A Verywell Report: Americans Find Strength in Online Therapy

online therapy

There’s so much happening in our country right now—from the 2020 election to the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to the ongoing fight against systemic racism—and, as a result, caring for our mental health has never been more important. 

Due to in-person restrictions and other precautionary health and safety measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, online therapy has emerged as a practical, reliable, and effective way for many to prioritize their mental health. More popular than ever, online therapy is bringing relief and support to millions of Americans struggling with the collective issues impacting our country, as well as their own personal challenges.

According to Verywell’s new study of 1,000 Americans currently in online therapy, there’s one thing everyone can agree on—online therapy is here to help. In fact, 90% of those surveyed agree that seeking out mental health services is a true sign of strength.

Amy Morin, LCSW

In the past, there’s been fear that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Fortunately, it seems people are starting to recognize that it takes strength to admit you want support, especially during this time.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

While long overdue, it is finally time to proudly prioritize mental health, bid farewell to any lingering stigma, and lean in to all the help online therapy has to offer—at a time when we need it most. Of those surveyed, 83% of people say they’re turning to their therapists to talk about the 2020 election, the coronavirus pandemic, racism, the economic recession, and more.

Decline of Mental Health Stigma

The very foundation of online therapy has always been to provide people with a safe and accessible space to discuss concerns, conflicts, challenges, health conditions, everyday thoughts and needs, and more with a trained mental health professional. But existing stigma around mental health treatment—and an unfamiliar platform that significantly altered the therapeutic environment—meant online therapy remained far from top-of-mind.

With the unprecedented events of 2020, however, the need for mental health support is outweighing the stigma and many are now opening up about their experiences. In fact, 74% of those surveyed openly share that they see a therapist and 89% agree that society would be better off if more people sought out mental health services.

On top of that, an overwhelming 91% of people currently in online therapy agree that more people should try it, a ringing endorsement that no doubt clears the runway for online therapy’s continued success. 

Amy Morin, LCSW

Online therapy offers flexibility that traditional therapy doesn’t. Some people message their therapist throughout the day and appreciate that they don’t have to wait a week for feedback. Others like to schedule live chats or video sessions when they need it.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

These users rely on online therapy to get them through the ups and downs of today's unsteady landscape. So, it should come as no surprise that over a third of Americans surveyed plan on continuing to see their therapists online for at least the next six months. In these uncertain times, online therapy has become a beacon of hope for so many. 

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Different Regions Have Different Stressors

It would be a major understatement to say that stress levels are high. There are many precarious topics that survey respondents are concerned about, including, but not limited to:

  • The government’s handling of Covid (68%)
  • The economic recession (65%)
  • The 2020 election (64%)
  • Racial injustice (61%)
  • Police brutality (60%)

While everyone surveyed is worried about something (or many things), the specific political issues, however, differ for these Americans depending on where they live. Of those who are currently in online therapy:

  • Northeast: Those in the Northeast are overall more worried about many political issues than the entire rest of the country, specifically the government’s response to COVID (74%), the 2020 election (71%), the economic recession (71%), and racial injustice (69%), to name only a few. 
  • West: Those in the West trend slightly higher for concerns over police brutality when compared to the rest of the country (65%).

But the age-old adage still rings true—actions speak louder than words. Despite how worried Northeasterners are about specific political issues when compared to the rest of the country, those on the West Coast are more likely to bring those issues into their therapy sessions. Not everyone tells their therapist everything, but of those surveyed:

  • West: Those in the West lean more heavily on online therapy for help coping with political issues when compared to the rest of the country—specifically regarding the government's handling of COVID (52%), racial injustice (46%), and the economic recession (42%), among others.
  • Northeast, Midwest & South: Those in the Northeast, Midwest, and South may not be as engaged as those in the West quite yet, but about 1 in 3 from each of these regions is going online to discuss racial injustice, the economic recession, and the spread of misinformation with their therapist.

Online Therapy Is Helping People Find Relief

Not all those surveyed are brand new to therapy. In fact, 56% of people surveyed transitioned from in-person therapy to online therapy in the last six months, most likely due to COVID-related protocol. 

But 1 in 5 of those surveyed actually began online therapy in the last three months. This is not only suggestive of the piling stress, anxiety, and other mental health concerns affecting Americans in recent months, but of the tools Americans are using to cope. The strategy seems to be working too, with high levels of satisfaction among those who are in online therapy.

Among people currently in online therapy, 92% express satisfaction with their overall experience, specifically citing:

  • Ease of use (92%)
  • Privacy (91%)
  • Response time (91%)
  • Quality of counseling (90%)
  • Security (86%)
  • Cost (82%)

Furthermore, 93% of those surveyed agree that therapy is helpful. This is promising in such a time of national unrest and social turmoil, and explains why 1 in 3 surveyed say current election issues are among the very reasons they are presently seeking treatment through online therapy.

In addition to other mental health concerns or personal matters, 54% of people surveyed also report that election issues comprise at least half of the topics addressed in their sessions. And of those who actually discuss current political stressors with their therapist, 72% say they find it helpful and 78% would recommend that others do the same.

Amy Morin, LCSW

Online therapy can be more accessible for people. You don’t need to arrange for childcare or commute, it typically costs less than in-person treatment, and it can be helpful to those in rural areas or in areas with long waitlists since most online therapy sites match people to a therapist within a day or two.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

All these findings suggest that online therapy is helping people find relief and support in a time of utter unpredictability. And it’s not just national issues impacting mental health, but how national issues show up and create challenges for people’s everyday lives. For example, among those who have discussed these issues with their therapist:

  • 71% found help for their apprehension over sending their kids back to school
  • 67% found help for dealing with their job loss
  • 65% found help for being discriminated against 
  • 64% found help for their uneasiness of going back to work
  • 63% found help for their concern over them or their loved ones contracting COVID-19

A Word From Verywell

Staying grounded when things are in flux is never easy, let alone during such turbulent times for the nation as a whole. But there is promise—that those who choose to participate in online therapy can recognize it is a healthy and successful action. 

And there’s agreement—that online therapy is a way to combat stress and mental health concerns, but also the uncertainty and discomfort that results from the national dialogue. But perhaps most important, there is unity that online therapy is a true sign of strength and a powerful tool that, if utilized, can help many more Americans maintain better mental health.

Methodology

Verywell conducted the above research as an online survey, fielded to 1,000 adults living in the U.S. from August 17, 2020 to September 4, 2020. To qualify, survey participants must have spoken with a therapist online in the last three months and typically do so at least once a month. Quotas were used to ensure representation across gender, region, and race/ethnicity. The margin of error is +/- 3% with a 95% confidence level and is higher for subgroups. Demographics were as follows:

  • Gender: 59% Female, 40% Male, 1% Non-Binary/Third Gender
  • Generation: 8% Gen Z, 41% Millennial, 26% Gen X, 24% Boomer or Older
  • Region: 20% Northeast, 20% Midwest, 38% South, 23% West
  • Location: 43% Suburban, 39% Urban, 18% Rural
  • Race/Ethnicity: 69% White, 15% Black, 16% Hispanic, 7% Asian, 3% Native American or Alaskan Native 
  • Political Views: 26% Conservative, 30% Moderate, 39% Liberal
  • Education: 58% College Graduate or More, 42% Some College or Less
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