Tech, Now + Beyond

Online therapy is revolutionizing mental health care for marginalized people

For marginalized people, online therapy isn’t simply convenient. It’s a lifeline.

When we talk about technology, the internet, and mental health, we often discuss the down-sides. Cyberbullying, for one, is an example of how the internet can be a site of trauma and abuse.

However, the internet has also brought us something good, online therapy – something which has made mental healthcare way more accessible for many people.

Let’s face an unfortunate fact: mental healthcare isn’t always accessible to everyone. Healthcare can be expensive, and those of us who don’t have health insurance or access to money to pay for it can be put off by the high costs of therapy. In certain countries, you might be able to get mental healthcare for free – but this could mean jumping through a lot of administrative hoops.

Like many other queer people, I’ve struggled to find therapists that are tolerant, open-minded, and accepting. My first counselor, who I saw when I was thirteen, made homophobic remarks when I told her I thought I was bisexual. As you can imagine, this was super traumatizing: someone I trusted believed a core part of me was deviant and immoral. Instead of helping me process the bigotry and oppression I faced, she perpetuated it. It made me ashamed of my orientation, and it also made me afraid of therapy.

Many marginalized people, including queer and trans people, struggle to find therapists that don’t discriminate against them. Psychiatry has a history of pathologizing queer and trans people, which means that we are poorly catered for by many mental healthcare professionals. This is particularly concerning because queer and trans people are more likely to suffer from psychological distress, mental illnesses, and suicidal thoughts than the rest of the population. Queer and trans people of color might particularly struggle to find therapists with the additon of racism to look out for.

When the world meets your identity with intolerance, it’s hard to cope. The discrimination marginalized people face is traumatizing. Therapy is meant to help you process the hurt that comes with trauma but for us, it’s virtually inaccessible.  

This is one of the instances where online therapy can be helpful. Online therapy websites like BetterHelp and Talkspace can connect people with counselors all over the world, which means that users get to choose between therapists. On these sites, you get matched with a therapist based on your specific needs – and if that therapist isn’t great, it’s really easy to switch to another one. For marginalized people, online therapy isn’t simply convenient. It’s a lifeline.

Depending on where you’re located, your health insurance, and other factors, online therapy might also be cheaper. I estimate that BetterHelp’s cheapest package would cost 50% of what I’d pay for non-online counseling. It could also be difficult to access traditional, face-to-face therapy if you don’t have a car, for example. This wouldn’t be an issue if you were speaking to a counselor online. This means that more working-class or poor people can access therapy.

While I’m not currently using an online therapy portal, technology is also a huge part of my mental healthcare. My current therapist lives halfway across the country. If it weren’t for Skype, I wouldn’t be able to speak to her. The town I live in is really small, and many of the therapists here are out of my budget. Skype means that I have more options to choose from in terms of the therapists I see.

There are also informal forms of therapy that exist, thanks to the internet. Online support groups and forums are incredibly helpful to those who have struggled with trauma, mental health issues, grief, and other difficulties. These forums have helped me process my experiences, and while they don’t replace therapy, they certainly complement it. Talking about our experiences and exchanging stories is healing. Not only does it help us feel less alone, we also exchange tips, ideas for self-care, and healthy coping mechanisms.

Of course, the existence of the internet doesn’t mean therapy is fully accessible to everyone. After all, many people don’t have access to a quality internet connection, which means that online therapy and support groups aren’t accessible to everyone. Other people might also struggle to communicate with people when they’re not face-to-face – for them, online therapy isn’t preferable. There are some limits to the abilities of online therapists, too. For example, online therapists usually can’t provide you with a diagnosis or prescribe you medicine. 

But one thing’s for sure: technology helps a lot of people gain access to therapy and that’s something worth celebrating.