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This past year has been difficult for all of us, and I’ve found one theme dominates most of my conversations with friends: mental health. Time in isolation and uncertainty over lost income sources and the well-being of people we care about can’t be good for anyone’s stress levels. It certainly hasn’t been for mine.
I remember talking to my therapist at the start of the pandemic about everything that was happening and how these feelings of anxiety creeping up were an eery reminder of the dark place I was in a couple of years ago, and she asked me what has changed with me since then.
Well, I have you to talk to.
And then she made me list through all the tools she’s taught me over the past year to deal with anxious feelings, like a freaking pop quiz.
I’ve written a bit about losing a dear friend a couple of years ago, and how difficult it was to face that grief by myself in a new town. I remember feeling so alone in my sadness, and wanting to share my experience so that others struggling might feel less alone. Or at least, when I was my lowest I know I found a lot of comfort in hearing other people’s stories of dealing with difficult times.
But then I never really talked about the steps I took to feel happy again.
I had also gone through a breakup a few months before Rachel passed away, but while I could see that time was steadily healing that heartache, I knew that dealing with this would take more than time. And I had also seen the future damage that not working through grief could cause.
Several of my friends speak to therapists – in fact I think all but one of my close friends in the US have therapists – is this a very American thing? At any rate, after Rachel’s death they all encouraged me to find a professional to speak to, and one of my friends even discussed my situation with her own therapist to offer some tools to find comfort.
To be perfectly honest I was really resistant to the idea of speaking to a counselor or therapist. It’s a troubling aspect of depression – when at my lowest I had no interest in helping myself. Plus, whom would I even speak to? Finding someone in Mosjøen and then dragging myself to their office to have a deep discussion in Norwegian seemed… I mean frankly at the time it felt impossible.
If you listen to as many podcasts as I do, you might be having the same thought I had: what about trying BetterHelp?
It seems like BetterHelp advertises on every podcast I listen to, so I knew that they offer online counseling through video calls. But while I had heard a lot about them, none of the podcasters promoting them seemed actually to have used BetterHelp themselves, so I was skeptical.
I came up with all the excuses not to sign up for BetterHelp. Online therapy probably wasn’t actually even effective, I had read mixed BetterHelp reviews online (though any BetterHelp negative reviews had to do with their marketing strategy, no one’s actual personal experience with the platform), and it seemed like a luxury I didn’t actually need to dish out money on. I had friends I could talk to!
In the end the only reason I finally took the leap and signed up for BetterHelp was that I made a pact with a friend who also wanted to talk to a therapist and we signed up on the same day. So if you’re feeling intimidated, maybe sign up with a friend? As my friend said after we both matched with therapists, “accountability works.”
My personal BetterHelp review
Okay so I thought I’d share my own personal Better Help review to answer some of the questions and concerns I had when thinking about signing up.
The signup process itself is incredibly easy. BetterHelp takes you through a series of questions and at the end they match you with a therapist. I was a little alarmed by how quickly I was matched with someone – I guess I had secretly been hoping the sign up process would be really complicated and I could put it off. But that same day I had an email from my licensed therapist introducing herself, along with her license number and professional background.
I’m embarrassed to say that it then took me a couple more weeks to respond, but as soon as I did Connie encouraged me to choose a session time from her calendar and we set up our first video call. BetterHelp also offers voice calls and messaging, but I only really use the video call format, and then sometimes Connie will message me with a link I might find helpful or a book recommendation.
Speaking of her calendar, Connie lives in the US and I live in Norway, so there is a time difference. This simply means that we speak in the afternoons or evenings – usually 2 pm at the earliest and sometimes as late as 11 pm or midnight if I’m traveling and have a really busy day planned.
All of the BetterHelp counselors do live in the US, but you can sign up for BetterHelp regardless of which country you’re in – just be aware of the time difference and of course that the BetterHelp counseling language is English. If you are in Europe and matched with a therapist on the US West Coast you can always request one on the East Coast instead, so the time difference is smaller. Live video or phone sessions are conducted through the BetterHelp website, so you’ll need an Internet connection to make the call.
I was super nervous for our first session – like, really really nervous – but I kept reminding myself that if Connie and I didn’t click I could request a different therapist.
This was actually one of the big selling points for me with BetterHelp. I had always heard that it can be difficult to find a therapist you mesh with, and my friends said that I might need to shop around a bit at first. That would have been hard to do in my little town (plus it sounded really awkward?), whereas with BetterHelp I’d be able to simply log into my account and submit a request for a new counselor.
Update: A friend of mine recently signed up for BetterHelp and requested to change therapists twice because the time slots they offered didn’t fit her schedule, and when she requested a new therapist for the second time they actually gave her a list of about six therapists whom she could choose from. So if you want a little more choice, you could always immediately request a change twice in a row, and then you can read the bios of the therapists offered to you and choose yourself.
I’d definitely encourage you to shop around to find a therapist you really love – and I’ve heard that people have actually gotten the first week or two refunded when they’ve had calls with therapists that didn’t work out, so if you do switch it might be worth writing to BetterHelp customer service and requesting a refund for the “lost” week with the therapist that didn’t work out (I can’t promise it will work, but you can always try!).
But within minutes of meeting Connie I felt at ease with her. In fact for the first time in months I felt truly comforted by talking to someone. I felt so immediately comfortable with her that afterwards I actually racked my brain trying to figure out if I had met her before – she just seemed so familiar somehow. Of course I hadn’t, but I think it was a sign that this was going to be a wonderful fit.
And in that first session I realized that talking to a therapist is totally different than talking to friends or family. I feel no judgement from Connie, but perhaps more importantly, I know so little about her life I can’t really judge her, or myself against her. That has freed me from feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and even jealousy, which makes it a lot easier to accept what she tells me and use the tools she gives me.
For anyone wondering, we’re doing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on reframing the way I think about situations to more effectively respond to challenges.
Originally I had intended to use BetterHelp as a way to ease into therapy, eventually finding someone I could speak to in person here in Norway. But my experience with Connie has been so incredible that I hope I never have to find a new therapist. And as we’re speaking remotely, it doesn’t matter if she or I move cities or even countries, so I should be able to continue with her for a long time.
After a few months of weekly one-hour sessions with Connie I realized that I had come back out of the darkness. I did briefly wonder if this meant that I should stop my BetterHelp subscription, as it probably was no longer a necessary expense. It’s funny how easily I can justify spending money on travel or clothing or a nice meal, but my own mental health feels like a frivolous luxury. What?
Luckily I couldn’t quite bring myself to stop our sessions. I say luckily because while I don’t need to talk to Connie in the way I used to, I’d say the sessions since I’ve felt like my happy self again have actually been those where I’ve learned the most about myself. There are still often weeks where I have a specific concern or experience I want to discuss, however usually it’s the meetings where I have no idea what we’ll talk about that teach me the most.
And I really have learned so much. I feel like I understand myself and my emotions better than I ever have, I’ve become more productive in my work, less stressed by social situations, and I even feel like I’ve become a better friend – at least I hope so!
I simply can’t recommend going to therapy enough. And yes, I realize it’s an expense not everyone can afford. But at this point I’d happily cut down my travel and even food budget for therapy. I’d probably even move into a cheaper apartment if that was the only way I could continue with my sessions. Is that crazy? I’ll have to ask Connie.
How much does BetterHelp cost?
As far as therapy goes though, BetterHelp is surprisingly affordable. BetterHelp costs $55 to $95 per week, and includes weekly one-hour calls along with unlimited voice and text messaging. Pricing depends on how long you sign up for – so it’s cheaper if you sign up for a three-month package instead of paying weekly or monthly:
- $95 for one week
- $320 for one month
- $715 for three months
I actually just realized when I looked up the fees right now that I was paying one month at a time and could actually have saved quite a bit by signing up for a long term package. So maybe make a note when you sign up to go back and reevaluate which package to choose later on. $320 per month seems like a good place to start though, as a month of weekly sessions should give you a good idea if this is something you want to continue with.
Sorry, it sounds like I’m trying to sell BetterHelp to you – I guess because I sort of am? Well, not BetterHelp specifically, but I’ve just had such a wonderful experience with therapy and truly believe that everyone can benefit so much from it. I wish I had done this much earlier, and I wish there was a way I could convince all my friends and family to try it out without sounding like I’m suggesting they are crazy and need help. We could all use help!
BetterHelp promo code
No, BetterHelp did not pay me to write this post. However I did reach out to them and ask if BetterHelp could offer a discount for you and they said yes! If you sign up for BetterHelp through this link (or if you enter the BetterHelp discount code “heartmybackpack” at checkout) then you’ll get 10% off your first month. Maybe that’s the little incentive you need to try it out? I may also receive a commission for any sign ups through my links – so it’s win for both of us!
Like I said before, it’s an American company so all therapists are in the US, but you can sign up from anywhere in the world, if you speak English. This also means that you can continue using BetterHelp if you’re traveling or if you move cities, or, you know, if you are social distancing at home* for the foreseeable future.
*BetterHelp also offers couples counseling.