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Does Text Therapy Really Work? I Tried It, And Accidentally Ghosted My Therapist.

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Does Text Therapy Really Work? I Tried It, And Accidentally Ghosted My Therapist.

Aug 29, 2017
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In the course of my 26 years on this planet, 10-ish of them spent dating, I’ve been ghosted more times than I’d like to  count. The most notable phantoms were the ex-lacrosse player I shared a passionate night with and never heard from again (…. clearly it wasn’t as passionate for him as it was for me??) and the guy I was fully dating who legitimately fled the country without saying a word. No joke — I found out about it on Facebook.

Considering how hurt/pissed/confused I was about being treated this way (seriously guys, dafuq?) I’ve never, ever treated someone this way. Until I met my Talkspace therapist, and we started text therapy.

Let’s back up for a hot second. Talkspace is a “mobile therapy company” (says Google) that allows you to communicate with licensed therapists via text and video chat. You can have real-time conversations with a licensed professional at any time of day or night, and there are various different plan and pricing options that offer video conferencing, too. In theory, it’s the perfect resource for travelers, because you never have to actually go anywhere for therapy. Plus, they do a pretty good job of trying to work around the time difference.

The plans vary, but according to the company’s website the current options are:

  • Unlimited Messaging Therapy Basic: $32/week for 1 therapist check-in per day (billed as $128 monthly)
  • Unlimited Messaging Therapy Plus: $39/week for 2 therapist check-ins per day (billed as $156 monthly)
  • Unlimited Messaging Therapy Premium: $49/week for 2 therapist check-ins per day + 1 Live Session/month (billed as $196 monthly)
  • LiveTalk Therapy: $99/week for 2 therapist check-ins per day + 4 Live Sessions/month (billed as $396 monthly)

I was having some pretty major issues when I first started traveling, and after screaming at, then crying to, my mom on an street corner in South East Asia  I decided it was time to sign up. And while I was still standing on that street corner, I started my first text therapy session.

After a pretty basic signup, I received a message from someone named “Jennifer K.,” informing me that she would be guiding me through my therapist matching process. She asked me all kinds of questions about why I had decided to start working with a Talkspace therapist, and then explained how things would work. I opted to go for the most intensive program (which I have

since downgraded for reasons you’ll soon learn), because I was really, really serious about getting my shit together.

“I’m glad you reached out,” Jennifer K. told me, which made me feel all kinds of warm and fuzzy.

I was glad I reached out too, Jen!

Then came another questionnaire that asked me for some more in depth information about what I was dealing with (Me: My dad had just died, I was having a mid-life crisis a million miles from home, and my decade-old eating disorder was coming back with a vengeance), and 12 hours later she sent me a list of therapists who she thought would be a good fit.

I settled on Nicole. I liked her immediately because after she introduced herself to me she accidentally sent a full color photo of her drivers license, which is 100% something I would do, and because said drivers license photo informed me she was from Rhode Island.

Our relationship was off to a beautiful start. She asked questions, and I provided lengthy and in-depth answers about my feelings. “I’m mad at my boyfriend because…” “I hate my mom today because…” “I’m feeling so fucking depressed today because…” etc. etc. Even though we were 12 hours apart, she seemed to be there whenever I needed her. Sometimes it took longer for her to respond than others, but she always responded. She even texted me on Father’s Day, which was her day off, to tell me she was thinking of me and to make sure I was ok.

When we decided to make our affair video-official — first thing in the morning for me, late at night for Nicole — things started out great. I talked, she listened. She’s a tough-love, no bullshit kind of gal, which I appreciate. Usually, my sessions ended in some sort of tear-filled breakthrough. Things were going really well, and I was proud of myself for taking charge of my life and dealing with my issues head on, especially as I was living overseas.

But after the first month, my phone started to run out of data more quickly than I expected, so I turned off the cell data for almost all of apps… including Talkspace. Whoops!

Unbeknownst to me, Nicole had been texting me every other day to check in and I just… wasn’t getting the messages. The notifications for the app were off, too, and I unknowingly adopted an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality about the whole thing. Weeks later, when I was having a bad day realized I hadn’t heard from my therapist in a while (I guess that means things were going well, considering it took me weeks to decided I needed her), I checked into the app and saw over a dozen un-responded to messages.

I apologized for going AWOL, and we set up a plan for the future. And then I didn’t check the app again for another two weeks.

It’s now been five months, and this pattern has remained pretty much the same: I use the app when I need it, and ignore it every other minute of every other day. This means that sometimes I’ll send long, emotional messages about how much I’m struggling, and then disappear for a week. Or we’ll sit down for a video chat, make plans to schedule another one in a few days, and then I ignore her follow up messages.

If we were dating, I would be the shittiest long-distance girlfriend in history. As a patient, I’m not much better. Regardless of how frequently I use the text option or the video option, I still have to pay a monthly fee, which is the only reason I can imagine that Nicole hasn’t fired/broken up with me yet. I’m a monster who only responds when it’s convenient, or when I need something (which sounds oddly familiar to the way some of my ex-boyfriends behaved…)

When Talkspace started to gain traction in 2015, Forbes did a pretty intense deep dive into some of the risks associated with working with a text-only therapist. The entire article is interesting, but way too long to regurgitate here (I’ll let you take a peak for yourselves ^^^), so here were some of the take-away issues they came up with:

  • It can delay effective treatment
  • It can make things worse not better,
  • It offers minimal protections for crises and emergencies,
  • It potentially strengthens the stigma against seeking psychotherapeutic help

These are all valid points (seriously, read the original article), but there’s one thing they don’t address that I’ve found to be the biggest challenge with digital therapy: There’s no one to hold you accountable.

Not showing up to a therapy appointment, especially one you’ve paid for, is a pretty douche-y move. Not only that, but your therapist will call you non-stop for the allotted hour, and then either yell at you for wasting her time or fire you as a patient (… I know this from experience). But if you ignore texts for a month? As long as you’re paying, no one seems to care. I’m always super embarrassed and incredibly apologetic every time Nicole and I do manage to connect, but there are no consequences. Similar to the age old AA mantra, “it works if you work it,” and like any kind of therapy (including AA), you have to be committed for it to actually work.

All of this said, I’m still a huge proponent of the app. I think it is an amazing resource for travelers, even if that means using it when and how you need it, and ignoring your therapist the other 75% of the time. It has provided me with support in countless instances when I couldn’t get it elsewhere  — far beyond that initial street corner — and I genuinely do believe it has helped me work through some pretty major issues.

Nicole, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for being such a dick. I’ll text you soon (or at least, the next time I need you). I promise.

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