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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 (which can be a big plus when you're going through a pandemic!).
If you're considering virtual therapy, you may be wondering where to start, since the search 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 Programs of 2021
With more than 16,000 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. Their 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. So there's no need to worry—you'll be in good hands.
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 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 (called sliding scale therapy) 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 $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.
Some therapists include homework with their sessions such as worksheets and other activities, which some people find helpful. 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. If you shred a message, it will no longer appear in your account.
Best for Messaging: 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 frequent contact with their therapist than a weekly session.
What's more, Talkspace has a much more personal process for selecting a therapist than other similar services. 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 only, 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 timely responses to your inquiries.
If you decide that Talkspace is right for you, there are three service tiers available, and payment options that help you get the most bang for your buck. For Unlimited Messaging Therapy Plus—includes unlimited text, video and audio messaging five days per week—you will pay $60 per week if billed month-to-month, $55 per week if billed quarterly, or $48 per week if billed every six months. If you select the Premium package—adds one live therapy session every month—it will cost you $73 per week on a monthly payment plan, $66 billed quarterly, or $58 billed semi-annually.
If you want at least six months of therapy and would benefit from weekly live chats with your therapist, a six-month purchase of the Ultimate package is the ultimate value. At the Ultimate tier, you'll receive unlimited messaging plus four live sessions every month for $73 per week (if billed every six months)—the same price for month-to-month Premium clients who only get one live session per month.
Overall, the Talkspace app and the desktop option are both easy to use. Once inside the program, you are taken to a confidential "talk space" where you can send and receive messages. You also can press a microphone button that allows you to send an audio recording to your therapist, if you prefer.
Talkspace boasts 60,000 five-star reviews, including testimonials from celebrities Michael Phelps and Demi Lovato.
If you're not trying to break the bank, check out Online-Therapy. With everything from live therapy sessions and messaging, to journaling and worksheets, to activity plans and yoga Online-Therapy advertises itself as the most complete online therapy toolbox out there.
For instance, you can access any of 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 the platform's 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, Online-Therapy offers a 20% discount for the first month. You can expect to pay $40 per week after that for the Basic online therapy program plus weekday feedback from a therapist. If you want more personal interactions, Online-Therapy offers a plan for $60 per week that includes weekly live sessions with a therapist through video, voice, or text chat along with unlimited messaging.
For those who feel they would benefit from more TLC, they can opt for the premium package, at $80 per week, which includes 2 live video, voice, or text chat sessions every week as well as support via messaging and express replies from your therapist.
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 the click of a button.
With a commitment to offering 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 specialize in the LGBTQ community.
As an added benefit, you can book sessions that work within your schedule and can communicate with your counselor by exchanging messages via a secure chat room, video conference, phone call, or live chat. 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 $60 and $90 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.
Designed for those 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.
Because the therapists in this online therapy program do not provide any type of diagnosis, you would need to speak to your teen'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, since messaging is not in real-time, teens who are busy with sports practice or yearbook club don't need to worry about scheduling appointments—they can choose whenever they want to write or respond to their counselor.
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're dealing with. But, it's important to note that all your teen's correspondence is confidential between therapist and patient. As the parent, the counselor will only alert you to safety concerns. You can expect to pay $60 to $90 each week, depending on the plan you select.
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 feature, 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, therefore, 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.
If you decide Doctor on Demand is right for you, a 15-minute medical consultation will cost you $75. If you want to consult with a psychologist, you will pay $129 for a 25-minute session or $179 for a 50-minute session. The initial 45-minute visit with a psychiatrist is $299, and follow-ups are $129. Even better? Doctor on Demand accepts many health insurance plans as well as Medicare Part B, and there is no subscription required.
Overall, Doctor on Demand provides appointments around the clock and its psychiatrists can prescribe medications.
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, phone calls, and 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 is 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 would also 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 should also 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.
How We Chose the Best Virtual Therapy
When reviewing virtual therapy providers, we kept in mind what most people want from virtual therapy, including the option to talk with a live person and unlimited messaging. We also considered the service's ease of use, medical experience, resources, privacy, and cost.
From there, we highlighted the online therapy providers that best met these general criteria. But, remember that when selecting an online therapist, you should consider your own specific needs and circumstances before making a decision. The providers that made the cut on our list are not designed for everyone, and choosing a virtual therapist is a highly personal decision.
As our best overall pick, BetterHelp stood out for its easy-to-use app and savvy professionals who have more than 1,000 hours of hands-on experience in handling mental health issues. Teen Counseling was a top pick for their commitment to helping teens deal with issues relevant to their age, and Doctor on Demand is the go-to for mental health issues that require prescription medications. If you are looking for unlimited messaging, Talkspace is appealing for people who want to communicate with their therapist more than once a week. Online-Therapy was our top choice for a service that is both affordable and wide-ranging, while Pride Counseling is a top performer when it comes to meeting the needs of their niche clientele.
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