An Unsuccessful Trip into Online Therapy

I decided to try out online therapy and I wasn’t even lucky enough to have my foray paid for by a women’s magazine!

As embarrassing as it is to say, an ad popped up on facebook and got me thinking online therapy might be for me. Let’s face it, I need therapy.

Though I haven’t progressed to slumping against a wall in a sterile room, I’m pretty much constantly in emotional turmoil. But since that emotional turmoil makes me stressed about having appointments and tight lipped about my feelings,  in-person therapy is either mildly stressful or fully unsuccessful. I’m better in writing and I’m not in a desperate situation as I usually am when I finally find a therapist, so it seemed like a good time to try it out.

The top companies from my brief research seemed to be Talkspace and BetterHelp so I thought I’d try both! I signed up for BetterHelp right away because it has a 7-day free trial. They asked a bunch of typical questions and I was assigned a therapist in about 24 hours. I went back and forth on Talkspace a little more as they do not offer any sort of trial (the answer was that since a week of Talkspace therapy about equals one session they don’t think a trial could give you a real understanding of the service [this should have been my first warning sign]), but they did offer $25 off. Since $25 is the cost of one week, I figured I could use it as a free trial and then have an excuse to confront a company if they wouldn’t refund me the unused weeks later–I signed up the next day and got a therapist by the end of the day.

TL;DR: these services are therapy in the loosest sense of the word. It’s like sending emails to your really busy friends who responds with inspirational quotes. Which is even worse than talking to my real friends because I’d never have a friend who sent me inspirational quotes. The response times are long and the answers are brief, and it’s pulling teeth to go deeply into authentic cognitive behavioral therapy. Probably great for someone dealing with a breakup but not for someone with a diagnosed mental health condition.

For my specific experience…

I just felt super misled. Maybe my expectations were too high, but the services tout “therapy for how we live today,” with all their therapists’ credentials posted and talk of unlimited messaging from therapists ready to talk with you right now.

Well the therapist are real, but they are in no way available right now and pretty much never will be. I rarely got more than 2 messages a day, and usually only one of the messages would be “long”. Both companies advertise you can “write whenever you want!” “Sessions vary depending on the interaction between you and your counselor.” Whether I wrote a sentence or pages, there was no telling when I would get a response. By the time I heard back I had lost my train of thought and my passion for the issue. Or sometimes I kept sending additional messages as things came to mind and the therapist would write back and address the thing that really wasn’t a big deal. Other times they would misinterpret something and I’d have to (it felt like to me) waste an interaction clearing that up. There is a live chat option, but you have to schedule it, in my experience, at minimum a day ahead of time. I requested 3 live chats with 3 different therapists. One needed 4 days’ notice, one said anytime that day was fine and then never responded to my time, and another scheduled one for the next day, had an emergency, rescheduled, and never showed up. We finally talked 2 days later.

I brought this up with the therapists and customer service.

My BetterHelp therapist told me basically well you’re not writing enough to get anything done–most people treat this as a journal and write a ton and get one or two responses a week. A) That’s absurd. Why am I paying from $20-55 a week to have someone read my journal? B) There’s no B it just sounds better.

I started writing more and still just felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. I told her I really felt like I needed a live chat at least in response to my longer writings so we could dissect them. I didn’t get a response…I wrote back and said my subscription was ending and I hoped to hear from her before that and didn’t for 36 hours, at which point I cancelled and was offered another free week with a new therapist, which I took. Even less responsive.

Like the BetterHelp therapist, my TalkSpace responses were slow to come and for both of them it was glaringly obviously that this was a side job. Both of them said at different points, with a more apologetic tone from TalkSpace than BetterHelp, that they were busy with their jobs and couldn’t always be available to me. Well I understand that but also I’m paying for this service just like others are. When I contacted customer service about what I could expect from responses, BetterHelp did offer more time for my trial but TalkSpace said “your therapist is busy just like you!” If I’m waitressing as a 2nd job, I can’t tell my table their food is cold because I’m busy doing work from my 1st job!

If you really dig into the FAQs for each service you can see the fine print saying this service is in no way a substitute for in-person therapy, which is pretty much directly opposite their statements all over the main pages of the sites. The sites and customer service I talked to also say a week’s worth of chatting = one in-person session and most people need about 6 months to get anywhere.

The lack of responses makes each response seem more precious, so the biggest frustration was that most of the responses just didn’t cut it. I said right away that I’d been in therapy, I’d been medicated, and I have these issues and want to get to the bottom of them because that would make me feel more able to understand my feelings and address them.

Some of the responses I got were [paraphrased]:

can you catch yourself having negative thoughts and tell yourself not to have them?

if you spend time worrying you can’t smell the roses

is there really any point to identifying the source of your anxiety?

you shouldn’t be worried about time going by quickly, most people don’t have as much free time as you do.

I guess a silver lining is that I really got forceful with what I wanted and how wrong these perceptions were. But even so I don’t feel like it was productive to pay for a service that caused more stress than my additional issues. TalkSpace especially infuriated me because when I asked for a new therapist they told my current therapist I wasn’t happy and then I had to speak directly to her about changing, and since she was very nice and one of my main issues is disappointing people I felt so bad I stuck with her. A week later it still wasn’t going anywhere and even after talking to customer service there was no option of changing without involving the current therapist.

Both services were pretty much identical but if I had to choose I’d go with BetterHelp because of their far superior customer service. They checked in 3 days after I signed up, and when I said I wasn’t sure if I was satisfied they extended my subscription by almost a week. When I cancelled the last day, still not thrilled, they gave me another free week to try a new therapist. They are, however, more expensive than TalkSpace for shorter-term plans. I would never go so far as to say these are a scam but they overstate their efficacy and methods for sure.

I put on a pair of yoga pants tonight and realized I’ve had them since 2002.

One of the longest relationship I’ve ever had is with elastic-waist lounge wear. (Actually that is pretty apropos considering my commitment to lazing.)

Meanwhile, today in Facebook updates:

  • friend living in Hawaii with 3 kids
  • friend vacationing abroad with almost 3 kids
  • friend purchasing 2nd home

5 years ago these friends had 0 homes and 0 kids.

But 5 years ago I had my yoga pants and I still do. So that’s…something?

Hindsight

Ever go on a date and it’s kinda ok and then you get home and start identifying all these dealbreakers?

This seems to be happening kind of a lot lately. While we’re hanging out chatting I’m not dying to get home. I think “I’d give him a second date.” Then I get home to my couch’s warm embrace away from the glow of whiskey and feel compelled to text.

“So I just went out with a more bitter version of [insert ex here].”

“So this guy tonight was grilling me about where I work. Is my job weird?”

“So this guy tonight said he puts butter in his coffee…”

(Ok so that last one is apparently a real thing. And actually something I might try when I’m not busy scarfing straight brown sugar.)

Am I sabotaging myself or am I trying so hard to be open minded I don’t even know what kind of company I like to keep anymore?

Like when I met up with the guy this week for drinks and he didn’t drink. That seemed weird and also awkward since I enjoy drinking and did so heartily. Naturally he didn’t pay for my drinks, which as we know is a major annoyance that I worry I should be more modern about but don’t want to be modern about. Espesh when my bar tab for the night is $9.50.

Also when I tried to explain him to a friend and said “he was kinda super negative but maybe it’s good to not always be optimistic?” Hearing myself out loud rationalizing a guy’s behavior by suggesting a positive outlook is a bad thing was jarring…

The past two half-hearted 2nd dates I regretted and the fact that I decided against sending a thank you text lest I have to have a conversation were a push to let it be a one and done with this guy. But I’ll keep wondering if I’m letting a guy’s one bad night keep me from a relationship or if I’m just too picky.

Trying to trust your (anxious, prone to depression) gut while also having an open heart is as confusing as it is tough.

 

 

*PS: That VH1 show Hindsight was awesome. Bring that back!

I took a super sweet nap today. Actually I took two naps, but the first one was more of a going back to bed. The second one was perfect: a cool breeze coming through the window making it just the right temperature to snuggle under the blankets, dog by my side. I even dreamed I met Bette Midler!

I woke up thinking “What a great nap! Life is grand.” Then I glanced out the window and saw my neighbor dressed up and taking out the trash before going out with his wife. And I had a twinge of sadness. Not so much the going out but the someone to make plans with if I did want to go out. Plus someone to take out the trash. But more the someone to make plans with.

Then I thought about the nap again and was content.

But this is a growing concern of mine. I take so much pleasure in my independent joys, I worry I could never really be comfortable and happy sharing life with someone else, yet I’m so lonely so much of the time. (As I may have said before here) the farther I get away from a relationship the harder it will get. I don’t really think I want to live a life of constant low-grade loneliness/increasing social anxiety but what other options do I have? And the naps are so very good…

I’ve been “unconventionally employed” for over a year now. I left my stable job of almost 10 years to relocate and pursue other things that could basically all fall under the umbrella of self employment. I had something part time lined up when I left that job, and the first 6-9 months went really well, but since then it’s been drips and drabs of employment.

This is pretty much how I want it. Yes, there are times when I’m feeling sorry for myself and whine “I have no job, no boyfriend, no hopes for the future…” (Adding the no job to the no boyfriend rounds out the pathetic nicely.) But mostly, I want to work for myself and/or work part time to have time for my own pursuits. If that means I have to go awhile without a job, it’s ok. I have no major responsibilities right now, so why not wait to find something good.

The problem is everyone else. People can’t seem to even fathom any out of the ordinary life choices. It is universally assumed I am depressed and struggling, and it’s just so hard to believe I can’t find something, and why don’t I network more, and someone’s cousin’s uncle heard the McDonald’s an hour away is hiring so why don’t I call them. This was the case even when I had my part time gig. The job was unorthodox, and people constantly responded “oh, that’s interesting. Want me to give your name to X in case they’re hiring?”

No, I don’t. I don’t want to make $40,000 for the rest of my life. That is the most depressing thought of all. So many people are scrambling to make a good impression and do well at work to just make enough money to pay for the gas to get to work and go to Florida one weekend a year?

Maybe I am ambitious. Just not in the way I’m supposed to be.

I’m proud of being different, I’m proud of doing things my own way. But it makes everything so hard. Why does it have to be so hard?

Things People with Kids Say that Make Their Childless Friends Stabby

  • Yes! Babypalooza!
  • But let’s talk about [pregnant person], how are you feeling?
  • 7pm is a little late to go out
  • Anything about breasts
  • You’re invited to [child’s] birthday party!
  • I’m not drinking tonight (aka I’m pregnant again)
  • Wow, you slept in till 9 am? 6 am is a treat for me since I have so much to do! Ha. Ha.
  • Well your [hair, hips, privates, wardrobe] will never be the same once you have kids!
  • Maybe instead of going out in the city you just want to come over here?

Wah Wah*

Two of my very good friends have had babies in the past few weeks.

I don’t care.

I don’t want to see pictures, I don’t want to know anything about it.

I’m not an anti-kids person. There was a time I teared up over every pregnancy announcement. Siblings of friends, coworkers, high school classmates. I was buying baby gifts for every occupied uterus within a 5 miles radius, weeping through the baby clothes racks. (That reminds me: at no point in my downward spiral did I get tired of joking about babies wanting a “womb with a view.” That shit is timeless)

I’m just out of energy for being happy for other people. I hate being disinterested. I hate being the bitter, pitied single person. I hate being too selfish to care about other people’s milestones over my loneliness. But anymore, engagements and births aren’t exciting milestones to share with my friends–they’re an express ticket to adult life, where there are no openings for those of us who sleep past 7am on a Saturday and eat Combos for dinner.

Early on, people with babies tried to keep up with the childless, but then a) those people had a second kid and/or b) the parents hit critical mass and outnumbered us. Now if I want to see my friends it either has to be an event that ends at 9pm or the kids have to be invited, and if the kids are invited it’s fine, but I’m the only one without a kid and people ask why I’m at the event when I don’t have kids.

Older childless people I know have recommended literally getting an entirely new set of friends if I hope to maintain any social life. I haven’t made a new friend in 10 years!! Babies are going to force new friends on me!??

*the sound of both me and a baby whining