Online Therapy With Licensed Online Psychologists

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated March 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

As online therapy is becoming more popular, you may be wondering if it is effective and if online therapists are real. With the rise of telemedicine, like online psychiatry and online psychology, more and more licensed mental health professionals are providing high-quality care through online platforms. Below, we’ll discuss online psychologists, their credentials, and the various treatments they provide.

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The legitimacy of online psychology

An online psychologist or therapist is a real human who usually possesses at least a graduate degree. These licensed therapists and other mental health professionals are often required to possess the same training and credentials as offline practitioners. For a psychologist, this tends to include either a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Other mental health professionals who may offer therapy online include licensed mental health counselors and clinical social workers, who usually have a master’s degree in their field and a specified number of clinical hours of experience, such as 2,000 hours, depending on the state.

You may find therapists licensed with a variety of credentials, including the following:

  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
  • Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC)
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
  • Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Although requirements vary in different states, all of BetterHelp’s therapists, social workers, and other professionals providing online therapy are required to meet their state board’s licensing requirements. They also need to have an individual National Provider Identification (NPI) number and must have at least 1,000 hours of therapy experience with teens, adults, or couples.

Options for therapy services

Mental health professionals often don’t have to choose between in-person and online therapy when offering mental health services. Many therapists who have traditionally practiced the field of psychology in person are also beginning to take their practice online. Options typically include live chat, phone therapy, and video therapy for their appointments. If you find an online therapist or psychologist in your community, you may be able to opt for a hybrid option that includes in-person and online therapy. Many people are choosing therapy as part of a comprehensive treatment plan in mental health care.

If you’re living with a mental health condition like bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression, you can talk to a mental health professional by attending therapy online from the comfort of your home. You may find that they can provide you with valuable support even if you’re unable to visit a therapist’s office. 

If you’re experiencing certain mental health challenges that can’t be controlled by therapy alone, you likely have to speak to a physician, such as a psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication. Still, you may find that some psychiatrists are willing to treat you online or in a hybrid format. An online psychiatrist may also be able to provide you with a medication management plan virtually.

It's important to note that at this time, BetterHelp can only offer therapy services and does not offer prescription or medication management services.

Virtual therapy and its benefits

If you’re new to the idea of online therapy, you may be surprised to learn about how many types of therapy are available online. Below is a list of therapy types that can be conducted online:

  • Couples therapy and marriage counseling
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Play therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy

According to a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many individuals have noted that online therapists can often provide the same treatment that traditional face-to-face therapists can, and research shows that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for a variety of mental health challenges. Online therapy may also help fight mental health stigma by providing a comfortable alternative to the traditional therapy office.

Depending on your insurance provider’s mental health plan, virtual mental health services may be covered. In many cases, health insurance and employee assistance plans may include teletherapy as a benefit from in-network mental health professionals. You can determine whether insurance covers online therapy by contacting your insurance company or reviewing your insurance provider’s policy. Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp offer a pricing model and subscription service that may help make therapy more affordable and available. 

Finding a qualified and licensed virtual therapist

When searching for an online therapy platform, you may want to visit select sites and research the credentials of the mental health professionals available. While it may be difficult to confirm a therapist’s mental health credentials by yourself, by working with a company such as BetterHelp, you can find therapists who have undergone extensive verification. BetterHelp’s simple intake questionnaire can help you connect with the therapist most suited for your needs.

Online therapists and psychologists who work through reputable online therapy sites tend to have qualifications you would expect from a traditional in-office therapist. They generally list their certifications and experience on their profile, which you can view before you choose your counselor. You can often choose your online therapist based on the type of therapy they provide, as well as your mental health goals.

For example, if you think you’d like to learn more about cognitive-behavioral therapy or rational emotive behavior therapy, you can search for a licensed therapist who has training and experience in these therapeutic approaches. Different types of therapy (online therapy included) tend to work well for different concerns and goals. Virtual online therapy, online chat, and phone calls can be effective ways to work with your therapist.

While there are many reputable online psychologists and therapists, there are a few potential red flags to be aware of when looking for a therapist online. For example, a poorly written or designed website may indicate a fraudulent company. Additionally, if a therapy website only accepts a non-exclusive, untraceable payment method or doesn’t list contact information, these may also be signs that it isn’t a reputable platform.

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What to expect from virtual therapy

Online therapy tends to be similar to in-person therapy in several ways. When someone visits a therapist at their office, they tend to spend time discussing events that go on in their daily life, and they are free to discuss any problems or challenges they’re experiencing. This also occurs during an online session with a therapist.

You can speak openly with your therapist about a wide range of topics, from relationship challenges to concerns about your career. You might see a therapist if you’re struggling with challenges like eating disorders, panic disorders, substance use, anger management, or other behavioral health problems. Your therapist may also be able to guide you through life transitions and help you examine any concerning thoughts and behaviors. A licensed online therapist might use evidence-based therapeutic approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy, solution-focused therapy, or other therapy modalities.

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

What are virtual therapy sessions like?

During the first web-based therapy session, you can get to know your therapist, and they will probably ask you questions about your mental health history and your current situation to get a better idea of how they can help you. As you work through multiple live sessions, you will likely have time to explore your feelings about the situation, identify your healthy and unhealthy behaviors relating to it, and decide how you want to respond.

The therapist may ask you questions to guide you to deeper insights into your life experiences. They may also teach you coping strategies and techniques for responding to your emotions. As a result, you might learn how to choose behaviors that will benefit you throughout your daily life.

Sessions sometimes end with an assignment, which might involve a behavior to notice in yourself (or others) and techniques to try in everyday situations.

Key features of receiving care through online therapy

Text therapy or message exchange: An additional benefit you may receive with some online therapy platforms is text therapy or message exchanges. With this feature, you can send messages to your therapist using a phone, tablet, or any device with messaging capabilities.

This feature may be particularly helpful if you lack a safe space to speak via phone or video chat.*

*If you or someone you know is at risk of domestic violence, you can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) at any time day or night. TTY is available at 1-800-787-3224.

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Video chat: Online psychotherapy can take place via videoconferencing if you prefer face-to-face therapy. This type of communication allows for the observation of facial cues while providing a way to connect with a therapist without leaving home.

Changing therapists

Seeking out a therapist based on their qualifications or experience can be a helpful starting point. However, this may not be enough to determine if you and a specific therapist are a suitable match for each other.

After therapy begins, you might decide that you would like to try another counselor. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you feel strongly that your personalities don’t mesh well or their availability doesn't match yours, BetterHelp allows you to change therapists until you find an appropriate therapist match. 

Through the BetterHelp platform, you can learn about various therapists from their profiles and set up an appointment relatively quickly.

BetterHelp wants to support you

The online therapists and psychologists at BetterHelp want to provide the best possible mental health support for your needs. They are professional therapists who have studied psychology and human behavior. They are able to provide effective treatment methods to help manage whatever you’re facing.  

With BetterHelp, you have an exclusive chat room where you can leave messages for your therapist at any time. You may find this service especially helpful when you want to describe your thoughts and feelings in the moment and in a personal space. Your therapist will check the chat room periodically and respond as soon as they can.

The cost of BetterHelp

The cost of therapy through BetterHelp ranges from $65 to $100 per week (based on factors such as your location, referral source, preferences, therapist availability and any applicable discounts or promotions that might apply)
(billed as a monthly fee or every four weeks), as opposed to up to $200 per session for traditional, in-person therapy, and it is based on your location, preferences, and therapist availability. You can cancel your plan at any time for any reason.

If you’re unsure of whether online therapy is going to work for you, it’s okay to test it out and talk to your counselor about the pros and cons of online therapy.

Counselor reviews

Below are some reviews from clients regarding their experience with therapists at BetterHelp.

Leah Mullins, LCSW, LISW

“I was skeptical about this type of counseling but Leah made me feel confident from the beginning with her straightforward profile, thoughtful questions, and rapid responses. I feel that she truly sympathizes with my situation but also holds me accountable for finding solutions.”

Juan Carlos Navarro, LPCC

“Carlos was a blessing during the several months of therapy. I am beyond grateful that he was kind and understanding. We followed a structured plan to help me cope with my complex PTSD and anxiety. I now have new strategies that I can use every day. I would highly recommend Carlos to any person who wants a reliable and kind therapist.”

Takeaway

Online psychologists who work for reputable online therapy platforms typically have the same training and credentials as psychologists who strictly do in-office therapy. All therapists and psychologists at BetterHelp undergo a rigorous vetting process, during which BetterHelp verifies their education, state licensure, and clinical experience. No matter what you’re going through at this moment, you are not alone. BetterHelp has a network of more than 30,000 licensed therapists, so you can be matched with someone who has experience addressing similar concerns. Take the first step toward improving your mental health and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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