Few are more internet crazy than me. There’s not much I havn’t done online, from meeting people and running a business to self diagnosis and learning. I’ve also had a few breakdowns in my time and sought both clinical and mental help in the form of real life Doctor and Psychotherapist visits. In recent years I’ve seen ads for online counselling services and my initial temptation was to feel suspicious. Surely counselling is something you need to do face to face so your therapist can read you and get to know you properly? But then I noticed some counsellor friends and clients were starting to offer therapy sessions online via Skype etc.. in an effort to reach more people and become more efficient. So I decided to look into online counselling a little more.
What better way to check out the whole area of online counselling than to sign up for some!? One company/website that seemed to keep popping up for me was “BetterHelp.com“. It’s an online counselling community with over 4,000 registered and qualified therapists and works on the basis of a weekly, monthly or yearly subscription fee in exchange for which you receive one to one counselling via text chat room, instant live messaging, email and video or phone call with your chosen counsellor. Upon sign up the first thing they require is that you answer a series of questions which seem to try ascertain if online counselling is suitable for you. Some things that might make it not suitable are, severe mental illness, currently in psychiatric care, current suicidal thoughts, addiction, your age (you must not be a minor) and poor internet quality. The services they provide are mostly for mild mental illness and life issues such as depression, anxiety, relationships, family issues, breakups, eating & sleeping disorders, LGBT issues, religion and self esteem. It’s fair enough I guess, no one can help you properly if they are on the other side of the planet and you are suicidal. And this website seems to have a mostly American bias. If the questionnaire deems you unfit for online counselling then they refer you to more appropriate local services in your area which is a nice touch.
So once you pass the initial evaluation, you get to specify your preferred counsellor. This is more to do with picking age, sex and specialist areas covered than randomly picking from a list but you will be assigned a counsellor within 24 hours. Or within about an hour in my case. The counsellor than makes contact with you within your shared “chat room” in which all messages between you are saved and which you can drop in and out of at any time. Once you agree to go ahead with your chosen counsellor (or you can choose a different one) you get to pick a payment plan. You can pay via week, month or year with the longer time frames working out cheaper. Prices range from €35 to €60 per week. One cool thing about Better Help is that if the prices are a little too much for you you can apply for their financial aid program which is simply filling out an online form with your gross monthly income (no documentation required) and you get an instant decision. I was awarded a 40% discount on any payment plan which seemed generous and the prices overall are probably up to about 50% cheaper than real life counselling in my experience.
So I didn’t get to sample the actual counselling experience but I think it stands to reason that this could work quite well for certain people who either have financial or social issues and would prefer not to do one to one counselling. Better Help do say that their service is not a substitute for the real life thing however.
I should also say that last year I availed of another excellent online counselling service of sorts which is completely free and Irish based. It’s called “Life Skill’s Online” and it’s run by Aware and based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles. I got great benefit from it personally.
Other Irish Mental Health Support agencies include: