In recent years, BetterHelp has become the biggest and most popular online therapy provider. It is an online portal that connects users with licensed, board-accredited counselors. For a monthly membership fee, users get access to their own online counselor - via chat, phone, or video sessions.
This review will help you make up your own mind about BetterHelp. We will cover the following:
How the service works
BetterHelp compared with traditional therapy
Alternatives to BetterHelp
The signup process is pretty simple and just takes a few minutes.
To sign up for BetterHelp, you have to complete a questionnaire to figure out what type of counselor would suit you best. You will be asked some basic details like gender, age, preferred language, sexual orientation, etc.
You will have to use your real information for the payment, but if you’re concerned about privacy, BetterHelp explains that your counselor will have no access to that private information. If you’d prefer, you can even have a nickname and interact with your counselor anonymously. You will have to enter emergency contact information, but this is stored in a private database and is only accessed if your counselor believes that you (or someone else) might be in danger.
You will be asked to select what kind of issue you’d like your counselor to have experience with, such as career issues, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, etc. For every area listed, you can choose how well-versed you want your counselor to be - least important, somewhat important, or most important.
Finally, you’re directed to a page that provides an overview of the services included in the subscription. You can also take a look at answers to frequently asked questions about the process and what to expect. Then you are prompted to enter payment information (which will be stored privately).
If you live in the US, you’ll be matched with a licensed counselor in your state. Users from outside the US are matched with a counselor from any state.
According to their site, on average, it can take about 24 hours for a user to get matched with their counselor. Depending on the user’s preferences and desired expertise/qualifications, it can even take longer to find an appropriate counselor.
Once the system has matched you with a counselor, you will receive an email notifying you and you can contact your therapist immediately.
Once you’ve been matched with a counselor, you can have a live session with them over phone or video call, texting, or chatting on the website/app. Besides the weekly live session, you can send as many text, audio, and video messages as you’d like. It can take a counselor a few hours to a few days to respond to your messages - it’ll vary from one counselor to another.
The app and website are both easy to use. The private room with your counselor is not unlike most social media chatrooms, so it’s not hard to get the hang of it. When you’re not in the chatroom, any messages sent by your counselor get forwarded to your email.
You can schedule the live sessions on a calendar and your counselor can send you worksheets as homework, which are easy to open on mobile or desktop.
BetterHelp operates via subscription. For those outside the US, there is only one subscription option available - $80 per week, billed monthly ($320 billed once a month). For US residents, there are a few different subscription options available - the service is same but the duration varies. As of May 2020, the subscription options available for US residents are:
Depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for financial assistance and get a percentage off of your monthly fees. You can also change or cancel your subscription at any time and BetterHelp makes it pretty easy.
Before ending the subscription, they will offer to match you with a different counselor - so you can see if another counselor would be a better fit. But they don’t push you on it. And if you’d prefer to cancel right then, it just takes a few clicks.
Counselors on BetterHelp are licensed, trained, experienced, and accredited psychologists (PhD / PsyD), marriage and family therapists (LMFT), clinical social workers (LCSW / LMSW), or licensed professional counselors (LPC). All of them have a Masters Degree or a Doctorate Degree in their field. They have been qualified and certified by their state's professional board after successfully completing the necessary education, exams, training and practice. While their experience, expertise and background vary, they all possess at least 3 years and 1,000 hours of hands-on experience.
The credentials and expertise of individual counselors is verified by the platform. BetterHelp requires all counselors to provide documentation of their licensure, proof of their identity, and references from other licensed practitioners who have worked with them. Their license information is certified and cross-checked with their states’ licensing boards.
BetterHelp also shares each provider’s licensing information so you can check on your counselor’s credentials as well. Each potential provider also completes a case study exam and is evaluated by BetterHelp in a video interview. The hiring process can take four to five weeks and according to BetterHelp, only about 15 percent of the applicants end up working for them. Of course, since there are so many providers on the platform, individual experience will vary. Some counselors respond to messages often but some may discourage live sessions, etc.
Since there are so many providers on the platform and you can connect with anyone online, you have easy access to counselors specializing in a large number of areas. When you first sign up, you’re able to choose a lot of preferences when it comes to selecting the correct counselor for you. Some of them are:
You can pick multiple items if that fits your situation.
In traditional therapy, depending on your location and budget, it might be very hard to find a counselor that specializes in exactly what you need.
People who have issues involving depression, anxiety, substance or alcohol use are not prevented from seeking counseling on the platform, but the company is not legally allowed to provide treatment of diagnoses for any of these disorders.
According to their website, the providers are not able to make any official diagnosis, fulfill any court order, or prescribe medication. It is advised that people with more significant levels of stress or symptoms not use BetterHelp. Since they can’t actually help with treatment and medication, these users are recommended to avail in-person therapy options. There are some screening protocols in the signup process to help identify users with some of these more serious issues.
For instance, those who report having recent thoughts of suicide are prohibited from registering.
People who might need more support than BetterHelp can provide include:
Suffice to say, if someone is in need of serious help, treatment, diagnosis of mental health issues, etc., BetterHelp cannot replace in-person treatment with a therapist. And the website does its best to try and identify such people and recommend them to seek proper treatment.
Some good use cases of BetterHelp are as follows:
One of the most common concerns surrounding online counseling is privacy or confidentiality. It's normal to be worried that your private information and counselor's notes could be accessed by a malicious entity since everything is stored online. However, in today's age even with traditional in-person therapy, your personal information and session notes will be stored on a computer or online. And a hacker would probably have a much easier time getting into your therapist’s office computer rather than cracking BetterHelp’s security.
The company is pretty serious about privacy and they claim to have taken several steps to ensure client anonymity and confidentiality. The BetterHelp browsing encryption system (SSL) is provided by Comodo, a world leader in data security. And messages between the user and their counselor are further encrypted with 256-bit encryption. Furthermore, all BetterHelp counselors are state-certified, and so they are subject to very stringent local and federal privacy laws, which includes HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
In the chatroom, there is also a shred button next to each message that a user has sent. This button can be used to remove a message from the chatroom. The BetterHelp servers are hosted in an “A Grade” facility to make sure all data and information is protected, and their browsing encryption system follows contemporary best practices. They claim that in the unlikely event of the data being stolen, it is useless since the databases are encrypted and scrambled.
In fact, BetterHelp goes a step further than traditional counseling. It does not ask for your full name when you sign up and you can get counseling under a nickname. Since BetterHelp doesn’t work with insurance or employers, they don’t share any information at all with those entities either.
The biggest difference when it comes to cost is that traditional counseling is charged by session, whereas BetterHelp is a subscription service. Looking at the various subscription prices, and the fact that you can have one session per week, a session on BetterHelp roughly works out to ~$60 - $80.
In comparison, the cost for a traditional in-person counselor can be anywhere between $100 to $300 (or even higher) depending on a number of factors, including where a person lives and what type of counseling they are looking for. These fees are set by individual therapists and agencies, depending on a number of factors including location, cost of living, overhead costs, market comparisons, and variance in the experience, specialties, and types of counseling offered.
Some counselors do offer sliding scale fees - which basically means that they are willing to provide discounted rates to people who are unable to afford to pay full price. If the listed price is out of someone’s budget, they should ask about sliding scale fees, even if it hasn’t been advertised. BetterHelp also advertises some financial assistance programs for people who are unable to afford the full price of a subscription. The exact details of eligibility are not clearly outlined and the website states that it is determined on a “case-by-case” basis.
Health insurance coverage is one of the biggest factors in choosing whether BetterHelp is more or less affordable than traditional options. Since all plans are different, the only way to verify the cost for outpatient counseling is to call the insurance company or use their online portal to look up the details of your plan. You can also find in-network providers this way.
If you do have insurance, it is probably going to be more affordable to see a counselor who is in your plan's covered network for in-person sessions. Because of the recent evens (COVID-19 pandemic), most insurance plans have extended coverage for online counseling. This would mean working with a therapist outside the BetterHelp platform. BetterHelp does not identify its services as treatment, so is not considered a medically billable service.
In recent years, online counseling has become a lot more common, and this growth has accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is still a relatively new practice - continuing to define its identity and secure a place in the mental health industry.
BetterHelp may make counseling possible in cases where there are barriers to other counseling options. These might include situations where a person is uninsured or has a high deductible plan and cannot afford the cost of traditional counseling, or in small or rural communities with limited treatment options. Online therapy might also be necessary for those who are homebound or without reliable transportation. Still, BetterHelp is not the only option for online therapy.
It is important to note that because of the recent pandemic, almost all insurance companies have declared that they are extending coverage of telehealth sessions for counselors. So right now, there are fewer obstacles in accessing online therapy that is covered by health insurance.
So, before signing up for a site like BetterHelp, it’s probably in your best interest to look into the details of your insurance plan to find out the coverage and cost of in-person or online therapy. It could be more affordable to find a therapist within your insurance network. This will also provide assurance that you will get a formal diagnosis and treatment deemed appropriate for that issue.
This becomes especially important for those who are seeking counseling for a more serious issue or if they have an existing diagnosis that they need treatment for. While the counselors on Betterhelp are qualified to diagnose and treat mental health or substance use disorders, they are prevented from doing so on the platform.
This means people who are struggling with mental health or addiction issues might not get the help they need on Betterhelp. Keep in mind that counseling is a service that you are paying for, and like all paid services, you should shop around until you find one that is effective, affordable, and proves over time to be a valuable investment.
For those looking for counseling online, there are a couple of other options also available.
Talkspace is another major player in this industry. While it isn’t as big or popular as BetterHelp, it is definitely the second on the list by a huge margin. On first glance, the services offered by Talkspace are very similar to what one can find on BetterHelp. However, there are a few key differences.
The subscription prices look identical at first, but Talkspace has some additional fees for those who want live sessions with their counselor. On the other hand, BetterHelp’s price is all-inclusive. In the top tier plan for Talkspace, members are only allowed four 30 minute live sessions per month with unlimited messaging (5 days a week) at $396 per month.
BetterHelp offers weekly live sessions in their package at $260 per month. BetterHelp also claims to have discounted rates for those unable to afford their service, while Talkspace does not advertise any kind of financial assistance program.
While you can get live sessions on Talkspace, it is not included in their “standard plan.” The standard plan only includes messaging services, similar to text - and it’s important to note that this has not been proven to be an effective method of counseling, unlike teletherapy sessions.
Talkspace allows for a range of messaging options including sending audio files, video files, pictures, or text in a private chat room with the therapist. BetterHelp also offers messaging and chat services, but includes phone and video sessions as well.
One thing that Talkspace has over BetterHelp is that they have started the process of partnering with insurance companies, EAPs, and large corporations. And so, some people are able to use their insurance to supplement the cost of their online counseling subscription, and some are even able to receive the counseling for free through their employee benefits program. Health Savings Accounts (or HSAs) may also be used for Talkspace, even if it is not covered by the insurance plan.
While both BetterHelp and Talkspace offer online counseling, Talkspace also offers psychiatric services. This includes appointments with doctors, psychiatrists, and other prescribing professionals who specialize in treating mental health conditions and addictive disorders using medication.
Since psychiatric services can be difficult to access due to a national shortage of trained providers, having this service available is a major benefit that BetterHelp does not provide. Appointments can be made online, but are billed separately from the user’s subscription. Current pricing is $199 for the initial appointment and $125 for subsequent appointments.
On BetterHelp, being matched with a counselor happens through an algorithm based on your responses to a questionnaire. It is possible to choose your own counselor, but is discouraged. Talkspace has a slightly more interactive process that involves talking with a real person and selecting from three options, instead of being automatically “matched.”
If you are unhappy with the options provided, you can choose to “get matched again,” providing another 3 options. Both BetterHelp and Talkspace make it easy to switch to a new counselor at any time, for any reason.
Unlike BetterHelp, Talkspace offers an option to “pause” a subscription at any time for a 30 day period. Neither site offers refunds for unused time but on the FAQ page for Talkspace, it states that refunds are sometimes granted on a case-by-case basis. Whereas, the refund policy is not discussed at all on BetterHelp’s FAQ page. Both companies have complaints about their refund policy and billing errors filed on the BBB (Better Business Bureau) website.
Another alternative to BetterHelp is Choosing Therapy. This platform matches matches people with independent therapists for video-based therapy sessions. Users can filter potential therapists based on various preferences, specialty, experience, availability, etc. After narrowing down the search, clients can read therapist profiles which include photos and introductory videos to find the best match for them.
Unlike BetterHelp which is subscription based, the therapists on Choosing Therapy charge per session with typical rates of $100 – $135.
According to Marc Prosser, the CEO of Choosing Therapy, “Choosing Therapy attracts higher quality therapists than BetterHelp, as BetterHelp offers lousy pay. Our therapists typically earn more than double of what BetterHelp pays. The therapists on Choosing Therapy typically have five or more years of experience and go through a careful vetting process,”
Choosing Therapy offers a free therapist matching consultation performed by a licensed mental health professional or you search therapist profiles to find a fit on the Choosing Therapy Directory.
If you’re looking for help that is more focused on self-help, personality development, relationships and dating, rather than mental health; therapy might not be the best choice for you. While therapy and counseling can be helpful for practically everyone, it doesn't focus on achieving specific goals that you set for yourself. That's where Relationship Hero comes in.
It’s important to note that Relationship Hero doesn’t provide any help with treating mental health issues or disorders, and is not a suitable replacement for therapy.
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You can pay per session or avail the subscription, depending on your preferences. Paying per hour, it might cost you $100 to $120 depending on the specialization of the coach, but If you’re on a subscription, it can come out to be as little as $60 per hour ($30 for a 30-minute session).
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