The stark rise in virtual therapy during the pandemic showed that Americans don’t need the comfort of a therapist’s couch to get the support they seek for mental health issues. “Demand for therapy seems to be rising and there is a special need to reach people in areas where services are limited or not available,” says Hara Estroff Marano, author and Psychology Today editor-at-large. Therefore, “I think there will continue to be an evolution in the way therapy is delivered.” The latest way we’ll be connecting with mental health support in the coming year: texting.
According to Dana Udall, PhD, the chief clinical officer for telehealth startup Ginger, the number of people using the platforms’ text-based behavioral coaching services grew 170 percent during the pandemic. (Ginger’s text coaching is done by a certified mental health coach; to speak with a psychiatrist or licensed therapist, you need to book a video session.) In November 2020, online therapy provider Calmerry launched with texting as a primary—and the most affordable, at $45 per week—option for connecting with a licensed therapist. And Neil Leibowitz, MD, the chief medical officer for virtual therapy provider Talkspace, where new users are up 150 percent since COVID-19 hit in March, says secure messaging with a therapist is the most popular form of support.
Psychiatrist Shakevia Johnson, MD, says during the pandemic, she's seen a rise in people using text hotlines and expects text therapy to be the next wave of this in 2021. "Text hotlines work very well, so it doesn't surprise me that text therapy would emerge [next]," she says. "We have to meet people where they are and text lines would be an awesome way to engage people."
Because text therapy and coaching are so new, more studies are needed to prove their effectiveness—but early data is promising. A small study published in the journal Psychiatric Services in July 2020 found augmenting traditional treatment with text-based methods to be safe and beneficial for people experiencing depression or another serious mental illness. However, whether or not text therapy can stand in for traditional therapy or is best used to compliment it remains a topic to be explored, as signs point to a continued interest from patients.
The rising popularity is undeniable and for those who are looking for help between sessions or don’t have the time or resources to sign-up for full ones, it’s certainly a growing option. And more options for mental health help is definitely a positive.
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