Could Online Peer Counseling Transform the Mental Health Field?

First, research shows that talk therapy is effective, but it’s too difficult to access. The average price of a therapy session in the US is $150, and in areas like New York and San Francisco, it’s closer to $250. Further, almost a third of Americans live in areas with a shortage of mental health providers. People who need care often can’t afford it, can’t find a practitioner, or have to wait months before they can get an appointment.

Peer counseling, on the other hand, is generally either free or low-cost. By creating an online platform for peer counselors, support can be available to anyone with an internet connection at whatever time works for them. I believe the biggest contribution that online peer counseling can offer is improving access.

A second major obstacle to quality mental health care is choice. Research shows that a poor match between “client” and practitioner is one of the biggest factors in people leaving mental health treatment. At Peer Collective, users can browse through our peer counselors and book a session with anyone they believe might be helpful. They can try sessions with several peer counselors until they find someone they like. They can stick with a single person for consistency, or maintain relationships with multiple peer counselors.

A final major obstacle is stigma. Our research at Google indicated that some people who are turned off by the medical paradigm of clinical mental health are much more open to peer counseling. In professional psychotherapy, the basis of the relationship is diagnosis and treatment, whereas in peer counseling, it is based on shared experience. I believe that battling stigma is complicated. However, peer-based services can be one way to counter stigma by normalizing human suffering.

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