Online therapy, also called teletherapy, virtual therapy, or online counseling, can be a good option to address your mental health concerns in a convenient way. The best online therapy platforms can help eliminate barriers to mental health care, like transportation issues, limited mental health professionals in your area, mobility issues, scheduling challenges due to work or caregiving, and cost.
Our Reviews Team looked at the different online therapy platforms currently on the market to identify the best options. Our team mystery shopped each platform, which included signing up, trying to schedule appointments, and browsing potential therapists in different states. While our Reviews Team tested each site, we looked at whether each platform was intuitive and easy to use.
We also considered each service’s cost and looked for hidden fees, talked with customer service about questions its website didn’t answer, confirmed potential insurance coverage, including both Medicare and Medicaid, and read reviews from actual users to compare positive and negative experiences with each platform.
Here are our seven picks for the best online therapy providers in 2023.
How much does online therapy cost?
Based on our Reviews Team’s research, an online therapy session can cost as low as a $10 copay with certain insurance plans to more than $200 out-of-pocket. The most affordable online therapy platform is BetterHelp at $144–$216 per month with the maximum financial aid. Talkspace is one of the most expensive online therapy platforms at $436 per month and may cost more depending on where you live and therapist availability.
How much you pay for online therapy is based on the platform you choose, the provider you want to see, and your location. You will need to see a therapist who is licensed in your state. Some therapists and platforms also offer sliding scale payment options or financial aid, which can lower your total cost per session or per month.
Does insurance cover online therapy?
According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, most private insurance plans cover telehealth, including services such as online therapy.4 Your exact coverage depends on the plan you have and the online therapy platform or provider you choose. For example, Brightside is in-network with Optum/United Healthcare nationwide, and Cigna, Aetna, Anthem CA, and Allegiance insurance in select states. Search for an online therapist on Zocdoc to see a list of individual providers that accept your insurance.
What online therapy takes insurance?
Zocdoc, Brightside, Monument, and Talkspace are online therapy providers that accept certain insurance plans.
Can I use HSA for online therapy?
According to the IRS, you can use HSA funds for telehealth appointments, including services such as online therapy, regardless of whether or not you use insurance.7 BetterHelp, Brightside, Monument, and Sesame are some online therapy platforms that accept HSA funds as payment.
Does Medicare cover online therapy?
According to Medicare.gov, Original Medicare covers therapy and online counseling.8 Check with customer Service to determine if the platform bills Medicare and/or if the therapist you are seeing is eligible to bill Medicare.
Does Medicaid cover online therapy?
Your state determines whether Medicaid covers certain telehealth services like online therapy.9 But since the start of COVID-19, many states have expanded their coverage for telehealth services. Check your Medicaid benefits carefully and talk with your Medicaid care manager to determine what is covered in your state and which platforms the Medicaid plans contract with.
Is online therapy effective?
According to the American Psychological Association, video and audio therapy is effective for the treatment of substance use disorders, eating disorders, anxiety, adjustment disorder, and depression, but there is not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of chat therapy. For PTSD, video therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy.10
Benefits of online therapy
Online therapy can provide a number of benefits, especially compared to in-office therapy. These benefits may include:
- Expanding your therapist search to mental health professionals around your state
- Eliminating commute times to and from a mental health professional’s office
- Reducing potential exposure to illness because you can attend appointments from home
- Accessibility to appointments that are after traditional business hours or on weekends
- Scheduling therapy appointments with your preferred communication style, such as audio, video, or chat sessions
How does online therapy work?
While every online therapy platform is different, the types of therapy each company offers are very similar. Typically, you will log into the platform online and use the company’s software to complete each video, audio, chat, or messaging session.
With live video sessions, you and your therapist will log on at the same time for your appointment. You will both enter into a virtual room for therapy with your camera on, similar to Zoom or Google Meet.
Phone or audio
Audio sessions are conducted similarly to video, except your video is off. You will talk to your therapist as if you were on the phone.
With live chat, you and your therapist will log on at your appointment time to instant message each other. Your therapist will respond to each of your typed messages immediately, though there may be slight delays as they type.
Messaging therapy works similar to email. You can send a message to your therapist, and they will respond when they can. Some may respond in a few hours, while others may respond in a few days.
What to look for in an online therapy platform
Based on our Reviews Team’s experience with virtual therapy, we recommend you consider the following factors when looking for an online therapy platform:
- If it fits in your budget: Many online therapy platforms advertise their services with weekly prices while charging you monthly. Be sure to look at the monthly price and determine whether it fits in with your ongoing monthly expenses.
- If it’s the type of therapy that works best for you: Decide what areas or issues you’d like to focus on and whether you’d feel more comfortable with video, audio, or chat therapy.
- If it makes sense to use insurance: Some insurance plans, including Medicare or Medicaid, cover online therapy, but if your deductible or copay is unaffordable, a pay-as-you-go service or a discounted subscription may be a good option.
- If the appointment times fit your schedule: Many negative online therapy reviews mention trouble finding appointment times that work with their schedule. Look for providers that offer useful appointment times.
- If it has responsive customer service: A good customer support line can quickly and easily resolve any problems you encounter.
- If the platform will provide you a receipt for services: If your chosen online therapy platform doesn’t accept insurance, you can still submit a receipt to your insurance for potential reimbursement. The exact amount will be based on your insurance plan.
- If it’s easy to change or cancel appointments: Make certain that you can adjust or cancel appointment times if you need to, and confirm whether you’re charged a fee when that happens.
- If the technology is easy to use: You can sign up for most online therapy services without paying to get a free preview of what you’ll be using. The technology should feel easy to navigate and use, or have tutorials that explain how to use the platform and how to connect with your therapist.
- If you can choose your therapist: Certain online therapy platforms allow you to search for and request a specific therapist based on factors such as their gender, religious affiliation, ethnicity, and if they offer specialized treatments. Finding a therapist that you are comfortable working with is key to the success of any therapy. Look for platforms that provide the biographical information, education, and professional credentials of the therapists on the site before you meet them. Some brands do not guarantee that you will be assigned to a requested therapist, so make sure that you know how to switch to a different therapist or provider if you are not comfortable working with the one you are assigned.
Is online therapy safe for online privacy?
The American Psychological Association recommends looking for an online therapy platform that uses HIPAA compliant technology and one that verifies you and your therapist’s identity.11 A company should make this clear somewhere on its website.
Many privacy concerns have come up recently, seen most evidently with senators demanding that platforms clarify their privacy policies to answer how each uses patient data.12
Who is online therapy good for?
The American Psychological Association notes that online therapy can be good for people who want convenient and accessible therapy at home, especially for individuals who are starting therapy for the first time.13 Online therapy can also be a good option for those with busy schedules, physical limitations, transportation challenges, or who live in areas with limited access to mental health care professionals. Everyone who uses online therapy should feel comfortable using technology and interacting in an online format.
Who is online therapy not good for?
Online therapy is not appropriate for people who prefer an in-person therapeutic experience, those in crisis, and those uncomfortable using or learning new technologies. Dr. Neelima Kunam, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist who practices in the Midwest and California, also noted that
“those with difficulties with attention span may need in-person focused attention to absorb and listen to what the therapist is offering.”
It’s important to determine the factors that are most important to you for the best online therapy experience. These could include a platform that accepts your insurance, that offers an affordable monthly plan, and/or brands that focus on specific types of therapy. Before you pay for a service, explore the platform’s site to determine whether the technology fits your needs and make sure you are comfortable using it. Many online therapy platforms offer discounts or ongoing financial aid, so look for these options before paying for your plan, too.
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