How to Find a Therapist or Counselor If You Can’t Leave Your Home

If you need to talk to someone during the coronavirus pandemic, you can use telemedicine to get the help you need. We asked mental health experts for the best ways to access therapists and counselors without leaving the safety of home.

If you’re feeling anxious or scared about the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and all of the uncertainty that surrounds it, you’re not alone. Many people are living in fear of getting sick, seeing loved ones fall ill, or not having sufficient supplies to last in a quarantine situation. Many are facing financial troubles as a result of the tumult. There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, and fear of the unknown can be extremely anxiety-inducing in itself.

Plus, all of the things we see and read in the news—empty grocery store shelves, constant updates on numbers of people infected—can feed into feelings of worry and panic, says Asim A. Shah, MD, professor and executive vice chair of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

If you already experience anxiety, depression, or are prone to catastrophizing, the current situation can really exacerbate your negative emotions, Dr. Shah points out. Even if you don’t already have a diagnosed mental health condition, what’s happening in the world, and the way everyone around you is reacting to it, can spark uncomfortable feelings of anxiety and worry. That’s totally normal.

social distancing quarantine and mental healthmartin-dm/Getty ImagesSocial distancing and mental health

On top of that, social distancing “creates more isolation and lack of connectedness, so those things compound the issue further,” says Madhukar Trivedi, MD, psychiatry professor at UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute and director of the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care in Dallas. “Social connectedness is a big contributor to good mental health and that is harder to accomplish if you are 24/7 staying at home.” That said, you can still remain physically distant while staying socially connected through phone or video calls, and live classes or lectures.

Staying home is an important act of public health and will help save lives. But, it can also make it feel like you’re far away from the mental health professionals who can help. These are the people you may want to rely on to get through this tough time. The good news? Thanks to technology, there are a ton of great resources you can access without leaving your home. If you’re reading on someone’s behalf, we have some tips for suggesting therapy to a friend.

A quick note on health insurance

Health insurance can be a huge barrier to mental health care in general. If you have health insurance, it’s always best to check to see what’s covered and what’s not before working with a therapist or counselor or using an online therapy service.

If you don’t have health insurance, talk with a potential provider to find out their cost price beforehand. Digital therapy apps and websites (more on those below) typically use a weekly subscription model and don’t take health insurance. There are also free resources at the bottom of this article that you can utilize at no cost.

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the government has loosened restrictions on telehealth services for Medicare patients. Make sure to check with your insurance company to see if there are any fees or co-pays that can be waived for healthcare (mental health and otherwise) during this time.

Move your regular therapist appointments to video chats

Many therapists are now offering digital services in the wake of Covid-19. Margaux Cameron, 32, says that her therapist has moved all of her in-person therapy appointments to remote for the time being.

“I thought I would hate it—I really dislike video interviews, Skype calls, etc.—but it actually worked pretty well,” Cameron says. “That might be because I had already been seeing my therapist in person for quite a while, so I feel comfortable with her and knew what to expect from the session. I often get quite emotional during therapy sessions, and doing it remotely helped me separate from that a little bit. I felt like it was easier for me to pragmatically describe how I was feeling and the thoughts I was having than it often is during my in-person visits,” she adds.

Sarah L., 27, says she has communicated with her therapist using online platforms (like Skype) and phone calls in the past, when necessary. Now, it’s going to be a regular thing. “In the face of Covid-19, we’re looking at virtual appointments indefinitely,” she says. “My therapist has set me up with a VSee account.” (VSee is a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine platform.)

She says her first video session this week helped her feel a sense of normalcy. Also, despite it being different than seeing her therapist in real life, it was incredibly relaxing. “It was a little reminder that eventually this all will end.”

If there’s a therapist you’ve seen before—even if you only see them irregularly—reach out. Ask if they are doing video appointments during this time.

Schedule a telemedicine visit through your health insurance

Dr. Shah also suggests utilizing telemedicine (also called telehealth or teledoc) services offered through your health insurance policy to book a therapy appointment. This can be a good option if you can’t make a new patient appointment with a local provider at this time. You’ll need to check with your plan and find out if this type of benefit is included. But many plans offer this sort of care. You’ll likely need to pay a copay for each visit, as you would for an in-person visit.

Some health insurance companies are even expanding telemedicine efforts and waiving fees to help people during this time. For example, UnitedHealthcare is waiving deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance for visits with telehealth partners. Aetna is also waiving copays for telemedicine. Again, check with your insurance company to find out what’s included in your plan, what the costs are at this time, and what sort of care is included in the waived fee initiative. You may be able to access mental health care for less than what you would normally need to pay.

man using laptop at home on couchmax-kegfire/Getty ImagesTry a digital therapy app or website

Over the past few years, a handful of apps and websites have emerged that can connect you with a licensed therapist. These platforms, like BetterHelp and Talkspace, will connect you with a licensed therapist. Costs can range anywhere from $40 to $99 per week for access to a therapist via phone call, text, video, and audio messaging. (Here are some of the best therapy apps you can try.)

If you are meeting a counselor for the first time digitally, Dr. Trivedi suggests having a phone or video session to establish a relationship before doing sessions simply via text messaging. “You want to at least get some preliminary human contact with someone, even if it’s just on the phone. That way, if there is anything more serious that might require you to seek further medical care, they can determine that.” If you jump into a texting system, it can make it difficult for a provider to determine if more intervention is needed, Dr. Trivedi says.

Join a support group

The added social isolation that many people are experiencing right now can not only exacerbate anxiety. It can also make it harder to cope with other mental health concerns. Dr. Shah suggests finding an online support group that addresses whatever you are navigating to get targeted help. Also, they’re typically free. So, there’s no need to worry about insurance or having to weigh whether seeking help is worth the bill you’ll end up with. There are many organizations offering help for free.

Dr. Shah warns against joining support groups that are run by uncertified individuals. Instead, he suggests finding groups run by reputable mental health organizations. This way, you can ensure you’re working with professionals who are equipped and ready to effectively help.

Mental Health America has a long list of good support groups, so you can find one that’s relevant to your particular needs, whether that’s anxiety, depression, substance abuse, grief, an eating disorder, or more. You can also search the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for a chapter near you and find out how to join their online support groups during this time.

Call these free, confidential hotlines

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic and are seeking immediate guidance or help, these toll-free, confidential hotlines are open 24/7 and can be a great resource during a time of need:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) connects you with a 24-hour crisis center.

  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) is a treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. SAMHSA’s Treatment Locator at 1-800-662-4357 provides information about local mental health services.

  • Crisis Text Line Text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor for free, 24/7 crisis support.

  • National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) connects you with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area that offers access to a range of free services. Chat support is also available at the online hotline.

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) trained experts provide confidential support (in English, Spanish, and other languages) to anyone experiencing domestic violence or seeking resources.
  • Child-Help USA at 1-800-422-4453 (1-800-4-A-Child) Assists both child and adult survivors of abuse, including sexual abuse. It also provides treatment referrals.

  • Covenant House Nineline at 1-800-999-9999 crisis counselors are available to talk to homeless individuals and at-risk kids.

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Medically reviewed by Ashley Matskevich, MD, on April 20, 2020

Amy Marturana Winderl
Amy is a freelance journalist and certified personal trainer. She covers health and fitness, outdoors, travel, and finance. Her work has appeared on SELF, Bicycling, Earnest, and other publications. When she's not busy writing or editing, you can find her hiking, cooking, running, or lounging on the couch watching the latest true crime show on Netflix.