Helping Men and the Families Who Love Them: Is Text Therapy the Next Best Thing?

On November 21, 1969 I welcomed my son, Jemal, into the world. I vowed I would be a different kind of father than my father could be for me and I would do my best to create a world that was supportive of men, women, and children. That was birth of MenAlive. But the roots of my desire to help men go back to 1948 following my father’s overdose of sleeping pills.

As a child of five, I wanted to understand what happened to my father, why his manic anger and his agitated depression, led to his being committed to Camarillo State Hospital north of Los Angeles. I wanted to understand why he was unable to make a living doing the work he loved and how his beliefs about manhood caused debilitating shame when he couldn’t find a job and my mother was forced to go out to work. And underneath it all, I wondered what would happen to me. Would I follow in my father’s footsteps and end up in the “nut house?”

For most of my 47 years as a therapist, I’ve seen people face-to-face in my office for regular psychotherapy lasting 50 minutes. However, when my book, Surviving Male Menopause, was published in 2000 and became an international best-seller, I began getting emails from people from all over the world asking if I could work with them. At first, I offered my standard answer, “Well, sure, if you want to fly out to California.”

Some did fly out, but most wanted to know if I could do counseling by phone. It never occurred to me that I could counsel people without seeing them. How would I be able to assess their feelings and develop closeness and rapport? But their need seemed so great and so few people were dealing with the issues I addressed—Male menopause, male type depression, irritable male syndrome, preventing mid-life divorce, and male anger issues—I agreed to talk with them by phone.

I soon found that talking by phone had some distinct advantages. It allowed many to work with me who were too far away. Many people, particularly men, liked the ease of talking by phone rather than coming into an office. They also liked the safety they felt talking by phone, without the intensity of eye-to-eye contact. Most of my clients now talk to me by phone and I’ve found I’ve gotten good at hearing the nuances of voice to tune into feelings. I still see people in my office, but “phone therapy” has become a large part of my practice.

Over the years, I’ve helped more than 25,000 men and their families. I still remember talking to a client in 2002 who told me, “Our sessions have been so helpful, I wish I could carry you with me and talk to you when needed.” We both laughed. “Yeah, you just need a little Jed Diamond that you could carry in your pocket.”

Now that cell phone technology has advanced, I’ve been thinking about how I can be available to more people. Counseling people privately has been a privilege and an honor, but I can only work with a limited number of people a week. In researching a new program I’m developing to meet the needs of the many people who contact me, what I call “Jed Diamond in Your Pocket,” I began learning about “Text Therapy.”

In a recent article titled “Text Messaging for Counseling, Therapy & Crisis Intervention?” Marlene M. Maheu, Ph.D. wrote, “Over the last six months, we’ve seen a variety of new text messaging therapy sites that promise to bring the convenience of no-nonsense, 24/7 ‘therapy’ to the consumer. Type your problem, get an answer —  and move on. What could be better?”

She describes two of the programs offering Text Therapy services, Better Help and Talk Space and the experiences one writer had with the programs:

My BetterHelp therapist asked the same kinds of thought-provoking questions as the traditional therapists I worked with in the past. (What is it about your future that you’re unsure of? Can you tell me about your old life and what is different now?) Because of the continuing, open-ended nature of the text chat, however, she helped me identify anxiety triggers and coping mechanisms much faster than it would have taken had we met only once a week. What’s more, I came to find that launching the BetterHelp site on my smartphone or laptop and writing out my thoughts became therapeutic in itself.

My Talkspace therapist wrote long, thoughtful responses to my meandering journal entries, pulling apart the elements and dissecting them as only a true professional therapist can do. He asked me to expound on and reflect on my entries, always checking if I felt that we were making progress, and assuring me that what we were doing had a positive end in sight. The process was identical to what I had experienced in traditional therapy, except I had access to it any time I pulled out my iPhone.

Just as technology allowed me to talk to people by phone who were too distant to be seen in person, Text Therapy offers additional benefits:

  • You can share your issues and concerns 24/7.
  • If you have a smart phone, you have access whenever you want to share or ask questions.
  • Your therapist responds within a day, sometimes sooner.
  • It’s less expensive than regular counseling.

Nicole Amesbury, a licensed professional health counselor who works through Talkspace says, “The asynchronous chat is meant to fit into your life easily,” says Nicole. “You can come here anytime you want, 24/7 and post your thoughts. Some people like to look at it as an interactive journal with a therapist.”

There certainly is a need for services. Roughly 46 million Americans have a mental illness issue but only 40% seek treatment. Barriers for seeking treatment include the cost, stigma and time commitment. Further, the best therapists are usually booked, and like me, have a waiting list.

What’s been your experience? Have you ever seen a counselor or therapist? Have you ever done “Text therapy?” Would you consider it in the future? I’ll look forward to hearing from you. If you’d like to learn more about my new program email me.  Put “In Your Pocket” in the subject line (and be sure to respond to my spamarrest filter if you’re writing me for the first time).

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Comments

  1. Neat, Jed. I read part of this and will dip in more later. One item I’m wondering about is if text therapy is illegal across state borders, unless one is licensed in the state where the client calls from? Psychotherapy by phone convo is. With other countries I have no idea what the legalities are, do you?

  2. Jack,
    Thanks for the comments. I believe it is legal, but I haven’t looked into it deeply, since I don’t do text therapy.

  3. I can’t imagine doing “text or email” therapy. I even resisted phone sessions and internet video sessions for a long time, however now include both in my offerings. I don’t even have a “text compatible” phone, nor do I want one. It’s just a technological disruption. At least with phone and video sessions, a closer, more personal relationship is developed, and with video I can see things I wouldn’t see on the phone or via text. Personally, I spend way too much time on the computer at it is. If it works for some, that ‘s great. It just doesn’t feel like a good fit for me.

    • Tom,
      I understand. Adding more technology to our human relationships isn’t always the best way to connect more deeply. I’m trying to find ways to do it so that it works for me and those who are interested in working with me.