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Text-message therapy sessions are the latest trend in the booming U.S. telemedicine industry

Posted at 4:28 PM, Jun 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-03 16:28:44-04

Smartphones are fueling the growth of America's booming telemedicine industry, where doctors and patients connect online using live-streaming video.

67 percent of healthcare professionals are either using some form of telemedicine now, or are planning to in the next few years, according to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine.

The latest trend is text-message therapy.

The startup Talkspace offers the convenience of having a therapist in your pocket. Patients can skip the inconvenience of an office visit, and opt for texting their therapy session.

It's an idea dreamed up by Oren Frank and his wife Roni, who went through face-to-face therapy a decade ago.

"We found it to be incredibly valuable and helpful and frankly, it helped save our marriage," Frank.

The couple set out to make the process more accessible, and says there's a lot to like about the set up. Patients can text message a licensed professional, skipping the stigma of therapists' offices.

"The first six months you go through face-to-face therapy, you're busy lying to your therapist, crafting a beautiful persona that you want the therapist to think you're this great guy," said Oren. "That seems to be removed very efficiently and quickly when you do it in writing."

Telemedicine services are often cheaper than traditional office visits, which can cost hundreds of dollars a session. Talkspace charges $25 a week.

Some professionals disagree.

Dr. George Nitzburg is a psychological researcher from Columbia University. He says patients benefit from direct interaction with their therapists.

"Most online or texting therapy forms don't offer crisis counseling or emergency services," Nitzburg told CNN Money.

Nitzburg says people suffering from addictions and more serious issues may need more support than they can get online.

Only about 4 in 10 people who struggle with mental illness actually seek help. Frank hopes Talkspace can change that by providing low-cost, convenient therapy.