These Digital Support Groups Can Help You Cope With the Specific Challenges That COVID-19 Brings

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Due to these uncertain financial times, I had to temporarily put a pin in my costly weekly therapy sessions, even though I need them now more than ever. Given the extreme stress of the current news cycle, compounded with the fact that 57 percent of remote workers (which constitute most of us these days) report feeling lonely, it's safe to bet that there are a lot of people like me who need reliable, affordable mental health resources now more than ever.

That's exactly the kind of gap that new, female-centric mental health studio Real hopes to fill. The brand, which was set to open an in-person studio in April in New York City, decided to make a last-minute, temporary pivot in offerings to help people who can't access traditional therapy right now.

"The [novel] coronavirus introduced us to a whole new mental health concern, and a very different answer to the question, 'How do we meet people where they're at?'," says Real founder Ariela Safira. "So just about a week ago, we decided to create a digital offering."

This "Real to the People" programming, which launches on Friday, notably includes a free 45-minute check-in with one of Real's licensed therapists, which anyone can sign up for. Afterward, you'll be emailed a care plan detailing what was discussed, and what your therapist recommends you do going forward to care for your mental well-being. These sessions aren't meant to stand in for ongoing therapy; however, they're a generous option for those who can't access more elaborate care in these tough times.

Real to the People also includes digital salons, which are led by therapists as well and can be accessed by signing up on a first-come, first-serve basis. Each will accommodate just six to eight individuals, meet four times in total, and revolve around specific issues that have been created or exacerbated by COVID-19. Upcoming topics include: "When the wedding or graduation is canceled," Connecting to the body through self pleasure," "Pregnant in a pandemic," "Juggling a career and kids while in quarantine," and more.

Real will also host larger digital one-off events offering broader learning opportunities as opposed to the intimate conversations enabled by salons. Upcoming examples include, "Love in the time of coronavirus," "Redesigning your self-care routine," "Your body and trauma: understanding the physical effects of fight, flight or freeze," and more.

All programming will be free for the next month, at which point Safira will re-evaluate based on the status of lockdowns, etc. She hopes to open the brick-and-mortar—which is a membership-based space—as soon as possible.

Safira's journey to Real started when a close friend attempted suicide. The experience eventually led her to train as a therapist. While doing so, she identified a number of problems within the current therapy system, which Real is designed to address.

For starters, therapists typically train broadly for a couple of years, after which they're meant to treat a  wide swath of the population. This seemed odd to Safira, who notes that gynecologists, for example, are so good at what they do because they've been so specifically trained. In hopes of enabling similar expertise, each Real location will specifically cater to one demographic. For the first location, that demo is women.

The entrepreneur also noticed that a lot of patients in traditional therapy practices drop off after the first session or two, often because there is no solid path to "better." To remedy this, Real will offer 12 specific pathways, e.g. "Fertility and motherhood," "Relationships and communication," and "The body and wellness," designed to help make the more nebulous journey of therapy feel a bit more concrete. Members will also have access to a once-a-year mental health check-up in the vein of a physical or pap smear, as well as IRL salons and events like the one's the company is currently hosting online.

Membership at Real will $30 per month and includes the annual mental health check-up, unlimited access to member events, three event guest passes per year, 25 percent off therapy sessions ($150 each) and group salons ($40 each), and discounts to health and wellness partners. All members also have access to the Real app, where they can easily sign up for events and schedule their appointments.

Until it opens, you can preview these offerings through Real to the People, whether you live in New York City or not. "This crisis has presented a huge number of people to provide care to," says Safira. "People can't come to Real, so we're bringing Real to the people."

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