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We never know when we might find ourselves in need of mental health support (from top ups through to more intensive work), and in the digital / Covid age there are thousands of online services claiming to be able to help. I’ve personally used a combination of wellness apps and online therapy this year, and have found both to be very effective, in different ways.
As we come to the end of Wellbeing Week, the team and I have had a look at some of the most highly recommended apps and online counselling services on the internet, and we’ve tried some of them out with an eye to the specific needs and preferences of people who live alone.
The results are below – we’ve split this into two lists, one for online therapy / counselling services, and the other for wellbeing apps – and have deliberately kept to a small number of recommendations to avoid overwhelm. Prices for paid services are the latest at the time of writing, and are presented in both £ and $ where we were able to find them!
The Living Well Alone Project is affiliated to a couple of these sites / apps, which means that if you sign up for paid services using the links below, the Project will get a small donation (which we would greatly appreciate!) While we have to say this for transparency, it’s also important to say that we tried / reviewed before we affiliated (i.e.: our affiliations aren’t biasing our recommendations). We’re also not affiliated to every service on this list (in fact some of them are free).
Online counselling / therapy services
While talking things over with friends and family can be helpful in processing the day to day ups and downs, there are certain things which can only be properly worked through with professional support.
Several studies have shown that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy, meaning it’s a viable alternative to seeing someone in person, and will also save you time (and keep you safe in the Covid era) as you don’t have to travel to your therapist’s place of work.
Our three favourite online therapy services are listed below. Please note that none of these services is appropriate in a crisis situation – if you are in immediate, genuine distress, please contact your local mental health support service (in the UK, you can dial 999, or contact the charity Mind).
Great for: Access to comprehensive CBT toolkit for free; lower cost alternatives to face to face therapy sessions which still offer support from a qualified professional.
Why it’s suited to our community: lot of scope to work through materials independently / at your own pace, ‘basic option’ offers low cost professional support where needed; good for people who are self-motivated.
What else do I need to know? We’ve put Online-Therapy.com at the top of the list because it goes further than other online therapy services, offering a suite of downloadable tools based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which you can work through in your own time. We think this is perfect for independent solos who – as we know – often like to have space and time to figure things out for themselves. Each plan comes with access to a full therapy toolkit, including wellbeing tests, worksheets, a journal and activity plan, yoga and mediation videos, all of which is available for free for anyone signing up to the site.
If you decide you just want to use the tools, then you’ll need to go through the sign up process and select ‘free plan’ at the end to access the toolkit .
If you decide that you want some professional input to support you, then there are several options. The premium programme (usually £70/$79.95 a week, discounted by 20% in the first month) includes two live 30 minute sessions (your choice of video, voice or text chat) each week, along with daily messaging support from Mon-Fri, and regular feedback as you work through the toolkit. The standard option (£40/$47.96 a week with the discount, £50/$59.95 without), includes one live session a week plus messaging and daily feedback, and the ‘basic’ option (£24/$31.96 a week with the discount, £30/$39.95 without) is essentially a messaging / feedback service without the live sessions. We like the basic option because it’s a decent alternative for people who can’t quite stretch to the cost of live therapy / counselling sessions, but who do want the back up of professional support as they work through the exercises.
Online-Therapy.com therapists must have a masters or doctoral degree in counselling, social work, clinical psychology or other mental health specialisms, and has been reviewed by professors at Harvard Medical School.
Great for: high quality, on demand counselling; extensive library of free articles on mental health.
Why it’s suited to our community: gets straight to the point – no ‘extras,’ just high quality counselling.
What else do I need to know? BetterHelp is the largest online counselling platform in the world. If you already know that talking therapy is what you are looking for, then BetterHelp will help you jump right in with a series of straightforward questions designed to match you with an appropriate therapist – they currently have more than 12,000 licensed therapists and counsellors, who must each have at least 3 years and 1,000 hours of real-world experience. The Berkeley Well-Being Institute found BetterHelp to be as effective as face to face counselling (this applies to online counselling generally – it’s as good as the real thing).
BetterHelp isn’t cheap – from $60 to $80 per week (that’s about £45 – £60 a week in the UK), however that does buy you access to pretty much unlimited access to your therapist via message, phone or video chat. There’s also no long-term obligation, you can cancel at any time, and you can also switch therapist easily if you are not happy with the support you’re receiving.
BetterHelp also have an extensive library of articles on everything from anxiety to careers to eating disorders to the menopause. These are accessible for free to anyone via the BetterHelp website, and are one of the reasons we think BetterHelp is great for people who live alone, because you have the option to do a bit of your own research before you dive in.
Great for: anyone wanted a very structured, goal-oriented and quite intensive approach to online therapy; 24 hour a day support options.
Why it’s suited to our community: for the more introverted among us, TalkSpace’s Unlimited Messaging Approach may be appealing.
What else do I need to know? With 1 million users and some high profile celebrity backers including Michael Phelps and Demi Lovato, TalkSpace certainly seem to be onto something. All therapists have more than 3,000 hours of clinical experience, and we found that TalkSpace takes you quickly into a safe, supportive and quite intensive conversation, backed by an online mental health assessment.
We’ve heard it can take time to find the right therapist with TalkSpace however it’s quite straightforward to switch. Once you’re matched, you can start chatting to your therapist straight away, and they guarantee daily replies. For more urgent and pressing needs, video chat calls can be scheduled as well. TalkSpace can be good for quickly working through problems ‘on the go’ and can work well for people who lead busy lives.
There are three tiers of membership, from $65 a week for text, video and audio messaging from Mon-Fri; through to more expensive options which also include live video support options. each given you 24/7 access to a mental healthcare professional. You can also get $80 off at the moment with code FALL80.
As with online therapy services, there are thousands of wellness apps focusing on everything from fitness to weight loss to sleep tracking to mental health support. We’ve focused on the last of these categories, and have tracked down three favourites. Do let us know what you think!
Great for: appealing, modern, engaging interface; easy to use app; short, digestible sessions that fit into busy lives; backed by science.
Why it’s suited to our community: long-standing solos know that one of the keys successful solo living is learning to be ‘present’ and find joy in the little things. Headspace is a meditation and mindfulness app that helps you to do exactly that! Ten free sessions so our discerning community can ‘try before they buy.’
What else do I need to know? Founded by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe in 2010, Headspace frequently features at the top of lists of wellbeing apps. Gwyneth Paltrow and Emma Watson are avid fans, and more than 45 million people use Headspace worldwide. Sessions range from 1 – 20 minutes, and are structured either as courses or single sessions designed to help you deal with anything from stress, to sleep, to focus, to anger and anxiety. There’s an SOS section for when you’re feeling burned out, overwhelmed, panicked or in pain, and detailed guides to the different meditation techniques you’ll be using, and the main obstacles you might encounter.
Results aren’t instant, and it’s the repeated effect of a few minutes each day that will ultimately help you see results. While there are lots of other meditation apps out there (we’ve included another one on this list – see below), Headspace is the most structured, accessible and friendly that we’ve found.
The first ten sessions are free, after that there’s a monthly subscription (£4.17 a month if you’re prepared to be billed yearly, £9.99 a month if not). 14 day free trial once you’ve subscribed (if you don’t want to carry on, do make sure you cancel within the trial period!)
I’ve used Headspace for years, and absolutely love it!
Great for: Mood tracker; practical activities; all content free during Coronavirus
Why it’s suited to our community: Great for anyone who likes to work through content at their own time and pace.
What else do I need to know?
Designed for anyone feeling stressed or anxious, the content for My Possible Self has been designed by world-leading mental health experts to improve your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and has been tested by the Black Dog Institute.
The Mood Tracker helps you build a picture over time of how your mood changes, and what some of the triggers are for this (there are other apps that do this too, and you may want to play with a few to find that you like best). This can be particularly useful if you sometimes feel stressed or anxious or low, but you don’t know why.
The modules cover topics such as building happiness, managing anxiety and worry, managing loss and solving problems, and we like them because they combine a mixture of factual information with relatable ‘case studies,’ as well as structured activities / exercises that encourage self-reflection. At the moment each module only has one session (though these are very comprehensive) – new sessions are being built, and will be added soon.
The My Possible Self app usually only offers the first module ‘building happiness and wellbeing’ for free, with the rest paid for via subscription. However as part of a collaboration with the NHS in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic, all content is available for free for anyone signing up now.
Great for: Largest free library of guided meditations in the world (35,000+).
Why it’s suited to our community: can build your own programme to suit your individual preferences.
What else do I need to know?
Insight Timer is less polished than Headspace (though becoming increasingly more so), however it offers so may be a good alternative for those who do not want to pay to access meditation / mindfulness content, or those who feel confident doing so without more structured teaching.
You can filter the sessions on offer by time – from 5 to 30+ minutes – and Insight Timer have helpfully picked out a few of their most popular sessions and grouped these into easy to access themes for beginners. You can also see ‘trending’ sessions, and view the average star rating of each course as decided by other users.
There is a paid option which allows you to access 400 ‘Insight courses,’ which are a bit more structured than the individual guided meditations, and focus on topics such as anxiety, sleep and stress. They are hard selling this at the moment, and you can sign up for a 7 day free trial (£56.99 a year) if you want to see what it’s about – but you don’t have to (just click ‘maybe later’).
I use Headspace and Insight Timer together – Headspace for a more structured approach, Insight Timer when I want to mix things up a little.