SUMMARY: Could online therapy be the wave of the future? Bea Arthur thinks so. Arthur, a licensed therapist, is the founder of Pretty Padded Room, a service that offers online therapy sessions to clients around the world.
Arthur says she was inspired to start her company after talking to people about her work after becoming a therapist in 2008. “People would often talk to me about therapy and say that they were interested, but there seemed to be all of these barriers to entry,” said Arthur. “It was too expensive, people didn’t have time. So there were budget concerns and time concerns.”
There is also a concern with access. While the United States spends $113 billion annually on mental health, many people don’t get treatment, often because it’s not covered by their insurance policies. “A significant share of people who need services do not receive treatment,” the Kaiser Family Foundation said in a 2011 report. “Over 60 percent of adults with a diagnosable disorder and 70 percent of children in need of treatment do not receive mental health services, and nearly 90 percent of people over age 12 with a substance use or dependence disorder did not receive specialty treatment for their problem.”
A common concern many people have with the idea of online therapy is the concept of building a strong client-therapist relationship without meeting in person. Arthur says the relative anonymity is what draws many people to her service. “Fifty percent of our clients have never tried therapy before,” she notes. “Other people find that it’s hard to say things out loud [in front of someone.]
“Even with clients that sign up for a video conference — we find that with some clients they choose not to turn on the video so that they can’t be seen.”
One of Pretty Padded Room’s most popular services is the “Online Diary.” Users have the option of either using the diary as a private journal or as a place they can share their thoughts with their therapist and receive feedback. Arthur says the diary feature is popular with both clients and therapists (“They love it!” she said of PPR’s staff.)
A psychologist or an online sympathetic ear
Also doing online therapy are a few other entities. Skype therapy is a particular focus for Dr. Danielle Sheypuk, a licensed clinical psychologist who won the Ms. Wheelchair New York title in 2012.
“Dr. Danielle Sheypuk is an experienced licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the psychology of dating, relationships, intimacy and sexuality particularly among members of the disabled community,” her website says, noting that Skype therapy can be particularly useful for the disabled, because they don’t have to get to an office. “She has a significant amount of clinical experience treating a wide-variety of mental health issues including anxiety, depression and other mood disorders, substance abuse problems, traumatic experiences, matters of grief/death/dying, and self-esteem improvement.”
Another source of an online sympathetic ear, though not necessarily one of a trained psychologist or counselor, is the startup 7 Cups of Tea, offering two options: connect immediately with the next available trained listener, for free, or “Find a listener who shares your interests. Contact them and start chatting. Listeners set their rate as free, pay what you want, or a set rate per minute.”
Launched in the summer, this startup was founded by a psychologist, Glenn Moriarty, and it calls itself “online emotional heath and well-being support service where people go when they need to talk to someone or need extra emotional support.” The site also says it connects people with “active listeners,” and adds: “Listeners are required to complete an online course which helps develop Active Listening skills. The course also goes over certain scenarios in which a Listener may need to refer the person with whom they are speaking to a professional licensed therapist, counselor, or emergency contact. While many of our Active Listeners happen to be licensed professional counselors and therapists, they do not give medical or psychological advice during conversations.”
Back at Pretty Padded Room, Arthur says online therapy is also an affordable option for clients who are either uninsured or underinsured, as the packages available at Pretty Padded Room are much less expensive than most therapy options. She says the company’s pricing model is intentional.
“I really wanted to make this affordable,” she said, adding, “You don’t want to feel cold when you talk to a therapist. I don’t want to give anyone stress from paying a therapist when they go to a therapist to deal with stress.”