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With the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world in 2020, people are turning to online therapy services more than ever. Psychotherapy online is a new concept to many, but it’s actually in its third decade of being available. Online counseling is just like face-to-face therapy, except it’s done in either a Zoom-like videoconference one-on-one with trained, licensed therapists or done via messaging (texting or email-like services).
What are some of the best online therapy services to try in 2020? We’ve tried a few of the more popular ones and have reviewed them below, including each of their pros and cons. We’ve grouped them into two categories: direct-pay services and those that take health insurance. With direct-pay services, you’ll need to pay a monthly cash fee; with health insurance services, you’ll just be responsible for your co-pay (if the service takes your health insurance plan).
Benefits of Online Therapy?
Online therapy is one viable option to consider if you’re in need of treatment for a mental health concern. Even serious concerns such as depression and anxiety may benefit from online therapy or counseling. There’s a number of reasons people choose to see a therapist online.
- Safe – During a pandemic or other viral outbreak, online therapy of any kind will be the safest way to receive psychotherapy treatment.
- Convenience – People like the reachability and greater flexibility of online therapy, as some modalities don’t require people to meet in real-time.
- More frequent contact – Some online therapists may be available for more than once-weekly contact, which some people like.
- Greater choices – Since you’re not limited to choosing your therapist by geography, you can likely find a therapist with deeper experience and expertise, someone who may be more likely help with your specific concerns.
- Reduced anxiety – Being in the comfort of your own home, you may find it easier to do the sometimes-challenging emotional work needed for good therapy.
- Greater self-expression – Some modalities of therapy don’t require videoconferencing, allowing a person to more freely express themselves away from the eyes of a therapist.
Who Is This Not Good For?
Online counseling, despite its benefits, may not be right for everyone. There are some reasons this modality may not always be the best choice.
- Can’t afford it – Some online therapy services don’t accept insurance. That means if you try one of those, you may find yourself on the hook for hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars of treatment over a few months’ time.
- For a person in crisis – People in crisis won’t be amenable to online therapy, and most services are not setup to handle people who have an emergency or an immediate need.
- For a person in need of community support – Your therapist online may live in the same town as you or in a town a few hundred miles away. If you need a therapist to coordinate with other care providers or community supports within your location, an online therapist is probably not a good fit.
- Poor technology skills – Some people don’t know the different between an email and a text. If technology and internet apps are not your strong suite, online therapy is likely to be more frustrating than helpful.
- Poor internet connection – Too many take for granted that everyone has ready access to 100Mbps connections at all times. If you have a poor internet connection, some online modalities — such as videoconferencing — won’t be a pleasant experience.
What to Look For in Online Therapy
There are dozens of criteria a person should look for in a therapist. This interview discusses many of the qualities to look for in a good therapist — which apply even when going online for treatment. Here’s what we looked for in our review of services.
- Licensure & degree – Your therapist should be licensed and carry an advanced degree in psychology, social work, or a related field. Most services only offer licensed therapists, so that’s easy. We prefer professionals with advanced graduate training of some kind, not just a bachelor’s degree. However, all but one of the services offer every type of professional, so you’ll need to make the final determination.
- Availability – A service is only as good as whether you can access it where you live. If a service doesn’t have therapists in your state available, then it’s useless to you. This means the service should have therapists licensed in your state, and large numbers of them too that are available to see new clients.
- How you pay – How you pay for a service is important, and the fees should be readily disclosed to a potential customer up-front and transparently. If the service takes insurance, they should list specifically what insurance coverage they take.
- Cost – Good therapy doesn’t need to be overwhelmingly expensive or out-of-reach for most people.
- Changing therapists – Since therapy is often a trial-and-error process, it’s important to understand how easy or difficult does the service make it to change therapists.
No matter what service you choose to try, there’s one important thing to keep in mind. The service platform you use is just a technology toolset for you and your therapist to interact on. What ultimately is the most important component of online therapy is the therapeutic relationship between you and the therapist.
None of the services reviewed below can guarantee you will have a positive or therapeutic experience with the therapist you find through their platform. That’s why it’s important to find a therapist your click with, one you feel comfortable in sharing with, and one you can commit to doing the sometimes-hard work necessary for change. Psychotherapy is only as good as the relationship between you and the therapist.
Most people only need a session or two to determine whether the therapist is right for them. If it’s not working out with your current therapist, move on sooner rather than later.
BetterHelp is one of the newer online services offering online counseling, but already lays claim to being the “world’s largest counseling service.” In the short time it’s been around, it has already passed 77 million transactions on its site and features over 9,000 licensed therapists. All of their therapists possess at least 3 years and 1,000 hours of hands-on experience before being accepted to offer their services on the site.
Like popular dating sites, BetterHelp uses a matching algorithm to try and find the best therapist for you, based upon an extensive questionnaire you fill out when you register. You can easily change therapists if the therapist selected for you isn’t working out.
Therapists are compensated not on a per-session fee, but per engagement with the client. This incentivizes therapists to respond back to clients in a timely, thoughtful manner through their secure messaging app.
Multiple modalities for counseling are offered. Videoconferencing live sessions are readily available, as are phone sessions, depending on the therapist — but both may cost extra.
The cost of the service ranges from between $60 to $100 per week, billed on a monthly basis. While this is similar to the cost of some face-to-face therapy services, BetterHelp offers more convenient and different ways to engage. The company also offers financial assistance to those who need it.
We had no trouble accessing customer service and hearing back from them in a timely manner. BetterHelp has a number of sub-brands: Pride Counseling (for LGBTQ folks); Faithful Counseling (for Christians); Teen Counseling (for teens); and Regain (for couples & marriage counseling). All of these services are offered by the same company, but are targeted to different audiences.
Talkspace is the older of the two big online therapy services and boasts of have over 1 million users and offers some services their competitor does not, such as psychiatry services and employee assistance programs. This can come in handy if you’re looking for a new prescriber, or your employer already contracts with Talkspace to offer services to their employees. The service primarily focuses on messaging through text chats, as well as leaving messages to one another via audio or video.
While they have fewer therapists in their database than BetterHelp, most people won’t have trouble finding a therapist for their needs in their state. You’ll be matched either through their algorithm or through an associate who tries to find you a therapist based upon the needs you specified during the online signup process. Some people may be uncomfortable with having a stranger review their questionnaire answers in trying to find the right therapist.
Both Talkspace and BetterHelp don’t take insurance, so you’ll need to pay for these services out of your own pocket. Unlike its competitor, Talkspace offers three different plans, to better help meet people at different price points, ranging from $65 (weekly contact) to $100 (daily contact) per week. Live videoconferencing sessions are also available for an additional $49 per session.
Customer service is easy to access and was helpful with queries asked of it.
If need an immediate consultation with a doctor, look no further than Amwell. It is one of the newer generations of telehealth services that provide ordinary people with direct and quick access to either a therapist or physician, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Psychiatrists and others who can prescribe psychiatric medications are also available. They boast a 99% client satisfaction rating and all of their therapists are fully licensed and insured.
Because Amwell is a general telehealth platform, it also means that you can use it for more than just online therapy. If you have other health questions, chances are that the company has a health care professional available to answer them.
Costs vary from $59 to $99 per session; initial consultation fees can range up to $199 for a psychiatric consultation. You’ll pay a little higher, between $85 or $99/session, if you’d like to specify a master’s level or doctoral level therapist. It’s nice that you’re given a choice to do so.
Unlike the services covered above, Amwell offers a more traditional approach to treatment. This means live videoconferencing sessions that last 45 minutes at a time. You won’t have as many opportunities to interact with your therapist outside of these sessions. But you can expect to have the therapist’s full attention during your 45 minute session. It even offers an option to not see yourself as you chat with your therapist — a welcomed feature that we look forward to all services incorporating in the future.
The best part of this service is that they take health insurance, so you may only be responsible for a co-pay if your insurance covers their service. You learn more about the price you pay as a part of the registration process.
It’s good to have choices, especially when it comes to conducting traditional psychotherapy but doing it in a different environment — such as through an app. MDLive is a great choice for those who are looking for more choices in talking to either a therapist or a psychiatrist to get help for a mental health concern.
Like its competitors, MDLive offers doctors on-call 24/7, so you can reach out to start a new consultation any time. It also offers a wide array of general telehealth services, meaning you can use the platform for a lot more than just psychotherapy or psychiatric medication appointments.
Prices range from $108 (psychotherapy) to $284 (psychiatry) per session. Luckily they take many types of health insurance, meaning you may only be responsible for a co-pay. You’ll find out during the registration process exactly how much you’ll have to pay.
This is a traditional live videoconferencing service, meaning you’ll generally have 45 minute psychotherapy appointments once a week. Other ways of contacting your therapist are limited. This is a great option if any of the other options above don’t work out.
Traditional face-to-face psychotherapy is always an option. Expect that most health insurance plans will cover the majority of the cost of such sessions; you’ll be responsible for just your co-pay (if applicable). For people without health insurance, some therapists will let you pay what you can afford on a sliding-scale (based on your income).
Ready to get help now? Try our Therapist Directory today.
If you can’t afford psychotherapy right now, a peer-led, self-help support group might be worth your consideration. Combined with the wealth of self-help articles you can find online, many people find such support groups helpful. There are lots of online support groups to consider, but of course we’d have to recommend giving ours a try. They’re free, professionally overseen, and supported by a great group of community moderators.