Overview of online therapy platforms: Should I trust these services?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry
Updated January 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In the modern psychology industry, mental health therapy services are often available online and through therapy apps. This convenient form of therapy is a popular choice for those looking for flexibility and online support. With services readily available worldwide, more individuals than ever can reach out for help at a fraction of the cost of in-office therapy sessions. However, with the nature of online therapy can come speculation about the legitimacy of these formats. Understanding the research and reviews behind these virtual therapy platforms can help you make an informed decision for your care.

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What is online therapy?

Online therapy is a type of mental health treatment involving text, phone, or video sessions with licensed and experienced therapists through the internet.
Therapists may offer virtual counseling services as part of their one-on-one practice or work with a virtual platform to offer services there. Virtual providers must be licensed in their state and have a certain number of clinically supervised hours of experience.

Many e-counseling reviews state that getting counseling by text or live sessions with licensed psychologists is convenient. In a world where many individuals have busy work schedules, families, and responsibilities, reaching out to a therapist from home can offer more individuals the ability to see a therapist for anything from major depression to eating disorders.


Online therapy providers use many of the same modalities and treatment techniques as in-person options. In addition, therapists can assign clients homework through downloadable worksheets and unlimited messaging through some platforms. Although each platform differs, internet-based therapy is often associated with unique features that in-person therapy cannot offer. 

Online therapy vs. in-person therapy 

Understanding virtual therapy's features compared to in-person counseling may allow you to decide which is best for you. 

Online vs. physical location 

Internet-based counseling sessions can be conducted from a location where you feel comfortable, as long as you have an internet connection and a personal smart device. You'll have one-on-one discussions with a licensed and experienced therapist during your virtual counseling sessions, which you can schedule based on availability. For many, leaving home can be a barrier to receiving treatment. Internet-based counseling removes this barrier by bringing counseling to you. 

Cost 

According to Forbes, in-person counseling runs from $100 to $200 per session on average. Online counseling's cost can be significantly less. Many virtual platforms have weekly or monthly packages available that can run around $65 to $90 a session. Some people use their health savings (HSA) account to pay for these virtual therapysessions. In addition, this cost might include unlimited communication with therapists. For some individuals, financial aid can be offered if there is a financial need. Affordable online therapy can help more people to get the counseling sessions they need, regardless of whether they have insurance.

Insurance

More health insurance providers are beginning to provide coverage for virtual mental health services as distance therapy services and internet-based counseling become the norm. If you have questions about insurance, contact your health insurance provider. 

Communication 

Top online counseling reviews have found that you may get more communication and contact with your therapist when participating in virtual counseling sessions. Through many platforms, you can message your therapist anytime and receive a response when the therapist is available, often within 24 hours. This feature is often available on top of your existing plan of one live session a week. With in-person counseling, you may be unable to contact your therapist outside of sessions or have a saved chat with them. 

Convenience of online therapy

Rural-based clients can have the option of resolving significant concerns via online counseling. If no counselors are available in their area, they can participate in individual mental health counseling from home and find the quality of care that those in larger cities may receive. 

The convenience of online cognitive behavioral therapy can be unique to its internet-based format. Clients may struggle to meet with a therapist in person, as many may only provide services during standard business hours. Many virtual therapists can offer after-hours appointments, including on the weekends and late at night. This convenience can also benefit Americans living abroad dealing with a time difference. 

You can cut out long commutes, wait lists, and waiting room times when you choose internet-based counseling sessions. Although you may still have to set an appointment, you can often select from your therapist's availability and instantly schedule your session instead of going through several phone calls or emails.

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Self-expression 

Many clients may find it easier to communicate their feelings via text. With many internet-based platforms, live chat messaging counseling is possible. For clients who feel that face-to-face discussions are difficult, or those experiencing conditions like social anxiety disorder, virtual therapy services can remain preferable. You can also change your preferred form of counseling at any time. 

For many, self-expression can be more convenient through text. Talking over the phone or on video chat can be distressing and complicated for those who find it easier to open up through writing. You can think about what you want to say through live chat counseling before you write it. 

Online therapy reviews: Top online therapy companies

There are many options to consider when you’re looking for the best virtual counseling services, including the following platforms. When you sign up for these platforms, you can receive specialized care unique to your needs.

BetterHelp online therapy

BetterHelp is the leading online therapy platform worldwide and offers cost-effective therapy over the phone, via video chat, or through live chat sessions. BetterHelp offers individual counseling personalized to clients. Offering a match-based system, you can be matched with a therapist unique to your needs upon signing up. When you first fill out the BetterHelp questionnaire, you can indicate your symptoms, your goals for counseling, and the type of therapist you'd like to be matched with. Not only is it one of the best online therapy programs available, but it’s also affordable for many. BetterHelp costs $65 to $90 weekly, billed every four weeks. 

Regain 

Regain costs the same as BetterHelp but offers couples counseling focused on relationships, marriage, and interpersonal concerns. Through Regain, you can find a sex therapist, marriage counselor, or couples support therapist. Couples can sign up together and receive counseling from two locations using the same account. 

TeenCounseling

TeenCounseling is an internet-based counseling service that counsels teens aged 13 to 19. If a teen is under 18, they will require parental permission to sign up for the platform. Through TeenCounseling, teens can meet with a therapist knowledgeable in adolescent concerns and common mental health conditions. They can also partake in teen counseling live chat messaging sessions if they find it most comfortable. 

PrideCounseling 

PrideCounseling is an internet-based counseling platform dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community. You can discuss LGBTQ-related issues, mental health, and other concerns through this platform. Onlinetherapy.com and TalkSpace online therapy are two other well-known platforms that can offer services from mental health professionals to virtual therapy users.

Online therapy platform review summary 

All of the above virtual counseling platforms have high reviews from consumers. However, BetterHelp is the top online service due to its database of over 30,000 licensed mental health providers and its dedication to worldwide support. No matter the platform you choose, various options are available to you. 

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The effectiveness of online therapy

In many cases, research has found online therapy as effective if not more effective than in-person therapy. One study found that online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was as effective as traditional options in treating anxiety, depression, and stress in clients. Another study found that 71% of BetterHelp users found the platform more effective and preferable to in-person counseling, feeling that the format allowed them to connect easily with their therapist. 

Are there disadvantages to online therapy? 

There may be a few downsides, including the following: 

  • Many virtual platforms do not offer medication management, prescribe medication, or advise on medications.
  • Many virtual platforms do not allow therapists to offer diagnoses. 
  • Internet-based counseling cannot replace crisis response services like a mental health emergency hotline.
  • The licensed therapists on internet-based platforms aren't on call, so therapist availability is not round the clock. However, you can message them anytime for a response when they are available. 
  • Some modalities of counseling may not be possible virtually. 
  • Many teletherapy platforms do not accept insurance.

Online counseling options 

Online cognitive behavioral therapy can be an effective, flexible, and convenient option for those who want to see a therapist but face barriers to in-person care. Over time, the internet-based counseling industry continues to grow, and many licensed therapists are offering their support remotely either in their own practice, or some of the best online therapy platforms. With studies backing up its effectiveness, signing up has many benefits for counseling seekers. If you're interested in learning more about your options, consider signing up for a platform like BetterHelp for a growing database of licensed, trained, and vetted counselors licensed clinical social workers, and other mental health professionals.  

Counselor reviews 

“Jennifer is so lovely. She is kind, personable, and knowledgeable. I particularly appreciate the times when she sympathizes and is able to reply empathetically, ensuring me that I'm not alone in the daunting expanse I call my mind. She is responsive, understanding, accommodating, and... a really wonderful fit. I was so hesitant to begin therapy, and Jennifer has made it such a safe space that I'm no longer scared to enter.”

“Sandee is very thoughtful, supportive and helpful. She understands my concerns and offers relevant advice and perspective. This is my first time pursuing therapy and Sandee has made the experience comfortable and worthwhile. Highly recommend!”

Takeaway

There are several benefits of online therapy programs and many reasons individuals may reach out for mental health care services. With one of the best virtual counseling platforms above, you can typically be matched with a therapist and begin counseling services within 48 hours.  If you want to learn more about how internet-based therapy could benefit you, consider contacting a provider through one of the best online counseling platforms like BetterHelp. Take the first step toward improved mental health and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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