Even if you’ve never been in therapy yourself, there’s a pretty good chance that you know someone who has. Having a therapist and seeing them on a regular basis is more common than uncommon—especially in certain parts of the world. All you have to do is live in New York City for a couple months to realize almost everyone has a therapist.
According to multiple surveys and stats by researchers for American Psychological Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people seeking therapy is rising. And that’s a good thing, considering the CDC reports that roughly 50% of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their life.
Privacy laws, including HIPAA, prevent therapists from sharing your transcripts with anyone without your written consent. You, on the other hand, are free to share every single word you say in therapy.
But, even though you can, would you? Would you air your “dirty laundry?”
Robyn Kanner, cofounder of My Trans Health, decided that’s exactly what she was going to do. With her friends Akilah Hughes and Timothy Goodman, the trio launched Friends with Secrets, a site on which they’d post their text therapy sessions.
Text therapy is exactly what it sounds like: therapy via text. Instead of going into a therapist’s office, you text a professional therapist, for a certain duration of time, about what’s going on with you. You’re assigned a therapist based on your concerns and the issues you’d like to tackle. From there, you can either make appointments, or just text when you feel the need to and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can—like a friend would, except the person on the other end is an expert in whatever you’re struggling with.
Honesty and Exposure
Although not every therapist is on board with text therapy, texting is important. We live in a culture in which texting and emailing is simply how we interact and communicate most. And if you don’t have a spot in your schedule to get to a therapy session at least once a week, then text therapy can definitely be better than no therapy.
The three Friends with Secrets founders saw themselves in similar situations at the end of 2017—places in their lives during which therapy had become necessary. Kanner was still in the midst of trying to come to terms with a sexually abusive encounter a couple years before; Goodman was trying to get over a recent breakup; and Hughes was dealing with family issues, most notably her sister’s mental illness.
“We were going through an emotional time at the end of [that year],” Kanner tells The Temper. “We were friends who wanted to do something together.” Kanner is also quick to say that the project works so well because of the “blend of all three of them,” as each one brings something else to the table to create the right dynamic.
Although Friends with Secrets started as a project that felt more than anything like a dare, it’s become much more.
The agreement they struck was that they’d commit to text therapy with professionals, and stick it out, no matter how emotional the experience became for each one. They all posted their conversations on the shared site.
“We had to get through it,” Kanner says, “and prepare mentally that we had to do this.”
They also had to treat it like any other therapy session, which meant not holding anything back, all while knowing that the transcripts would be put online. In other words, they weren’t just making themselves vulnerable in regards to what they were sharing with their therapists via text, but they were making themselves even more vulnerable by putting it all out there for strangers to see.
That also meant that exes’ names weren’t changed. Kanner, in particular, brings up her ex Grace. When I asked her how Grace felt about that, she told me that Grace had read every word. If you’re going to be that brutally honest in a public space, you should probably give your ex a heads up, so that’s exactly what Kanner did.
Truth and Dare
Although Friends with Secrets started as a project that felt more than anything like a dare, it’s become much more. Now, they have readers, too. According to Kanner, they had 20,000 visits the first week they dropped the project in early December, but since then she’s not sure. Kanner attributes the social media following that all three have, as to where they got most of their traffic.
What’s important, though, isn’t the site’s growing traffic—it’s bettering everyone involved. For Kanner that means that all three of them could talk about everything personally, with complete honesty and being real. For readers, it means having three people to whom they could relate and, if they felt so inclined, also could share their feelings to via an email address on the site.
“Life is truly very short,” Kanner says. “You want them to feel something. We want people who are very sad reaching out to say they’re sad.”
Sadness is human, though many struggle with feeling shame for feeling down. If Kanner can inspire those who are struggling, no matter what that struggle is, to reach out for help when they need it, then that’s what matters most.
Life is truly very short. You want them to feel something. We want people who very sad reaching out to say they’re sad. –Robyn Kanner
Kanner believes that this “exercise in radical vulnerability” is necessary right now. Friends with Secrets is raw and candid, and its intimacy feels both refreshing and humanizing.
“There’s nothing on the internet [like it],” she says. “To be honest, it stopped us from being people we weren’t.” In other words, it forced them to be their true selves and quit pretending otherwise.
Texting and Connecting
When Kanner stopped drinking she was forced to face questions about herself that hadn’t come up before. “The resentment, ego, frustration of a human being,” she says. She was able to ask herself why she was so resentful. Both sobriety and text therapy left her with a lot of unpacking to do.
“The project did play into my sobriety,” she says. “I didn’t think I had a problem until this happened. Cutting and drinking isn’t great… I work on that now. I stopped drinking in July and I think I had to be sober to refine the project.”
For the most part, Friends with Secrets is a significant catalyst for truth. It’s a rare look into the complexities of being human and the things we’re more likely to reveal to a therapist than anyone else in the world. The site is eye-opening to show how text therapy really works.
But, more than anything, it can make its audience feel less alone. After all, we all have our baggage and our problems, and no one can get through life without having that stuff. You don’t have to have depression, be going through a recent breakup, or have too much family drama on your plate to be able to identify with the site’s three founders.
When we scratch away the surface and see just how similar we are, on a fundamental level, it opens us up to a greater appreciation and understanding of our fellow human beings. It’s that appreciation and understanding that’s paramount, because it binds us and makes us stronger.