Traditionally, finding a therapist or mental health professional is considered the first solution to every life challenge. But during a national crisis where the US is experiencing a widespread shortage of therapists, where can people turn? And what if the issue is not “suitable” or “ready” for therapy, such as a string of late nights when you miss a spouse or parent that passed away suddenly?
Therapy is a powerful way through life challenges, but not the only way.
The biggest challenge for the mental health system in the US is the widespread shortage of therapists. On average, the waiting time for a therapy session is 6 months. The estimate is that by 2025, we will experience a shortage of 15,000 professionals. There are also financial barriers: if you are able to find a therapist, you must find one in-network or pay out-of-pocket, with full costs ranging from $150-$500 per weekly session. We also forget the emotional labor of finding a therapist that’s “the right fit” while you are also trying to keep it together.
Finally, what if what your experience is not “bad enough” for therapy? Common guidelines say it’s time to seek therapy if your experience affects your relationships, your health, and your ability to function in society. But what if you are experiencing challenges and still able to function day-to-day?
It is always recommended to seek therapy for mental illness, but is grief a mental illness? Is a sudden divorce or a disability diagnosis mental illness? Is the emotional roller coaster of trying to conceive a mental illness?
For such in-between spaces, what we really need are other people to talk to, who understand the reality of our experiences. And for that, we need support groups.
While therapy was amazing for my mental health after losing my mother to cancer, there were moments where I just needed other people. And it’s the same for 150,000+ people in the Circles community.
When losing a parent, talking with other people that understand the distinct grief of losing a parent can be powerful. For me, there was so much relief in chatting about the same challenges, processing thoughts and validating feelings together. It allowed me to feel “normal” throughout the despair. In the sea of well-intended “I’m sorry for your loss”es, those conversations broke through and helped my heart feel seen. It was effective and empowering.
Google “How to cope with ___.” Fill in the blank with anything: loss, divorce, parenting with disabilities, infertility. You’ll always find the same advice, “talk to people about it.” “Find your tribe.” “Reach out for support.”
Traditionally “talk to someone” for mental health meant finding a therapist, but I push back. I believe it also means finding people to talk to who have had the same experience, who understand exactly where you are, because they are going through or have gone through the exact same thing.
You can get that with real-time group support, not necessarily only in therapy.
This idea of healing with others on the same journey is not new. In the world of social work, therapy, and addiction recovery, you hear the term “peer mentors” or see those in recovery act as guides for others currently on the journey.
For life challenges like grief or loss, there are so many people who have gone through it who want to ease the suffering of others currently on the journey, because they understand. They’ve learned from their experience and want to uplift others going through the same thing.
We see heroes like that everyday on our Circles app, leading empowering conversations about betrayal, narcissistic relationships, loss of children, and other snapshots of life challenges. They have late-night support groups for those quiet hours, early morning support groups to start your day on a high note.Nevermind
This kind of support fills a mental health gap that our current therapists cannot fill: real-time conversations about emotions, in-the-moment support through the hard waves, and a network of people who care. It offers community as an act of love, and love as a source of healing.
This is a new era for mental health. The intersection between technology and mental health allows us to develop new platforms, with new relevant solutions to the way we live today. Why can’t support around life challenges be just as on-demand, just as accessible, and just as powerful?
We need to make sure everyone has access to mental health services whenever they need it. Mental health as an industry needs to shift. By collectively building the world’s first ever on-demand support system, Circles solves the challenge of accessibility of mental health services by helping everyone be a support network for each other.
Irad Eichler is the founder and CEO of Circles. After experiencing the loss of a parent to cancer, he founded Circles to create real-time, on-demand group support for people experiencing life crises. He is also the founder and chairperson of “Shekulo Tov,” a nonprofit organization that assists the mentally handicapped integrate into society. He was named the World Economic Forum’s “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2008 and is committed to filling the gap of community care in today’s society.