If you’re like most people, life isn’t a perfect ride. We all face problems and need some help working through them, and therapy services are integral for people facing life challenges or mental illness. But they’re not always easy to find or affordable, either.
I, myself, have Bipolar 2 disorder and see a traditional in-person therapist regularly, but as a mom of four with limited childcare options, it’s very difficult to make it there—even weekly.
The Talkspace app, however, makes it possible to receive mental health services right from your own phone or computer, on your own schedule.
I’ve seen advertisements for various online therapy services online and on TV, but I’ve never really felt confident about spending money on them. Yes, they sound convenient, but do they work? Isn’t it just a ploy for money? These are the types of criticisms that run through my head.
When I was granted a one-month gift card subscription to Talkspace, I was excited to give it a try and find out if online therapy was worth all the hype.
Online therapy programs and apps are popping up more and more on the web. In an increasingly digital world, online therapy just seems to make sense. Lots of people who can’t otherwise receive therapy can receive it with an app like Talkspace, where they can text with therapists in a safe, private, easily-accessible place.
The Importance of Therapy
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that in 2018, 19.1% (or about one in five) U.S. adults experienced mental illness. But, less than half (43%) of those people received treatment that year.
These statistics are troubling because therapy is strongly recommended for the treatment of mental illness like anxiety and depression. It’s also a great tool for those suffering from issues like low self-esteem, grief or other life challenges.
How Does Talkspace Work?
Here’s a little background on the Talkspace app. You’ll have a private space, or “room,” used to communicate with a professionally licensed therapist. You may send messages via text, video and audio recording, and participate in live video conferences.
Several subscription options are available, with the most basic (the one I used) allowing you to interact with your therapist one or two times daily (during business days). The most expensive option allows weekly live video conferences with your Talkspace therapist.
You pay on a monthly basis for a subscription to the service, and payment depends on which types of online therapy services you choose to use. Live video conferences can also be purchased a la carte for an extra fee per conference.
Choose Your Talkspace Therapist
This service gives you power in choosing a therapist. You’re given three options to choose from, with descriptions of their qualifications, counseling styles and schedule type.
If you don’t like them, you can be given another three to choose from, and so on, until you find the right fit. An agent is available to text you and help you through the process.
Talkspace technology is supposed to be 100% compliant with HIPAA privacy laws, ensuring customers that the private information they share won’t be shared with any other party. It’s also covered by some health insurance plans.
Talkspace offers Guaranteed Response Time, which means your therapist will respond to your messages within a set time frame (at least once per day).
When you submit a message, you’re immediately notified of the time by which you can expect a response.
According to the Talkspace website, “You are guaranteed to receive at least one meaningful therapist response for each request period.”
How Much Does Talkspace Cost?
- Unlimited Messaging Therapy Plus. This service costs $260 per month for text, video and audio messaging. You’ll receive a therapist response at least once a day, five days per week.
- Unlimited Messaging Therapy Premium. At $316 per month, this service adds one live video session per month. Everything else is the same as the basic plan.
- Livetalk Therapy Ultimate. For $396 a month, you’ll receive standard messaging options plus four live video conferences per month.
- Couples Therapy. For $396 per month, receive couples therapy with your partner.
- Live Video Sessions. These are available a la carte, at $65 each. Those with the most basic plan can purchase live sessions as needed, or those who already have them can purchase extras.
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My Experience With Talkspace
The Talkspace Onboarding Process
I received a gift card for one month of the most basic services on Talkspace, and it was easy to get started. When I first created my account, I was set up with a “matching therapist” to help place me with an on-going therapist.
The “matching therapist” asked me to summarize my needs, why I was looking for a therapist, and a brief explanation of my goals for therapy. Then, he presented me with three therapist options from which to choose.
It was a little disappointing that none of them specifically said they work with bipolar disorder. I asked for the option to view more but was told they were carefully matched for me.
I felt a little pressured to choose one of the first three, so I just did. The therapist I chose specializes in relationship issues, anxiety and depression. Since my bipolar disorder includes both anxiety and depression symptoms, she seemed like the closest match.
The “matching therapist” said I should disregard the listed hours that therapists are available, because they are free to respond when they can. These hours are used more for onboarding with new patients.
Meeting My Talkspace Therapist
After one day, the therapist I matched with sent her first message to me. She had me sign some forms and gave me a bunch of local mental health resources, which I thought was great. From there, I was asked again what I was looking to get out of Talkspace.
I gave my therapist a brief background on my mental illness, my life as a mom of four kids, and some of the problems I struggle with, such as organization, completing tasks and thoughts spinning around in my mind.
Her initial response included questions to clarify more about my situation. It was then that I realized that was the only response I’d get that day—some more questions to answer.
I was a little disappointed.
The next day, I answered her questions and began to open up more about my issues through a series of long text messages. After a few more days, it really felt like I was putting way more into the conversation than I was receiving in return.
I didn’t like that I received only one or two interactions per day. If she had questions to clarify the things I spoke about, that would exhaust one guaranteed therapist response. I’d answer and have to wait until the next day for more feedback.
Much of the time, things I might complain about had changed by the time I’d get a response. By then, something new was undoubtedly the center of my problems. So, I’d state the new issue, and then start the cycle over again awaiting the next day’s response.
It was exciting each time I got both an email and app notification that my therapist had responded to me. It made me feel less alone, which was nice. But if there was more I wanted to ask or clarify, I had to wait until the next day to get an answer. So then, the next day I’d have to choose between discussing new issues or the clarification from the previous day’s issue.
Because of the nature of the response times, and the fact that the therapists don’t work on weekends, one month flew by like a breeze. I definitely felt like it wasn’t worth the $260 I would have paid for the month of service.
Yes, it was nice to have the ability to send a message whenever I wanted, but my biggest turn-off with this app was waiting for responses and the lack of helpful advice I received after waiting so long.
Talkspace Pros & Cons
Here are the pros and cons of Talkspace.
Talkspace Doesn’t Replace Traditional Therapy
I don’t think Talkspace can replace traditional therapy (unless you have lots of money for the extra features), but it could be a good side outlet. For me, the response time is too delayed, so it’s hard to carry a conversation.
You send one message and hear one response (sometimes two, depending on what time you communicate) the next day. Often, this could just be a question the therapist asks for clarification. If you forget to reply or reply late in the day, you still have to wait for your therapist’s next window of response time.
I think Talkspace is a useful, if limited, service that can help people who don’t have access to traditional in-person therapy. Many people, however, probably need more contact than this method offers.
Like regular in-person therapy, this type of therapy probably requires much longer than a month to be effective. You can’t just pay for one month and expect to work through your issues in that time.
My feeling is that it takes at least three months to see progress. Of course, this will vary for every unique person’s situation.
Note that I tried the most basic version, so I can’t comment on the video conferences that can be added once a month, weekly or a la carte. These would probably be very helpful and make the experience more personalized with real-time interaction.
My Talkspace Tips
One month gave me enough time to learn a few things about the app. If you decide to give Talkspace a try, keep these tips in mind:
1. Get as much out of your submissions as you can.
You can write multiple messages (I’m not sure if there’s a limit) before sending them all off to your therapist at once. It could be wise to write them down throughout the day without sending, then send them all off at once.
That way, they can all be answered at once in the one response you get per day. This works better than splitting up each of these messages and only getting a response to one of them per day.
2. Don’t expect too detailed of answers.
Also true for in-person therapy, you may not always receive the answers you’re looking for. First of all, text message communication is limited in that you can’t use body language and eye contact to help you communicate what you’re thinking and feeling.
Your therapist may have trouble truly understanding what you’re trying to ask, especially if you’re not gifted at communication in the first place. If you receive limited responses, try not to be too disappointed and keep in mind the limitations of virtual therapy.
3. Keep track of your subscription.
If you only subscribe for one month, like I did, that month goes fast. You don’t have communication on the weekends, and sometimes therapists go on “breaks,” where you’re told they will be gone for a few days.
Or, if you forget to send messages for a few days, you’re missing out on valuable therapist feedback you could have received, that you already paid for. Keep track of your time and try to take the service seriously.
Is Talkspace Worth It?
Talkspace can be a great therapy tool for those who can’t make regular in-person appointments or who need extra therapy services. There are many other online therapy resources out there, so shop around before choosing one.
Remember, therapy is what you make it. So, if you choose to use an online therapy service, make sure you use it as directed and put effort into your recovery process.Always seek help from an emergency room or call a crisis hotline if you’re experiencing an emergency. In the U.S., one emergency option is to text “HOME” to 741741 for crisis text message servicing.