Historically speaking, there has been an enormous and toxic stigma attached to seeking help for mental illness. Some would say even a perception of weakness toward people who experience symptoms of mental illness or seek mental healthcare. The resulting apprehension has prevented millions of people from getting the care they need. Fortunately, the last few years has seen a growing cultural emphasis on mental wellness, efforts to remove the damaging stigma, and a growing effort to raise awareness of how important it is to take one’s mental health seriously. This shift is crucial for a society in which mental health challenges are not only present, but common. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
- 1 in 4 U.S. adults experiences mental illness
- 1 in 25 U.S. adults experiences serious mental illness
- 17% of youth (ages 6-17) experience a mental health disorder
- Mental illness encompasses several disorders with the most prevalent being:
- Anxiety Disorders – 19%
- Depression – 7%
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – 4%
- Dual Diagnosis – 4%
- Bipolar Disorder – 3%
- Schizophrenia – 1%
- Borderline Personality Disorder – 1%
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – 1%
Thankfully, the millennial generation has been at the forefront of sparking dialogue about mental health concerns they experience daily. According to Roni Frank, Co-Founder at Talkspace, “In the last few years, there is a cultural shift in our society. Millennials are more open about their mental health struggle… the stigma has decreased, and demand has increased, and millions of people were left without treatment.”
Roni Frank and her husband Oren Frank saw this dilemma and were drawn to finding a solution to the problem that millions of people were left without treatment; therefore, they launched Talkspace, an online, leading platform providing digital therapy. Talkspace was launched in 2012 after the Franks noticed a gap in the availability of mental health services. This was a major concern to the couple, who recognized the importance of counseling – just years prior, the couple was having marital issues of their own and were facing what seemed like imminent separation. However, they turned to counseling as a tool to rebuild their connection and strengthen their relationship. It worked! So, when they saw the gap between demand for counseling and availability, they decided to do something about it. Their mission was to make therapy affordable and accessible to all.
Making Therapy Affordable
“Two out of three people cannot access mental health care.” Roni Frank
There is no doubt that millions of Americans each year are impacted by these numerous disorders, but it’s also true that many Americans without a diagnosed mental illness would benefit tremendously from counseling, which can help anyone process trauma, grief, anxiety, and daily stress. This need is what prompted Roni and Oren Frank to launch a platform that makes therapy accessible to all.
The cost of traditional therapy can vary widely depending on location, income, insurance coverage, etc. There are very few providers that offer free services, and with those, accessibility is typically limited, and available therapists are often still in training. Then there are services covered by health insurance providers – the challenge here again lies in the provider’s availability. Plus, there is typically a co-pay associated with each visit and a limit on the number of visits each year a patient can use. Lastly, there those who do not take insurance but instead charge hourly. The wide range of available services creates huge variation in the cost that therapy can carry, ranging from nothing to hundreds of dollars per hour.
Talkspace, on the other hand, provides a full range of services at a much lower cost, depending on the services requested by the user. According to their website, services can be as low as $65 with higher cost associated as more services are added. Here is the breakdown:
- These are the current plans that are available for one-on-one private chat:
- Unlimited Messaging Therapy Plus: $65/week for text, video, & audio messaging. Your therapist responds to messages daily, 5 days/week (Billed as $260 monthly).
- Unlimited Messaging Therapy Premium: $79/week for text, video & audio messaging + 1 Live Session/month. Your therapist responds to messages daily, 5 days/week (Billed as $316 monthly).
- LiveTalk Therapy Ultimate: $99/week for text, video & audio messaging + 4 Live Sessions/month. Your therapist responds to messages daily, 5 days/week (Billed as $396 monthly).
- Couples therapy is available for $99/week (billed as $396 monthly) or $89/week (billed $1068 every 3 months).
- For plans without Live Video Sessions or for those who would like to have additional sessions with their therapist, Live Video Sessions can be added for $65 per 30-minute session. Ask your therapist to schedule a Live Video Session if interested.
The most common plan used by subscribers, according to Roni Frank, is the messaging therapy, “where you’re messaging your therapist five days a week, and the therapist is going to respond to up to three times a day based on your needs.”
Although services are not offered at zero cost, the digital platform provides ongoing communication with a therapist at a much lower price than traditional therapy can typically offer. In fact, Talkspace also works with many employers, health plans, employee assistance programs (EAP), and educational organizations to make therapy affordable. Their partners include: Allan Myers, Alternatives EAP, ATO Fraternity, Chi Psi Fraternity, City Year, Concern Health, Cultural Vistas, Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, Dissinger Reed, e4EAP, GatorCare, GLG, Hana Health, Joyages, Justworks Employees and Members, Kappa Alpha Order Fraternity, Keep Truckin, LAIKA, LendingTree, LifeWise Assurance Company, LifeWise Health Plan of Washington, Little Bird, LiveRamp, LPGA, Magellan Health, MINES and Associates, MOD Pizza, New Directions Behavioral Health, Precise Benefits Group, Premera Blue Cross, Resources for Living, Sanitas, Sigma Kappa Sorority, State of Florida EAP, Success Academies, USA Swimming, USPS, Veritas, WellConnectTeens, Whole Foods, and Williams College.
Talkspace Making Therapy Accessible
With traditional therapy, it can take just as much time to get to an appointment as a patient might spend at the actual appointment! This is because of the time-consuming nature of traditional therapy. A patient must call and set up the appointment, drive to the location, get settled, and then head back out and drive home afterwards – often while juggling work schedules and family life. Online therapy platforms are helping users overcome this barrier by providing them with 24/7 therapy that they access through their phone. Instead of communicating once a week, clients have the opportunity to relay their concerns to their therapists at any time, prompting their therapists to respond accordingly: “With Talkspace, you can send a therapist text messages, audio messages, as well as picture and video messages in a private, text-based chat room.” The therapist will then respond two to three times per day depending on the need of the client.
In addition, online platforms are adapting to the changing demands of the millennial generation and the way they rely on technology. Millennials have integrated their phones into nearly every aspect of their lives – it is no longer a simple form of communication, but instead a device to manage an entire lifestyle. Therefore, the online platform is an innovative way to connect with this generation through the tool they already use to experience, process, record, and catalogue their worlds.
Lastly, online therapy has created an accessible method for treatment for those who are suffering with issues related to social media use. This issue does not always create a need for traditional, in-person therapy; therefore, online therapy has provided an appropriate avenue for professionals to help patients moderate their social media use and utilize the platforms in a healthier way. In fact, in order to address this increasing demand, Talkspace introduced their platform Talkspace for Teens, a place for adolescents to seek therapy on their phones.
Digital Therapy Can Be Used in Addition to In-Person Psychotherapy
The increase in prevalence of mental health issues has provided an avenue for new therapeutic methods. However, it is important to note that for those suffering from severe mental illnesses and life-threatening conditions, digital therapy should not account for their entire mental health support system. Instead, it may act a useful support and supplement to traditional therapy or psychiatry.
The American Psychological Association (APA) cautions that “There are cases in which web-conference or therapy via telephone does seem to be a viable option on its own.” Online platforms like Talkspace, in other words, might offer the ideal level of accessible care for thousands of people, but can also be used as an integrated part of a larger support system.