UAE: Why are more residents opting for mental health help online?

Despite the overwhelming positives, therapists agreed that there are some challenges when it comes to online therapy


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Wed 31 Jan 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 31 Jan 2024, 10:36 PM

As increasing conversations around mental health have managed to ease stigma around the topic, more people are seeking the therapy they require.

However, in the UAE, the average cost per session of mental health therapy could go up to Dh1,200 and in many cases, is not covered by insurance. This has driven residents to look for help in other places. Many have turned to counselling sessions offered online due to lower costs, anonymity and flexibility.

When Dubai resident Omer Khan was looking for therapy options for mental health, he found many in the country. However, many were either inaccessible or had a long waiting list. As he tried to look for online therapy, he found the difference in time zones cumbersome. That is how he hit upon the idea of starting Helply, an online therapy company.

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“We noticed a need for mental health support that's easy to access,” he said. “Traditional therapy often falls short on reach and convenience. In some parts of the world, insurance does not cover mental health or if it does, it is quite limited which is challenging. With more companies looking into online mental health solutions, we saw a chance to make a real impact. By using the latest tech, our goal is to remove barriers like distance, time constraints, and the stigma around mental health. We want to make sure mental health care is available to anyone, anywhere.”

Last week, Khaleej Times reported how an increasing number of patients are turning to online help for their mental health issues, citing cost and convenience as their top priority to do so. According to Omer, the market for the service is expanding. “The online counselling market is huge and keeps changing,” he said. “It's not just for individuals; even big companies are getting into it to support their employees. With everything happening globally, the need for mental health services is growing.”

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), research indicates that on average 15 to 20 sessions are required for 50 per cent of patients to recover, if not more. The burgeoning cost of therapy is one of the reason why many UAE residents opt for online services.

Opting for online therapy

According to Valeria Giacomelli Elizondo, a clinical psychologist who offers online therapy, there are a number of reasons why people opt for online therapy.

“It offers a degree of anonymity that empowers people to address their mental health concerns without the fear of judgement from society,” she said. “The flexibility in online therapy further contributes to its appeal. The ability to schedule sessions at times convenient for the individual promotes a sense of control over the therapeutic process. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for those juggling demanding work schedules, parenting responsibilities, or other commitments.”

Dr Gurveen Ranger, Clinical Psychologist and Adult Specialist at Sage Clinics agreed that flexibility and having different options was a major factor. “Often my online clients say they have been intending to start therapy for years, but getting time off work or finding childcare can be a big obstacle,” she said.

“Therapy provision can vary not only between countries, but also from one town to another. Finding the right therapist for you is crucial, and the move to online therapy opens up options and enables people to find the best match for them, rather than being constrained by what is available locally,” she added.


Despite the overwhelming positives, therapists agreed that there were some challenges. Dr Gurveen said that she had noticed how she was unable to pick on non-verbal cues and mannerisms. “These can be crucial in how we make sense of each other,” she said. "The therapeutic alliance is a key component of psychological therapy and some research says it is in fact the main driver for change. Although many will feel just as connected to their therapist online, many others may notice a feeling of disconnection and distance.”

She said privacy could also be an issue. “Many of my clients do not live alone, and this can be problematic when doing therapy sessions online,” she said. “I have sometimes had clients needing to cancel appointments because they are not alone at home as expected, and other times someone has walked into the room during the session. This can not only be disruptive but can feel uncomfortable and unsafe, and clients may find that they are self-censoring in case anyone was to hear, which subsequently impacts the progress of the therapy.”

Valerie also agreed that not being able to pick up non-verbal cues were a major disadvantage. “Also, there is always the risk of technical issues and a lack of immediate crisis intervention in times of needs,” she said.


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