When you live with mental health symptoms or ongoing emotional distress, most mental health experts recommend therapy or other professional support.
And certainly, there’s no denying the positive impact therapy can have on mental and emotional well-being. Many mental health conditions, in fact, might not improve without treatment and support from a trained professional.
Still, other types of support can also make a big difference in your day-to- day outlook and well-being. Sometimes, you want nothing more than to vent your feelings and frustrations with someone who really understands.
Therapists can absolutely listen with compassion and empathy. All the same, you might want a little more time to talk than you have in your weekly session, or you might wish you could share your experiences and get guidance from someone facing a similar challenge.
At 7 Cups of Tea (7 Cups for short), you can find all three: counseling, emotional support from trained volunteers, and peer support via chat room or message board.
What is 7 Cups?
Nearly everyone needs someone to talk to on occasion.
When facing a crisis or challenge, sharing your concerns with a trusted friend or loved one can help you feel less alone. Talking through a problem can also help you land on new solutions for improving the situation.
But what if your difficulty involves the person you’d usually talk to, or you feel unable to trust anyone with your concerns? You know you need some support, but you find yourself unsure where to turn.
The aim of 7 Cups is to connect users with free and confidential community-based emotional support. Incidentally, the name of the service comes from Lu Tong’s “7 Bowls of Tea,” an ancient Chinese poem that touches on the mental and physical benefits of tea.
At 7 Cups, you’ll find:
- free access to community chat rooms and message boards
- free support from trained listeners who volunteer their time to provide support
- therapy for users ages 18 and up, available for a monthly subscription fee
Trained listeners have a range of experiences and backgrounds, and many have personal or professional experience with mental health symptoms. You’ll also find plenty of chat rooms and message boards, each dedicated to specific mental health conditions or symptoms, everyday life challenges, or emotional concerns.
How does 7 Cups work?
To get started with 7 Cups, you can download the app for iPhone or Android, or access the 7 Cups website.
In order to sign up for the site, you’ll need to provide:
- an email address
- a username
- your birthday
Once you sign up, a questionnaire will ask you about your recent mood and emotional mindset, plus any specific issues you want to talk about. Depending on your answers, it may recommend seeking help from a mental health professional instead of chatting with a listener.
That’s because listeners don’t have the training to offer support for serious mental health symptoms, like:
- episodes of mania or depression
- severe anxiety
- persistent thoughts of suicide
At 7 Cups, you can choose between one-on-one chat support or group chat support, though you’ll need to complete at least one session with a listener before you can access group chat.
You’ll also find message boards on a variety of topics:
- mental health and emotional well-being
- supporting loved ones in distress
- self- care
- physical health
These features are all free and available at any time, but they don’t include professional therapy with a trained, licensed mental health professional.
If you’re seeking therapy, 7 Cups offers a subscription plan for $150 per month. This plan only includes text-based therapy, as the site doesn’t offer video, phone, or live chat sessions. Therapists should reply at least once daily, Monday through Friday.
Therapists may specialize in a number of different therapy approaches, but 7 Cups notes that the site helps people primarily through:
- mindfulness techniques
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- interpersonal exercises
Volunteer listeners complete an online course to learn active listening skills and get information on when and how to refer people seeking support to crisis resources or other helping professionals.
Beyond this training, listeners don’t need to have any specific experience or qualifications. In short, anyone can volunteer. Listeners come from 191 countries, according to the website, and you can get support in over 150 different languages.
The site specifies that teen listeners must be teens or approved adult listeners. Adults need to complete an application to become approved, but 7 Cups doesn’t provide information on what that process involves. It’s also unclear how the service verifies whether teen listeners are, in fact, teenagers.
7 Cups therapists will have:
- a valid license to provide therapy
- at least 2 years of experience providing therapy
- a master’s or doctorate degree in a mental health field (MS, MA, MSW, PsyD, or PhD)
- no disciplinary actions on their license in the previous 10 years
You can remain anonymous when seeking free support. If you want to work with a mental health professional, you’ll need to provide your real name and full date of birth, along with contact and billing information.
Therapy takes place over secure, HIPAA compliant software, and any payment information provided will be encrypted to prevent identity theft.
Therapists will only share your personal information or things you reveal in therapy if:
- you’re in imminent danger of harming yourself or someone else
- you report ongoing child abuse or neglect
- you report elder abuse
- a court order requires them to release your information (in this situation, your therapist will only release information that’s relevant to the case)
Chat and forum moderators help moderate conversations to prevent trolling and other harmful posts and messages. You can also report anyone who posts personal information or uses the service in abusive or inappropriate ways.
How much does 7 Cups cost?
You don’t need to pay anything to get support from 7 Cups listeners or use the message boards.
If you want to try therapy, though, you’ll need to pay a monthly fee of $150.
You can also opt for a premium membership, which costs $12.95 per month. The cost goes down if you sign up for a 12-month, 24-month, or lifetime subscription.
The site doesn’t provide complete details on what premium access means, but this subscription appears to unlock additional “paths,” or self-help lessons, on topics like:
- managing emotions
- moving forward after breakups
- managing family problems
Does 7 cups take insurance?
Insurance isn’t accepted, but if your plan offers out-of-network benefits, you may be able to submit your bill for partial reimbursement. Your therapist can provide the information you’ll need to start this process.
While you might not be able to use your insurance to cover the cost of therapy, you may be able to use your plan to get free premium access to the site — if your employer or health insurance provider has partnered with 7 Cups.
Check for your provider here.
Is it effective?
Therapy with a trained professional can go a long way toward easing mental health symptoms and improving your overall mental and emotional well-being.
Still, finding a therapist locally can sometimes prove challenging, especially when you have limited funds to pay for therapy and no insurance. Many therapists charge around $100 per session, though this amount can vary widely.
If that’s the case for you, know you still have options for support.
- Research suggests online therapy can offer affordable and accessible mental health care, particularly when you have a hard time finding in-person support.
- The American Psychological Association also emphasizes the benefits of emotional support for solving problems, making major decisions, and navigating stressful life circumstances.
What do users say about 7 Cups?
7 Cups earns fairly mixed reviews.
Reviewers have raised a number of significant concerns about:
- requests from listeners for personal or financial information
- sexual harassment from listeners
- lack of responses from listeners and paid therapists
- unsupportive listeners who encouraged self-harm or made negative comments
- short and unhelpful messages from therapists
- lack of transparency in therapist ratings
- difficulty reaching customer support to cancel their subscription or get a refund
It’s worth keeping in mind that anyone willing to complete the training process can become a volunteer listener. Several reviewers recommend taking time to review user profiles and only chatting with listeners who have high reviews and positive ratings.
Plenty of people report a positive experience with 7 Cups, though, and say the service made a big difference in their overall well-being.
A number of reviewers call their listeners supportive, relatable, and caring. Some people even say they made new friends through the site.
Is 7 Cups right for you?
7 Cups can be a great option for free or low-cost emotional and mental health support if you:
- experience mild mental health symptoms
- need anonymous support with handling a challenge
- want to vent difficult or painful emotions
- want confidential advice from someone who’s experienced a similar situation
Listeners don’t have training in addressing crisis situations or severe mental health symptoms. If you’re seeking support for more serious mental health concerns, your listener may refer you to a therapist or recommend connecting with a suicide helpline or crisis counselor before ending the chat.
Therapists at 7 Cups can offer support with more persistent mental health symptoms.
Just know they may not be able to help with all concerns, especially since therapy only takes place over text message. Online therapy generally isn’t recommended for serious mental health symptoms, including:
- severe depression
- conditions that require medication as part of treatment
The bottom line
Community emotional support and text therapy typically can’t replace in-person therapy with an experienced counselor. That said, these services can still do a lot of good, especially if you only need short-term guidance and support.
Crystal Raypole writes for ishonest and Psych Central. Her fields of interest include Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health, along with books, books, and more books. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues. She lives in Washington with her son and a lovably recalcitrant cat.
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