited Messaging Therapy + 1 Live Session (billed as $172 monthly)
- $69/week of Unlimited Messaging Therapy + 4 Live Sessions (billed as $276 monthly)
- Couples therapy is available for $189 per month or $499 per quarter (12 weeks).
Finally – after about a day – you are paired with your therapist and you start therapy. The first couple days are mostly your therapist reading through your initial assessment and asking questions to get a better idea of where you’re at in life and get an idea of what your goals are with therapy. Then gradually you’ll start working on specific issues and moving forward. Unless you have an alternative arrangement with your therapist, she/he will check your chat two times a day during the weekdays and not at all on the weekends. Initially, it may feel like you’re moving really slowly, especially if you’ve done the traditional 50-minute therapy sessions but one week of chatting on talkspace should be considered equivalent to a traditional session.
When I first started working with my therapist, I felt that the focus of our conversations was shifting from where I wanted it to be so I just talked to her about it. Initially, it felt like she was offended but we completely cleared that up during our introduction video chat. She actually stayed in touch with me during our first weekend working together because I started therapy on a Friday. Additionally, if you feel like you’re not meshing well with your therapist, you can simply request someone else. So far I’m really happy with my experience on talkspace and finally feel like I have a consistent source of help. Below I’ve shared the reasons I think this platform is absolutely perfect for young professionals, especially those of us in medicine.
- Access. I love that I can literally text my therapist whenever I have an experience I need help processing or figuring out the best way to approach a specific situation. With my previous therapist, I would not be able to get an appointment with her until at least a month after I called. Right now – I’m going to be in Florida, away from pretty much my entire support system, studying for what’s probably the most difficult exam of my career. Having someone who can provide insight during trying times – literally in my back pocket – has removed a lot of the anxiety associated with living in a new place, surrounded by new people, overcoming this hurdle.
During the clinical years of med school and residency, I will likely have several days when I start working before any therapists’ office is open and leave work after all therapists’ office close. Having the freedom to text my therapists at any time, day or night, makes it so much easier to get help when you’re working that ridiculous schedule – when you often need therapy the most but can’t access it. Additionally, you’re not limited by geography – even if I move to Vermont for residency, I can continue working with the same therapist remotely.
- Time. When working or studying all week, the last thing I want to do is drive twenty minutes to my therapists’ office and talk to her for a whole hour about things that have added up since our last session. Sometimes I feel like a 50-minute session is too long and I don’t even have enough to discuss and other times it feels like the time just flies by and I have to wait until our next session in 3-4 weeks. I can start messaging my therapist about something and I’m able to say as little or as much as I want (or have the energy to) at my own pace.
- Referring Back. Unlike with traditional therapy, unless you’re taking notes, you can actually refer back to exactly what your therapist said in your conversations, even after you’ve ended your subscription. So if something similar happens in the future, you can refer back to your conversations and regain that insight.
- Continuity. I started using talkspace during a difficult time in my life when I needed help to best process and prioritize my life to set myself up for success on this exam. But after I’ve passed this exam, I may not need to work with a therapist for a few months or even a year. I can stop paying for my subscription with talkspace as soon as I feel I don’t need it and if I have another difficulty arise in my life, I just open talkspace back up and continue working with the same therapist. Those of you who have worked with multiple therapists know how exhausting it can be to repeatedly tell your story to someone else, over and over again so it’s incredible that I can just continue working with the same person!
- Long Term. A career in medicine comes with many, many emotionally challenging times. The first two years are a marathon of constantly feeling like you need to prove your worth and taking test after test. The rest of medical school is that but also facing the realities of medicine: death, dealing with insurance companies and difficult patients, etc. It’s a life time of helping people through some of the most difficult times in their lives and we’re somehow expected to handle it all without seeking help ourselves. Talkspace allows you to stay with the same therapist throughout your years in medicine, even if you travel all over the country for your training.
- Long Distance Couples Counseling. Many ‘medical couples’ or couples in which both people are pursuing rigorous careers often find themselves in a long distance relationship at some point in time. And while long distance comes with its own challenges on top of the challenges of learning how to ‘life’ with someone, traditional counseling is not usually an option because of said distance. We haven’t used this aspect of talkspace yet but if it’s as promising as individual therapy has been, it would be worth a try – especially for long distance couples.
You can read about how talkspace protects the privacy of their clients here and about how the select the therapists available to work with on the website here. In doing my own research about reviews on talkspace, I came across several that were concerned about the text-only basis of the therapy especially since a healthy connection is a vital part of working with a therapist. However, I do think that some of these issues are addressed with the availability of live sessions and ability to send voice and video messages to your therapist. Here you can read some pros and cons of talkspace from the perspective of both consumers and therapists working on the site.
Todd Essig, psychologist and a writer at Forbes, has shared his mistrust of talkspace here and more recently here. I do agree with some of the points he makes, especially the points he makes about the limitations in your therapist’s ability to respond in the case of an emergency. For that reason, I do believe that talkspace is not the best platform for those with acute mental illness in a current state of crisis. In that case, immediate and acute intervention should be sought at the nearest psychiatric institution with extensive follow up with regular in-person sessions. However, for those of us who have been managing our mental illnesses and need additional help in doing so, this can be a great and convenient option especially when there’s no realistic alternative.
If you do decide to try out talkspace, you can get $50 your first month by using my referral link. Full disclosure: I will also receive $50 off a month if you do use that link but that’s not at all why I’ve spent hours on this post and this post is not, at all, sponsored by talkspace. I’m truly passionate about future health care professionals taking better care of themselves and I believe talkspace is a great option that removes many of our barriers to mental healthcare.
Have you tried talkspace or any other online therapy platform? What has been your experience?
edit: here is a more current comparison of betterhelp vs. talkspace by zencare.