Two couches. Each on opposite sides. Two people. Each on opposite sides. One splayed on the long couch, the other sitting upright on the boxy couch. The room—bright (with daylight gushing in through the casement window), pleasant and filled with potted plants and small, soothing inanimate objects here and there. Countless movies, television shows and books have created a cliched image of what therapy looks like. The images have been so recurrent that they’ve ossified.
While traditional forms of therapy are still available, these aren’t the only ways one can seek mental health support and/or treatment. Besides, traditional in-person therapy with a psychiatrist or a psychologist may not always be accessible to everyone. It may be beyond your price range and it may not be covered by your health insurance. This isn’t unusual. There is no denying that therapy is expensive and not everyone can foot the bill. Maybe there simply aren’t any facilities and resources available in your town. If you live in a remote or rural area, your geographical location may preclude you from accessing therapy, due to mental healthcare and therapist services being confined to the bustling centres of your state.
Sometimes the problem may not be infrastructural or economical, but something more internal and personal. The prospect of an in-person encounter with someone else may be too daunting. Having to sit there in the flesh and open up may make you recoil from the whole idea of seeking help, even if you need it. Sometimes the problem may be more universal, like the restrictions of the pandemic and lockdowns, which made the whole practice of meeting in person impossible.
Discussions surrounding mental health have come into the foreground in the last few years, in part because the challenges have increased. Whether it is years of unaddressed family trauma, work stress, the demands of modern life, something physiological or chemical, or something to do with poor coping strategies or emotion management—whatever the issue or the reason behind it may be, the rise in the need for mental health support and the simultaneous dearth of resources has made it crucial to look towards innovative digital solutions. Traditional solutions have not proved to be enough in the face of the increased demand, causing stress and overwork to affect the well-being of therapists, clinicians and healthcare workers. Digital health solutions have served as an oasis for both suffering patients and stressed-out clinicians.
In light of this changing landscape of healthcare, where digital interventions and online anonymous therapy are an option alongside traditional treatment methods, it helps to have an understanding of all the choices you have, so that you can pick the option that’s most relevant to your needs.
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What is online anonymous therapy?
Online anonymous therapy can take place in different forms. It can be a text-based anonymous therapy session, email counselling, a phone call, or an audio or video chat. These services are provided by an array of different organisations. Some are philanthropic initiatives aimed at reaching everyone (particularly the economically and socially disadvantaged groups). Some are paid services by private organisations. The common feature that runs through all is technological assistance.
Several therapeutic interventions aim to maintain anonymity, privacy and confidentiality by withholding the disclosing of personally identifiable information (PII), giving you the option of not revealing your name or using a made-up name. There are extenuating circumstances, however, where mental health services are required toreqquiredcompelled to gather PII. This usually only occurs when mentions of self-harm or harm to others get articulated.
Benefits of anonymous online therapy
1. Anonymity may make vulnerability possible
Confidential online therapy is a vital prerequisite that’s available in face-to-face therapy as well. It’s the possibility of complete anonymity though that may make online therapy appealing to you. Discussing intimate details about your life and opening up to somebody and being vulnerable might be overwhelming for you. Having the choice to remain anonymous during online counselling can help ease the therapeutic process. Cyberpsychologist John Suler has pointed out that people’s behaviour in the online setting can be different compared to the face-to-face setting: people “loosen up, feel less restrained, and express themselves more openly.” This phenomenon has been called “the online disinhibition effect.” While there is a negative aspect to this disinhibition (“toxic disinhibition”) like online trolling, there is a positive side to this as well.
The absence of inhibition felt in the online context can give a fillip to revealing personal stories, hushed emotions, fears, wishes, longings, and so on. Displays of altruism and compassion are also observed in this context. This has been called “benign disinhibition.” This aspect of disinhibition can be useful in the therapeutic process. Suler (2004) points out that some types of benign disinhibition show an effort to better understand oneself and grow and evolve, to “resolve interpersonal and intrapsychic problems”, and to traverse novel emotional and experiential depths of one’s identity and selfhood. In terms of the psychodynamic school of thought, this may be regarded as the “working through” process. The humanistic school of thought may regard it as “self-actualization.” As mentioned earlier, the landscape of mental health treatments is changing: so if you struggle with easing into vulnerability and personal revelations, if you have an emotional rampart build before you, if you just want to dip your toes into counselling before seeking a more robust intervention, you must consider the online therapeutic context, for it may just allow you to cleave through your inhibitions.
2. Accessible from almost anywhere
One major benefit of online anonymous therapy is its accessibility. People who were previously disenfranchised from getting access to therapy can now have a support system. This particularly includes people residing in geographically remote locations or people who can’t leave their homes because of illness, physical injuries, old age, transportation issues, or certain special circumstances where a client is coping with social anxiety or agoraphobia. This accessibility also proffers comfort and ease to people. Having said that, this is a double-edged sword. While technology makes therapy more accessible, technology and reliable access to an internet connection are not universally available to all sections of society and everybody isn’t adept at using digital tools. Some people may be excluded from seeking this service on account of their limited resources and access, their position within the social hierarchy, and their age and technological literacy.
3. Comfort and flexibility
Being curled up in a wide chair with your phone, propping your laptop on your pillow and speaking to your therapist or counsellor in bed, or taking your mobile to the quiet dapple under your yard tree—anonymous online therapy (whether through a phone call or a video call) offers comfort. You can be wrapped in your thick blanket, leave your hair dishevelled, allow your mood to govern your posture and be seated in any way. You are spared from all the gazes. There’s no reception area or waiting room that you need to endure. You can be free of all your Orwellian fears. Nobody is watching you. You can be comfortable. Moreover, online therapy also allows for more flexible hours. Since the elements of commute and in-person meeting at a set physical location have been taken out, there’s more flexibility and liberty with regard to the schedule and timing for both you and your therapist.
4. More affordable than traditional therapy
Online therapy is more cost-efficient. One of the reasons why online therapy is more economical for clients is that therapists and counsellors usually offer online services at a lesser cost compared to in-person sessions. Choosing the online therapy route for your mental health treatment also saves you from weekly (or however frequent your sessions may be) travel expenses to and from the therapist’s office.
5. Privacy and helping overcome taboos
If you are living in an environment where the discourse surrounding mental health isn’t pleasant, the engirdling stigma may prevent you from openly seeking out therapy. If you experience feelings of shame, intense shyness, worries about stigmatisation, or the threat of being stereotyped in response to your need to seek out therapy, an in-person engagement may appear to be too big an ask. In these scenarios, anonymous support can serve as an easier option because of the availability of complete anonymity, privacy, and confidentiality
6. Therapeutic advantage
Digital mental health interventions involve asynchronous communication, which can offer a certain therapeutic advantage: it can allow for reflection before responding, particularly in the case of a text-based therapeutic interaction. Both you and your counsellor get a moment to reflect before sending the message, allowing you to cast your mind back to your emotions and experiences and improve self-awareness.
7. More options
When it comes to digital interventions there’s also the availability of specificity and well-curated aids. There are digital mental health apps such as Wysa, which can help you focus on what you require the most and make it available whenever you want. If you need a listening ear, you can talk to emotional well-being professionals and coaches. If you need help with sleeping problems, stress management or work overload, you can pick a tool pack that specifically targets the problem you are facing.
More options become available when it comes to digital interventions and they are always within your reach. Wysa’s AI-powered conversational agent is always available—with an arsenal of mindfulness and guided meditation exercises, sleep exercises, mood check-ins, muscle relaxation exercises, and so on—for emotional support and safeguarding of well-being irrespective of the hour. You can also share your personal experiences with the AI chatbot without any fear of them being divulged.
For employers, Wysa can offer advantages such as accessibility, convenience and quick access to care for employees. Moreover, its conversational AI and self-help tools can help scale mental health solutions for the workforce without straining limited resources.
Photo by Anna Shvets
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