It’s safe to say that this pandemic has changed everything we know about this world. And as we humans have been known to do since the dawn of civilization, we’ve been adapting to these new conditions. Mental health professionals are no different. While self-help books and tutorial videos of the get-your-life-together variety are easily at our disposal, the power of therapy remains unparalleled in helping people process their thoughts and emotions and solve problems. Thankfully, sessions are available to patients through video-conferencing apps like Zoom and Google Meet, or even good ol’ phone calls.
Under normal circumstances, I’d have to go through this rigorous trial-and-error process to find the perfect therapist for me. I can’t imagine having to set an appointment and get out of the house, maybe even travel for hours if I lived in a remote area, just to meet up with someone likely to disappoint me because they’re not half as good as they looked on paper. But online therapy proves to be a big game-changer, thanks to the accessibility and agency it offers.
Thanks to the internet, it takes nothing more than a couple of clicks to search for someone with the specialization and previous experience needed to help me out, and then a couple more if I’m not satisfied with the experience. Some websites like Betterhelp and Talkspace even promise to find me the perfect match if I answer a comprehensive questionnaire. Best of all, I get to do all of this in my own time, on my own terms.
But despite ease of access and whatnot, cost is still a huge issue. Here in the Philippines, the government has yet to fully implement a comprehensive national healthcare plan. Until then, citizens will have to fish money out of their own pockets if they wish to seek help, with the chances of finding affordable options being slim to none. This is a heartbreaking reality, since all people with existing conditions are burdened by what’s happening in the world right now yet can’t afford the same quality of treatment.
I recently talked to Jamie, a friend of mine, to get an idea of how much sessions cost. “Affordability is definitely relative,” she told me. “As far as I know, my therapist is comparatively cheap, but for most, [it’s] probably really, really steep, especially since sessions are supposed to be weekly.” Many clinics charge four-digit figures for consultations alone, or add a hefty tax charge to make up for their low-cost services. I can only imagine how much they bill patients for sessions that involve actual physical interaction.
I think of the 20% of our population that lives below the poverty line: those who would have to starve themselves three times a week just so they could afford an internet subscription plan. I think about my friends, students with no source of income who are forced to seek help behind their parents’ backs. I think of burnt-out, depressed millennials who spend most of their waking hours working from home. We Filipinos are often praised for our ability to see every hardship as a test of our faith, every sacrifice a necessary stepping stone toward something we deserve. But at some point we have to collectively realize that we shouldn’t have to endure and suffer this much when we could be provided with affordable, high-quality, accessible therapy instead.
Thankfully, some psychiatrists have made strides in the right direction by adjusting the prices of their sessions to fit their patients’ needs. Others have even started providing their services for free to those who are financially hard-up. I hope these fees make little to no changes once life goes back to normal, whenever that may be.
Though current conditions aren’t exactly ideal, I guess we’re still lucky we get to live in a world that’s working toward the total destigmatization of mental health issues. If this entire virus had happened a couple of decades back and our predecessors were subjected to this much mental anguish, I think a great deal would have simply forced themselves to grin and bear it so as to not be perceived as weak.
By merely considering online therapy an option, we make an implicit yet defiant act of removing the negative labels that are commonly associated with therapy itself. Now all we have to do is make sure that this kind of treatment will one day be available to anyone who needs it. No prerequisites, no requirements, no exceptions.
By Angel Martinez
Illustration by Tristan Offit