Best Virtual Therapy Programs of 2020

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When it comes to therapy options, virtual therapy is an affordable and accessible way to keep your mind and body in sync. In fact, some people choose virtual therapy because it allows them to get help while remaining in the comfort of their own home or anywhere else (which can be a big plus if your schedule is packed).

If you're considering virtual therapy, you may be wondering where to start, since it can be beyond overwhelming. So, whether you're newly diagnosed or have been struggling for some time, we have compiled a list of the top options for virtual therapy to help you determine which one is right for you.

Best Virtual Therapy of 2020

Best Overall: BetterHelp

betterhelp

Courtesy of BetterHelp

With more than 12,000 licensed professionals on their site, BetterHelp is a solid option if you're looking to get some extra support. The platform has assisted more than 1 million people, and all of its therapists have a minimum of 1,000 hours of hands-on experience. So there's no need to worry—you'll be in good hands.

In fact, every therapist on the BetterHelp site is fully licensed and in good standing. This licensure information is verified and cross-checked with the individual's state licensing board and is shared with you too, so you can verify their credentials.

But, what makes BetterHelp stand out from the rest is the fact that it offers live sessions for those who prefer this option, which can be ideal if you thrive with face-to-face interactions. This option for live sessions is not necessarily offered by many online therapy providers even though it can be an effective alternative to in-person counseling.

Additionally, BetterHelp knows therapy can be pricey, so it offers financial assistance if you cannot afford therapy. And, in case you're not a fan of doing digital, there's the option to talk over the phone.

If you decide that BetterHelp is right for you, you can expect to pay about $65 a week for the first month. After that, the fee structure ranges from roughly $60 to $80 per week, depending on your location, preferences, and therapist availability. 

Although you are matched to a therapist by filling out a questionnaire—which can seem impersonal to some—you are encouraged to change therapists if you feel your current one is not a good fit. Plus, there is a free, seven-day trial period, which means you can test out the service without any financial obligation to see if it will meet your needs.

Some therapists include homework with their sessions such as worksheets and other activities, which some people find helpful. Others think it makes the therapy feel impersonal. If this doesn't appeal to you, you can discuss the option of eliminating it from your counseling program.

BetterHelp also has solid privacy practices. Because it does not work with employers or insurance companies, nothing is ever shared or filed with the company. Also, there is a shred button next to each message you have sent. So, if you want, you can hit the button, and the message will no longer appear in your account.

Best Unlimited Messaging: Talkspace

talkspace

Courtesy of Talkspace

One of the hallmarks of Talkspace is the fact that you get unlimited messaging when you're using its services—an awesome feature for people who feel like they want more contact with their therapist than once a week.

What's more, Talkspace has a much more personal process for selecting a therapist. Instead of filling out a lengthy—and if we're being honest, impersonal—questionnaire, you'll interact with a person instead of a piece of paper. Then, you'll be matched with several therapists, and you'll pick one—kind of like speed dating.

Once you have selected your therapist, you can interact with them through text, audio, or video messaging. Live appointments are sometimes offered, but not every therapist offers the option for live therapy sessions, which can be a bummer for people who want to communicate with a live person.

Another great feature of Talkspace is the fact that you get a guaranteed response time, which is not always available with other online therapy providers; its customer service team usually provides quick responses to your inquiries.

If you decide that Talkspace is right for you, you can expect to pay about $65 per week for unlimited messaging. If you want some live therapy sessions, it will cost you around $79 per week for unlimited messaging, with one, 30-minute live session a month.

And, for approximately $99 per week, you can get its LiveTalk Therapy program which includes unlimited messaging, plus four live sessions per month. The only downside is that you must make a month-long commitment and cannot pay weekly.

Overall, the Talkspace app and the desktop option are easy to use. Once inside the program, you are taken to a confidential "talkspace" where you can send and receive messages. You also can press a microphone button, which allows you to send an audio recording if you prefer.

Best Budget: Online-Therapy.com

online-therapy

Courtesy of Online-Therapy.com

If you're not trying to break the bank, check out Online-Therapy. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Online-Therapy is offering some of its online therapy platform options for free. (You heard us right.)

For instance, you can access its eight, easy-to-follow sections (i.e. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Problematic Thoughts, Actively Working on Being Happier) and 25 worksheets at no charge. You also get free access to its activity plan, journals, tests, as well as yoga and meditation videos. While these features do not include consultations with a therapist, it is quite a deal.

For those who are interested in more than just the free features provided, you can expect to pay around $35 per week for daily input from a therapist on the eight sections and worksheets you complete. Or, if you want more personal interactions, Online-Therapy offers a plan that includes one live interaction with a therapist through video, voice, or text chat each week along with daily messaging from your therapist.

The cost for this option is about $48 per month after the service's 20% introductory discount. For those who feel they would benefit from more TLC, they can opt for the premium package which includes daily therapist feedback, two live video, voice, or text chat sessions per week as well as support via messaging and express replies for about $64 per week after the introductory offer.

The downside to this program is that it only focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy; so, if you are looking for a different approach to online therapy, this is likely not the best one for you. Plus, the emphasis on worksheets and other homework can make the program seem a little impersonal. If you decide to go with Online-Therapy, you will be assigned a therapist. But, you can change therapists at any time with a click of a button.

Best for LGBTQ: Pride Counseling

pride counseling

Courtesy of Pride Counseling

With a commitment to offer discreet, affordable, and accessible treatment for members of the LGBTQ community, Pride Counseling provides online therapy covering a wide range of issues and concerns including anxiety, depression, and more. The counselors and therapists are not only licensed professionals, but they also are specialists in the LGBTQ community as well.

As an added benefit, you can book sessions that work within your schedule and can communicate with your counselor by exchanging messages in a secure chat room, video conferencing, speaking over the phone, and chatting live. If you're feeling shy, you don't need to worry: You are not required to reveal your real name unless you want to and can opt to use a nickname if you prefer.

If you decide that Pride Counseling is right for you, you can expect to pay between roughly $60 and $80 per week, depending on the program you choose. And, you can cancel at any time if you want, so there's no need to fuss over any unwanted charges.

Best for Teens: Teen Counseling

teencounseling

Courtesy of TeenCounseling

Designed for teens between the ages of 13 and 19, Teen Counseling has a wide range of counselors who can help teens cope with a number of issues relevant to their age group including anxiety, bullying, eating disorders, and self-esteem issues.

Because the therapists in this online therapy program do not provide any type of diagnosis, you would need to speak to your child's doctor or another medical professional for an official diagnosis. And, as an FYI, this program doesn't fulfill the requirements for court-mandated treatment. So, if you're looking for assistance with either of those issues, this is not the program for you.

That being said, this subscription-based service is very teen-friendly and allows young people to communicate with their counselor via video conferencing, messaging, phone calls, and live chats. And, there is no limit on the number of messages that can be exchanged each week. Plus, teens who are too busy with football practice and yearbook club don't need to worry about scheduling appointments.

If you decide that Teen Counseling is right for your teen, you will need to complete the registration paperwork. At that time, you can mention what issues you think they are having. But, it's important to note that all your teen's correspondence is confidential. The counselor will only alert you to safety concerns. You can expect to pay about $60 to $80 each week, depending on the plan you select.

Best for Medication Needs: Doctor on Demand

doctor on demand

Courtesy of Doctor on Demand

For those who feel they would benefit from medication, Doctor on Demand might be the way to go, since you can schedule a consultation with a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Using its live chat, you can talk through your concerns, and, as an added bonus, take a free mental health assessment.

Beware: This service tends to be more expensive than other online services and is best used for short-term consultations and prescription needs. Likewise, the online features can be a bit overwhelming. But, the mobile app is a little more user-friendly than the desktop program, which is definitely a plus.

If you decide Doctor on Demand is right for you, it will cost you about $129 for a 25-minute session and roughly $179 for a 50-minute session. Meanwhile, the initial visit with a psychiatrist is approximately $299. Even better? Doctor on Demand accepts some insurance plans like United Healthcare, Aetna, Humana, and Cigna, and there is no subscription required.

Overall, Doctor on Demand provides appointments around the clock and its psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

How We Chose the Best Virtual Therapy

When reviewing virtual therapy providers, we kept in mind what people most want from virtual therapy including the option to talk with a live person and unlimited messaging. We also considered the ease of use, medical experience, resources, privacy, and cost.

From there, we highlighted the online therapy providers that best met these criteria. But, remember that when selecting an online therapist, you should consider your own specific needs and circumstances before making a decision. Even the providers that made the cut on our list to are not designed for everyone. Choosing a virtual therapist is a highly personal decision.

For our "best overall" pick, BetterHelp stood out for its easy-to-use app and experienced professionals who have more than 1,000 hours of hands-on experience in handling mental health issues. Teen Counseling was a top pick because of how they assist in helping teens deal with issues relevant to their age. If you are looking for unlimited messaging, Talkspace is appealing for people who want more contact with their therapist than once a week.

What Is Virtual Therapy?

Virtual therapy allows people who are dealing with anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, self-esteem issues, and more to communicate with a licensed mental health professional remotely. Typically, the therapy involves messaging, which is similar to texting or emailing. But, many online therapy providers also offer live chats, telephone calls, or even video chats, and some will communicate with you more than just once per week.

Virtual therapists are licensed mental health professionals that often provide the same treatments online that they do in-person. However, there are times when online therapy might not be appropriate. For instance, if you are having recurring thoughts about suicide, you should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

What Should You Look for in a Virtual Therapist?

When it comes to selecting a virtual therapist, the first thing you need to consider is whether or not the person is licensed to treat you. Ideally, the person also would have a master's, doctorate, or be an MD. In addition to psychologists and psychiatrists, other practitioners may be psychotherapists, counselors, licensed professional counselors, or clinical social workers.

You also should look for a therapist that is experienced in treating the particular issues you're experiencing—whether that is a generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or otherwise. And, the counselor you are interacting with should not only use a form of therapy that is evidence-based but also use practices and treatments that you are comfortable with.

What Are the Benefits of Virtual Therapy?

Many people find that virtual therapy is an effective alternative to in-person therapy. For instance, there is more flexibility when it comes to scheduling and you can often interact with a therapist after hours if needed. Plus, virtual therapy can sometimes be more affordable, especially if you don't have insurance that covers mental health issues.

Meanwhile, the fact that virtual therapy is so flexible and easily accessible makes it a good alternative for people who do not have access to transportation.

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