RACHEL GRIMM: Hi. My name's Rachel Grimm (ph), and I'm calling from Jamaica Plain, Mass.
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GRIMM: My main strategy for getting through this weird time has been making art and journaling. And I've been using the journaling prompt - what is sanctuary, and how do we create our own sanctuary amidst chaos? I hope that helps you, and I hope you're surviving and thriving as best as you can.
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:
Hi, everyone. This is LIFE KIT, and I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji. I hope you have someone to talk to right now, someone who's helping you process this time we're in because it's overwhelming.
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MERAJI: Maybe that person is a close friend or family member, your partner. Maybe it's your therapist. Maybe this is the first time you've thought about seeing a therapist but aren't sure how that works when you can't leave the house.
I talked to my therapist over the phone last week, and she told me she's really concerned about people's mental health right now and that if she had a magic wand, she'd make therapy free for anyone who wants it.
Well, there are some free options out there. And if you already have a therapist that you always see in person, there are ways to make it work when you're both stuck at home. And here to talk through some ideas is NPR's Lauren Hodges. She reported a LIFE KIT episode about how to start therapy.
LAUREN HODGES, BYLINE: Hey.
MERAJI: All right, so for people who aren't in therapy, why might they want to consider it now, especially when we can't walk into a therapist's office anytime soon?
HODGES: Well, because this is a (laughter) really stressful time. The news is scary and depressing, but we kind of have to stay on top of it, like keep watching it, keep reading it to get the latest guidance from the government - how long are schools closed? Are we allowed outside? Which businesses are open? - stuff like that. So we have to stay posted. We're also homeschooling kids, dealing with unemployment or less income, worried about sick friends and relatives. It's a lot. And it can be...
MERAJI: It really is.
HODGES: ...Yeah. And it can be really helpful to talk to a third party, let off some steam and get a little advice to manage it.
MERAJI: What about cost? People are worried about money right now - a lot of people out there. Is therapy covered by insurance?
HODGES: So if you have insurance, it depends on the plan. Check your policy, make sure it's covered. And then your insurance company can also give you a list of options and names to call that actually take your insurance, so you don't waste your time talking to people who don't.
And if you already have a therapist, you just ask them - how can they continue your sessions, if anything will change with their copays. You know, since this is such an unprecedented situation, they might still be figuring it out. But that also means, or could mean, they're flexible and open to suggestions - stuff that could work for you.
MERAJI: What if you don't have insurance?
HODGES: Yeah. So if it's not covered or if you don't have insurance - I know a lot of people are dealing with losing their insurance under their former employers - you do have options. You can ask for the sliding scale rate, meaning the therapist works with you based on what you can afford. There's also this website called Open Path Collective, where therapists offer sessions for between $30 and $60. That's a pretty typical copay for insured patients. So that could be a good option. So call some of those people, ask how they're holding sessions right now, what they're doing to go online.
And it's worth mentioning during this national emergency, Medicare coverage will now include virtual services - like virtual check-ins and e-visits. So if you have Medicare, a good way to use this benefit is to search for providers that accept it. I searched on Psychology Today and filtered for Medicare in the insurance option and found providers that you could reach out to. Just ask what they have for virtual sessions like Skype, FaceTime - what they offer.
MERAJI: That's a lot of useful information. I had never heard of Open Path Collective, so I'm really glad to hear about that. And then, for people like me who already have therapists, how easy is it to make the switch to online or teletherapy?
HODGES: So I talked to Seth Gillihan. He is a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia. He has switched all of his patient sessions online. And he said it might feel weird in, like, the first few minutes of that first video chat but that you'll hardly notice it after a while.
SETH GILLIHAN: What people seem to find is that you forget about the medium relatively quickly. Think of it kind of like watching a movie. At some point, you stop being aware of the fact that you're staring at a screen and you really get immersed in the story.
MERAJI: You know, I'm very nervous about the video therapy. I do have a therapist right now and we're doing teletherapy, and that works for me. I just feel like maybe it would be weird to do it over video. So hearing that actually makes me feel better.
HODGES: Yeah. It's got to be about what makes you comfortable - phone, text, video - whatever is going to work for you. So just get all set up on your phone or your laptop. Make sure you've downloaded the right app. Find a comfy, private space. If you have to go into your closet, so be it. Make sure your Wi-Fi is good. And just like with regular therapy, you can write down some stuff you want to talk about, or you can just wing it and see what comes up for you.
But one caveat I do want to mention, if you are in another state that you usually are in - I know a lot of people are quarantining, you know, at their parents' house - make sure that your therapist is licensed to practice in your state, where you physically are. That's really important.
MERAJI: I've been doing teletherapy since this has happened, and I do wonder after every session, is this effective? Is this working (laughter)?
HODGES: Yeah, I think it's pretty helpful to have that neutral person to kind of download our frustrations and confusions onto - no matter how we're talking to them. And just like I said in my episode, it can be really tempting to talk to friends and family members about our problems because they're right there. Whoever is in our house may already be, like, our little sounding board. We tend to take things out on each other, and it can be really emotionally draining and taxing on our relationships.
And the other one is, we've all been doing these FaceTime happy hours with loved ones, and of course we tell them stuff there. But they're also going through a lot, so they might not be able to take that on emotionally. And therapists are trained professionals. They can give us advice, help us gain perspective. Oh - and they're also bound by the law to keep things confidential, so that's a big plus with them.
MERAJI: Yeah. My mom always loves to tell the joke that, why don't you just pay me...
MERAJI: ...Whatever you're paying your therapist? Because I'm talking to you about this stuff anyway. And I'm like, Mom, it doesn't work that way.
HODGES: Yeah. And my sister says the same thing, but then she goes and gossips to my cousin. So it's not confidential.
MERAJI: Exactly, exactly. So, OK, we've been talking about these options. Are there any other options for therapy?
HODGES: Yeah, there are. So there are apps specifically designed for online therapy that you just use text and video messaging. They've been around for a couple of years, so they were ahead of this whole curve. BetterHelp, Talkspace are a few that come to mind. Oh, we should mention that BetterHelp is an NPR sponsor. And there's a lot of support groups that have moved online right now. One of the more well-known ones is Alcoholics Anonymous. They've been using Zoom, Google Hangout and conference calls to keep their members coming to meetings.
MERAJI: That's great.
HODGES: And there's lots of other groups that have moved on to this method. Again, I went on Psychology Today and looked up local groups that meet all these different needs - grief counseling, anger management, addictions, whatever the issue is - and they all have these group managers you can reach out to. So you can do that and ask them how they're arranging these digital meetups. The best thing is a lot of these groups are free or low cost.
MERAJI: Lauren, a few things are coming up for me right now, so I'm just going to throw them at you. One - what if you don't have access to Wi-Fi? What if you really need someone to talk to right now? And what if you can't afford mental health services? Are there options out there for you?
HODGES: Yeah. The Department of Health & Human Services has the National Helpline. That's 1-800-662-4357. There's a group called Integral Care. They run a hotline with 15 languages. They're at 512-472-HELP.
Because this can feel like a really hopeless time for some people, I want to share the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which is 1-800-273-8255. Please call if you're thinking of hurting yourself. There is definitely help waiting for you, no matter your situation.
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MERAJI: And FYI, all those numbers and resources are included on our episode page. And I think it's really important to say here that there is no shame in saying that this is hard and that you're overwhelmed and that you're frustrated and just being open about maybe needing this help right now. And for people who are getting this help, also being open to saying, yes, I am in therapy and this is how it's working for me - and encouraging people to do the same who are feeling pretty down right now.
HODGES: Yeah, definitely. You can kind of be an example for your friends and loved ones. Not just talking through the logistics - how do I do online therapy? - but just putting the idea out there. If they're having a hard time, you can say, yeah, I was struggling, too. I called my therapist today, and we did a little video chat.
You know, put that idea out there. Normalize it. Make people realize that if they're struggling, that's OK. We are all struggling. There is something really powerful about normalizing therapy in that, if it's just something that you do once a week to take care of yourself, other people start to see it as normal as well. And they pursue it as an option for themselves.
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MERAJI: All right, Lauren, let's do a quick recap. What are the most important things to know about getting therapy right now, in these times we're in?
HODGES: The most important things, I think, are that even though it can feel really tempting to put your mental health on the backburner right now because there's so much happening, you might be needing it more than ever right now because things are so stressful. Life is changing. Life is frustrating right now.
You need someone to talk to, and it's not great to just constantly download that onto your friends and family because they're going through the same thing, too. Therapists are trained professionals. They have confidentiality in mind.
If you have insurance, you can use your insurance company to help you find someone or a method. And if you don't, there's lots of free options and low-cost options for you out there.
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MERAJI: Thanks, Lauren.
HODGES: Thank you.
MERAJI: That's NPR's Lauren Hodges. Lauren did a whole episode about how to start therapy. It talks a lot about overcoming stigma around therapy. And you can find that episode at npr.org/lifekit.
We also want to hear your tips. How are you keeping yourself mentally healthy right now? Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at email@example.com to share your tip.
We've also got lots of good advice delivered every week to your inbox with our newsletter. You can subscribe at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter.
This episode was produced by Clare Schneider. Meghan Keane is the managing producer and Beth Donovan is our senior editor. I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji. Thanks for listening.
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