Business is booming for therapy apps, but what really works?

Jasmine Garsd Apr 15, 2020
In the era of shelter in place, online therapy has become the norm. Pixabay

Business is booming for therapy apps, but what really works?

Jasmine Garsd Apr 15, 2020
In the era of shelter in place, online therapy has become the norm. Pixabay

Even before the pandemic, online therapy and therapy apps were booming. With the stresses of the pandemic, companies offering mental health services are finding a surge in new interest.

Six years ago, Jennifer, from Milwaukee, started therapy to treat her anxiety — in person. Even as apps for mental health started popping up online, she says she’s never wanted to do online treatment.

“Absolutely not. I feel like a big part of therapy is being able to see someone and being in the same room,” she said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit her therapist moved their sessions to video. As soon as she can, Jennifer wants to go back to meeting her therapist in person. But, for now, a few weeks in, video works.

Cheryl Aguilar (Photo courtesy of Aguilar)

And it has to: In the era of shelter in place, online therapy has become the norm.

For therapist Cheryl Aguilar, the transition has been a piece of cake. Back in 2015, the organization she worked with got a grant to do free video therapy sessions for Spanish-speaking immigrants. She kept doing it when she opened her own practice.

For many patients, Aguilar said, “this is a safer way to feel connected. We have seen that highly stigmatized communities, like the LGBTQ community that we were serving in Washington, D.C., felt more comfortable doing it this way.”

With a global pandemic, an unprecedented economic crisis and uncertainty, it’s no surprise that remote therapy is on the rise. 

And an increasing amount of apps claim to be rising to the occasion. TalkSpace lets you connect with a licensed therapist. They’ve seen a 65% increase in the last month or so.

Screenshot via Wysa

TalkSpace, Better Help, and Pride Counseling promise to match clients to online therapists for as little as $40 a week.

That’s a lot less than in-person therapy, especially for those without insurance. But for many Americans facing deep economic uncertainty, that’s still a lot of money.

There’s also been a surge of users with COVID-19-related stress on apps like Wysa, an artificial intelligence therapy platform. Wysa offers video sessions with human therapists; the basic free plan lets you text a bot, in the form of an animated penguin, which gives mental health exercises and tips.

Still, artificial intelligence is where some in the mental health community draw the line. Therapist Katherine O’Connor says a bot can surely help with wellness tips, but “the human connection is, I think, one of the most healing for change and growth.”

If you can afford that right now.

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