How You Should Talk To Strangers Online About Your Mental Health
By: Nicole Beasley
Updated October 29, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Prudence Hatchett, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
As the internet has become an integrated necessity in many people's lives, it has made the world feel smaller due to communication being available at your fingertips. You can instantly speak with people from anywhere in the world. This has made socially connecting with others much easier, whether it is with friends, families, or strangers. The internet has also made it much easier to find help for those seeking to improve their mental health. However, much of the information online is not verified and not everyone is certified to help others. Given this, there are ways you should and should not talk to strangers online about your mental health.
Tips on How to Talk to Strangers Online
The internet is full of suggestions on ways to improve your mental health. Some of these sound like catchy magazine headlines, like "50 ways to feel less depressed" or " 100 ways to improve your mental health." Many of these articles are either written by companies trying to sell you a product (usually a quick fix) or are written by uncertified individuals. This is not to say the information is necessarily wrong, but wouldn't you want to learn how to improve your mental health from someone who knows what they're talking about? Just like with information searches, when talking about your mental health with someone, you should ensure they are the following:
- They Are Credible: What certifications do they have? Do they hold a professional degree? Do they have experience speaking with others? Speaking with a stranger online who doesn't fully understand how to help you improve your mental health can do more harm than good. They may give you advice that is misguided. Make sure you understand the stranger's credentials and aim to seek the help of a certified therapist.
- They Put You First: Some people find that speaking with friends or family is the best way to gain the benefits of improving their mental health. However, many people find that their friends and family are too busy to engage in long-term therapy-like sessions, and they are not truly certified to help. A certified stranger's (or therapist's) job is to completely focus on their client and that means putting you first.
- They Protect Your Identity: Although you may not care if someone knows who you are online, a certified online therapist will always protect your identity if you want them to. Through some online channels, you have the option of being completely anonymous where the person you are speaking with doesn't even know who you are. There is always the possibility that an uncertified stranger will abuse your information for their own personal gain.
Who Should I Speak To?
Knowing that there are some dangers in speaking to just anyone online about your mental health, it is important to carefully choose who you speak to. Going through traditional chat rooms or social media channels will usually not give you a certified individual to talk to. However, there are now several websites online that are specifically designed to provide individuals an opportunity to speak with qualified mental health counselors. Sites like these allow you to speak confidentially about anything on your mind with someone who will protect your identity, will put you first, and is qualified to give you guidance. And the best part? You can start speaking to any number of qualified counselors online as soon as you are ready.
Choosing a Therapist
Start by finding a reputable counseling platform where the therapists are certified and experienced. After that, choosing a counselor should be easy. At BetterHelp, you simply fill out a form, and you'll be given a list of counselors selected especially for you. Go to each counselor's profile to read about their qualifications, specialties, and interests. Then, select the counselor you want to work with, and get started right away.
Preparing for Sessions
You can have a more relaxed and productive first session in a comfortable environment. Because your counseling is taking place online, you can be anywhere you like, whether it's in your cozy bedroom, in front of your fireplace, in your home office, or even on the beach. Do anything you like to make the space more comfortable. You can bring in a potted plant, put cushions on the floor, wrap up in a blanket, or if you're on the beach, you can put up a beach umbrella for shade. Make sure you have everything you need. Place tissues near you, bring in a glass of water, and relax.
What to Discuss
With a qualified therapist, you can discuss anything you like. To use your time most wisely, it's a good idea to spend some time before your sessions considering what you want to talk about. During the first session, you should tell your new counselor why you decided to start therapy and what you hope to gain from it. Talk about the primary problem as you see it right now. Later on, you'll likely delve deeper into your impressions, experiences, and traumas. When bad feelings come up between sessions, write them down in a notebook or journal. Or, if you are using a site that offers a private chatroom for just you and the therapist, type them in there so the counselor can get back to you as soon as possible.
Sharing Personal Information
When you speak to a certified counselor on a reputable site, you can share any information you would like to share. You never have to worry about someone finding out what or who you've been discussing. In addition, you can be assured that your personal data will be kept confidential.
You can even choose to remain completely anonymous. Still, you may accidentally reveal personal information that you wanted to keep to yourself. You might be focused on telling the counselor about a difficult time in your life and forget your desire to stay anonymous. However, even if this happens, the counselor never shares any information with anyone. If you decide to work with a different counselor, your current counselor can pass on details about your progress, but only if you ask them to do so. Any information you want to remain private will never be shared.
It's always okay to let the counselor know how you're feeling. While a random person on the internet might take advantage of moments when you're at your most vulnerable, the counselor will never use your emotional expression against you. The goal of every interaction with your counselor is to improve your mental health. Random people in chat rooms may get angry at you when you're angry, make fun of you when you're hurt, or leave when you tell about something that makes them uncomfortable. Yet, the counselor encourages free expression by offering support and guidance no matter what feelings you reveal.
The Focus Is on You
Talking only about yourself while online can bring accusations from others that you're self-centered, egoistic, having a "pity party," or "humble-bragging." People expect you to pay attention to them, to congratulate them on their successes, commiserate with them when they're in emotional pain, or offer advice so they can shoot it down. However, with a therapist, you never have to worry about the other person's needs. This might seem selfish to you at first, but your time and the counselor's time are valuable. The reason for your interactions is to improve your mental health and no one else's.You can both put the emphasis on you without anyone feeling mistreated.
Sharing Insights with Strangers Online
You'll probably learn some fascinating things about yourself during therapy. You might have amazing insights about how the events in your life have led you to where you are now. You might even want to share these insights in chatrooms or on social media sites like Facebook. Of course, they're your thoughts and feelings. You are welcome to share them if you choose.
However, always consider whether you can trust strangers on the internet with the information you are about to share. Sometimes, you can start by telling a piece of wisdom and become involved in a lengthy conversation. If you ever feel backed into a corner by someone who wants you to explain the details of why you think this bit of insight is true, it's best to leave the conversation. If you can delete the exchange, you can limit your exposure to others. If not, it's best to move on and not look back to comments on the thread.
There's nothing wrong with sharing helpful insights with strangers as long as you're prepared to deal with their reactions. With your counselor, this is never a worry, and if you get a negative response online after sharing your newfound wisdom, your counselor can offer support and advice on how to deal with that.
When You're No Longer Strangers
Because you have no assurance that most strangers you meet online are who you think they are, you must always consider them strangers, regardless of how many interactions you have with them. However, you have information about who the counselor is. You'll quickly learn how reliable they are as they return for sessions, no matter what information was shared. They'll become your teacher and confidante. You may even have feelings of friendship toward them. You may stop feeling like they're a stranger. While the counselor will maintain professional distance and not get involved in your daily life, you'll likely become comfortable enough with them to share what you need to share to heal and grow as a person. This, after all, is what therapy is all about.
A review of literature about online therapy showed that out of 16 studies, 14 indicated strong working alliances between adult clients and therapists.Some clients reported a boost in their relationship with the therapists when compared to face-to-face therapy. Clients who have PTSD felt less intimidated when meeting with their online therapists so felt freer to open up as opposed to seeing a therapist in person. Clients who sought online therapy were being treated for a variety of mental health conditions, such as addiction, anxiety, depression, and PTSD, along with relationship issues.
If you’re considering online therapy, BetterHelp has numerous licensed counselors and therapists who can help you reach your therapy goals. BetterHelp counselors and therapists put their clients first and offer a nonjudgmental space for clients to express a full range of emotions and thoughts. You can meet with one at a time that’s convenient for you and where you feel most comfortable. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors.
This is my first time in therapy, so I wasn't quite sure what I was going to get out of it or really what I needed. I went into this experience looking for an attentive ear to help me process my life. Coming out of quarantine, I was left really mentally and emotionally shaken and defeated. At the time, I didn't realize I could feel so supported through a computer screen. I have been so happy to have made the leap to doing online therapy. Maggie is nothing but attentive, patient, and helpful every session. I feel listened to, respected, and invested in no matter the topic of discussion. I respect her perspective and so appreciate what she's already done to help me. Thank you so much Maggie!
Judy is truly amazing. She listens and offers great advice and is very calming. I’m grateful to have found her and not given up in trying online counseling.
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