A quick google search for “text therapy” brings up an advertisement for the “best Virtual Therapy Services of 2021”. (https://www.top10.com/online-therapy). Celebrities routinely promote these services as affordable, convenient, and life changing. Many of the sites are tailored to specific groups providing couple, LGBTQ, Christian, and teen therapy. (To learn more about a systems view of therapy for children and teens, read my post: https://lornahecht.com/parents-create-change-in-the-family-system/)
This is a quote from one popular website, Better Help: “Message your therapist anytime from anywhere. No scheduling needed.” (https://www.betterhelp.com/faq/) This means that after being matched with a therapist, you can text them any time, 24/7, and get notified when your therapist responds. Costs for these services generally run between thirty and eighty dollars per week with monthly subscriptions, although tiered programs appear to be typical. One company offers “unlimited access” to the therapist for 150.00/month. What “unlimited” actually means is unclear but spare a thought for the poor therapist who agrees to such a thing.
This all sounds great, right? Therapy for the modern era, especially tailored for young people who are used to instant communication via technology. But is that what therapy is supposed to be about?
I’ve learned a few things from the COVID-induced experience of conducting most of my sessions online. (Unfortunately, camera placement is not one of them.) Carving out time to drive to an office serves the purpose of reorienting the mind toward the introspective, thoughtful work of therapeutic coaching. This happens in a way that isn’t likely when you simply pause an online task, open a new tab, and launch your video session. Adding to the brain clutter, incoming phone calls can disrupt online meetings. Even when you ignore the call, the fact of it interrupts your thinking. (Likewise, Apple watch wearers; your vibrating wrist doesn’t make my life any easier!) This isn’t always true but it is a tendency I’ve noticed since the pandemic.
In my therapy office, I strive for an environment that stimulates your best thinking. It’s a relationship unique from those with friends or family. Coaching using family systems theory is not about venting, validation or support. On a good day (for me) it’s not even about the giving and receiving of advice. Rather, the goal is to assist you in the ongoing development of internal resources and knowledge useful to effectively confront life’s many challenges. Clients who organize their thoughts and goals ahead of each meeting report the most success with coaching. If I encourage you to text me anytime you have a question or feel some sort of discomfort I’d be letting myself get triangled into your relationships and fostering dependence. This would undermine your relationships and your ability to handle situations on your own. Plus, I imagine I’d be much more likely to end up feeling used up and burnt out.
I haven’t personally engaged in text-based therapy so it’s possible I am completely off-base in how I’m conceptualizing the process. Certainly, the therapist’s ability to define what they are offering will prove essential to an effective outcome. Given the current state of the psychotherapy environment, however, I suspect my hunch is correct that therapy via text veers toward phone-a-friend more than it aids in the serious business of facilitating long-term independent emotional growth.