An hour before your appointment you consider what you should share today. Possibly a few snarky comments someone said to you? Some irrational thoughts tied to an embarrassing, irrelevant memory from middle school? Or maybe your uncertainty about the future? Take your pick, as they all spin around inside your head.
The face-to-face session starts. The session ends. 50 minutes always goes by incredibly fast — just as you were unpacking a heavy thought your therapist interrupts you: “so I think this is a great place to pause!”
“Was it? Because I was just about to have a life changing breakthrough moment… in a super productive, calm way!” you murmur in your mind as you force a polite smile.
The next morning? Panic attack. You curse the universe for giving you 6 anxiety-ridden days and just 1 twenty-four-hour span that is filled with ordinary calm thoughts. Of course, the latter perfectly aligns with your therapy schedule. You’d prefer therapist to bear witness to the episodes of anxiety and depression. You’d loved to be coached out of the cycle of darkness. But instead you can just talk for weeks and months about how difficult it is in the real world when those moments occur.
The sessions feel fast. The process feels slow.
Conventional face-to-face therapy has its limitations. But because we don’t talk about what those look like, its difficult to consider a method that may work better for you. Additionally, if you are someone with serious diagnoses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or panic disorder, deviating from the recommended routine treatment may not seem like an option for you.
Is there an alternative therapy model that could provide just as much support? Yes. And I’d argue it actually provides a unique level of support to counteract the exact shortcomings of face-to-face therapy:
1. Wherever You Are – When you’re too depressed to leave your home – you just have to make a quick call to cancel your session. By the time the two weeks pass until your next appointment, the guilt has already washed away. But when you’re too depressed to leave your bed? You might find that the ability to comfortably send messages explaining your exact emotions (without needing to be an adult in the real world) is exactly what you need.
2. Think Time – Have you ever lied to your therapist? Not in a devious way but because you don’t know the answer to their question? Often times our first responses can be exaggerated truths or fabricated lies. How many layers can you possibly peal back to get to the core of the issue in 50 minutes? However, when you have the ability to send unlimited messages, you find that your responses become more honest and raw. You have the time to consider and process every thoughtful response and articulate it in the exact right way.
3. Free As Can Be – Xanga, LiveJournal, Tumblr. Remember the exhilarating feeling of sharing your innermost thoughts to strangers on the depths of the internet? It’s exactly like that. Except your therapist is a professional who cares about you and is trained to sort through the nonsense to find overarching trends and ask great questions. Plus, the ability to message your therapist whenever a thought seems particularly important, gives you the opportunity to express your emotions freely.
4. Record of Epiphanies – After a weekly therapy you might feel so tired that you can’t manage to write down the 2 valuable understandings from the session. But you know you just won’t forget! How could you…? After you wake up from the nap you might find that your emotional hangover is still blaring but your memory is incredibly fuzzy. However, online therapy is an open-ended conversation that you can scroll through at any time. You can revisit your discussions, track your progress and have a permanent record to come back to in the future.
5. Frequent Accountability – Similar to a sports game, your face-to-face session is one shot to make meaning of what you practiced during the week. You have to be ready to work hard. Your coach (therapist) might suggest a new resource to be better prepared for the next game (session)… you can either forget to practice or decide to slack off… but then you won’t quite be ready for the next game. This is not the case with online therapy; you have frequent check ins, at least 2x per day. When your therapist says “try out this resource” or “let’s work towards this goal” – they will be asking about it, every single day to make sure you’re fully committed to your progress. What happens when teams practice consistently? They win.
So if your weekly sessions seem stale and you’re feeling uninvested in the monotonous routine, maybe it is time to trade in for more screen time. And with the unique layer of anonymity, you might discover an even safer space to process your most vulnerable moments.
Don’t forget, in case of an emergency, someone is always available 24/7 to listen @ National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)