Many of us have heard the news about the mental health status of Canadians and it seems grim: one in two Canadians have—or have had—a mental illness by the time they reach 40 years of age. Teens and young adults are particularly vulnerable.
The pandemic, however, saw a dramatic increase in people seeking mental health therapy and due to lockdowns, therapists quickly pivoted to online therapy. Online mental health and wellness platforms sprang up to help people cope.
For many, these options were lifesavers, and as the pandemic persisted, people increasingly sought out virtual options to help them cope.
I was one of them.
Just prior to the pandemic, most Canadians in therapy were seeing their therapists in person. The demise of the therapist’s couch seemingly became an inevitability as the pandemic drew on, in and of itself causing mental distress to many.
I had never seen a therapist before the pandemic, so the cliché of the therapist’s couch was just that for me – something I observed when binging episodes of In Treatment, where the physical and emotional interplay between therapist and patient was key to the drama.
But just how important is the therapists couch to the outcome of psychotherapy?
Studies show that virtual therapy can be just as effective, or even superior to in-person therapy. And not only is it just as effective as in-person, but there are other benefits to consider as well.
The per session cost of virtual vs. in-person therapy is often similar, but once you start to tack on extraneous costs such as travel time (your time is money!) and cost to and from your therapist’s office, parking, and childcare costs, you’ll start to think twice about in-person.
You can join your session from anywhere if you have a smartphone or computer equipped with audio and video capabilities and enough bandwidth for a video call.
Time to treatment
Unless you are getting treatment in a clinical setting in Canada (e.g., in a hospital or other mental health clinic, covered by provincial medicare), it’s going to be out of pocket, but you should be able to find private psychotherapy quickly.
With so many options now for online therapy, whether it be with your therapist or through an app or other online platform, people can choose how they want their therapy delivered, as well as when, where and by whom.
Ease of access
For those suffering from social anxiety, just getting to and being in a room with another person can be daunting. Connecting virtually can lower social anxieties associated with sharing physical spaces with others.
In-Person Psychotherapy; Greater Risk = Greater Reward?
I found the experience of virtual psychotherapy to be helpful. There were moments however when I was minimizing my difficulties and taking less emotional risks. In retrospect, I feel as if I often remained in my comfort zone (both literally and figuratively) when I should have been challenging myself.
In person therapy allows both the therapist and patient to experience the flow of energy and feelings between them, enabling the therapist to study these feelings and understand their clients’ inner emotional life.
A screen can make it difficult for therapists to notice these subtle communications and grasp a client’s core emotional issues.
Additionally, other visual cues, such as folded arms, averting eyes, nails bitten to the quick or sensing poor hygiene may only be apparent in person and may also provide important indicators for the therapist that they otherwise may not see in a virtual session.
New Kinds of Online Therapy
Weekly or bi-weekly therapy sessions with a local psychotherapist that you trust – in person or online – can be an important mental health strategy, but an important part of good mental hygiene is daily self-care and wellness practice. And goodness knows, there’s an app for pretty much anything.
I have tried out a few of the more popular apps such as Calm for sleep and Headspace for mindfulness. These ancillary wellness platforms help me carve out the moments in the day I need to focus on myself, and to help integrate the breakthrough moments that happen in therapy into my mindset.
Direct to consumer online therapy offerings are also garnering attention. These include apps and websites such as Better Help, Talkspace, Connected Minds, Online-therapy.com, 7 Cups, Teen Counselling and others. Bear in mind that not all online therapy options are going to be covered under your private health insurance plan. We recommend that you check with your plan’s administrator to make sure first.
Workplaces are increasingly offering mental health support as well through Employee Assistance Programs or various health benefits programs such as Dialogue. According to a 2022 survey, 75% of Canadians believe it’s a priority for their employers to address mental-health problems in the workplace.
While psychiatry is generally covered under provincial medicare, psychologists, psychotherapists and social workers are usually only covered in a hospital setting. Private health insurance and benefits offered through the workplace will often cover registered therapists to some level. It is always best to check with your provider before proceeding.
With budgets so tight these days, it can be challenging to find the money to pay for therapy if you do not have coverage. The Canada-wide Affordable Therapy Network lists more than 550 vetted therapists, all with sliding-scale fee options. About half offer subsidized spots at $65 or less (including some pay-what-you-can and pro bono options).
Keep in mind that online psychotherapy works best for patients seeking Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Additionally, virtual therapy may not be suitable for people experiencing severe psychiatric illnesses that require a higher level of care and supervision.
I am grateful that the pandemic has cracked open the discussion about mental health. Many people (including myself) now feel free to be open about their mental health and no longer experience stigma when seeking help, even in the workplace and publicly on social media. This is an important sea change in how we approach our overall health and wellbeing.
Check out our mental health reporting and subscribe to the Health Insider so you don’t miss a beat. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know – what has your experience been with online therapy and were you able to access it in a timely manner, within your budget?