If you told me eight years ago
I could find a licensed psychologist to come to my apartment in New York City for less than $150 and without spending months on a waiting list,
I would have spit my latte right in your face.
Today, though, it's a different story – the utopian dream of on-demand therapy has become a reality for hundreds of thousands of people who are taking advantage of counseling in its most convenient form: online.
Companies promising a private, cost-effective and safe version of talk therapy online have been around since 2012, but they've hit fever pitch since over the past couple of years.
Whether it is mommy issues, daddy issues, grief, loneliness, career, family, mental health or romantic challenges, online therapy is quickly becoming an approachable and preferred way for many – including single moms – to address mental health.
It makes sense: We do everything else online, why not couch-time, too?
How does online therapy work?
First, you'll need to consider your personality type and preferred method of communication.
Would you rather video conference with your therapist, or have a phone call? Text or instant message? Post intermittently on an online message board?
Most services provide at least a couple of these options, but it's still good to keep in mind which ones are most effective for you.
If online therapy is new to you, be open to trying different communication modes.
Online therapy vs traditional therapy
Online therapy sites hire a variety of mental health professionals who are rigorously vetted, but certain professionals are better suited to help you than others.
For instance, do you need a psychiatrist (an M.D. or D.O.), who can prescribe medication? Maybe you only need talk therapy through a licensed psychologist (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.), licensed psychological associate or (L.P.A.) licensed professional counselor (L.P.C.). For specific issues and specialized family or relationship help, licensed clinical social workers (L.C.S.W.), or licensed marriage and family therapists (L.M.F.T.) may work best.
If you aren't sure which professional is a good fit, there's a good chance that the online therapy platform will help you choose.
While you're at it, you'll want to make sure any site you choose is HIPAA compliant, meaning they abide by federally mandated health care privacy standards.
This safeguards your information and transcripts of your sessions against any data breaches, hackers, etc.
Top therapy sites BetterHelp, Talkspace, and Breakthrough all boast HIPAA compliance in easy-to-find spots on their sites, so finding out whether your site is covered shouldn't be difficult.
Once you've figured out what kind of therapist is right for you, how you'd like to communicate with them, and whether or not they're qualified, it's time to sign up!
Get started with 4 online therapy sites
The similarities between traditional therapy and e-therapy end right here.
Because the rest of the sign-up process – the time actually spent on the platforms and in your sessions – is all designed to be as convenient and hassle-free as possible from this point on, starting with meeting your therapist.
For Talkspace users, a therapist is chosen for you by a shrink matchmaker of sorts.
During rapid-fire text exchanges, said matchmaker will ask you about your therapy history, reasons for seeking counseling, and if there are any special considerations you'd prefer (here's where you'll want to disclose your preference for, say, a female counselor or a therapist specializing in panic disorders, etc.).
You receive a form, similar to a traditional office's intake form, to fill out and send back, and then you're paired with your “primary therapist.”
Because this is all happening in real time, it typically doesn't take long.
The timeliness of the whole ordeal is an especially helpful aspect of Talkspace — especially for busy moms or those who are all but immobilized with anxiety and depression.
BetterHelp's process is virtually the same as Talkspace's, but there's another element of both BetterHelp and Talkspace which is worth mentioning: both platforms give you the option to remain anonymous with your therapist, opting for a nickname or a random username instead.
Breakthrough's sign-up process, however, works a little differently.
For starters, the therapy site doesn't pair you with a therapist.
Instead, you choose your own counselor by criteria like their location, what insurance they accept, or their specialties (anxiety, depression, family issues, etc.). Perfect for those of us who like a bit more control.
And where Talkspace and many other platforms arrange appointments with a chat feature or message board, Breakthrough uses a collaborative, interactive calendar instead.
You just pick a date and time that works for your schedule and your therapist either confirms the appointment or sends a “counteroffer” for a different date and time.
The online therapy sessions themselves vary, too. Talkspace is app-based, so sessions always take place on your phone, via messaging, text or, with their premium plan, video chat.
Breakthrough is available through phone calls or video chats online.
And BetterHelp offers a slew of communication methods: phone calls, texting, messaging, video chat, and a number of interactive online tools – plus BetterHelp has a very intuitive app.
Online therapy.com has programs that are based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT has been developed on the idea that your thoughts are what cause your feelings and behaviors, not external stimuli like people, situations and events.
They are a dedicated online-based team of consultant therapists, cognitive behavioral therapists, practitioners and support staff that collaboratively works to help people in need of emotional support.
You will have full access to online therapy program designed for your specific needs with easy-to-follow information and hands-on tools, your daily journal and activity plan, including daily contact with your therapist (Monday-Friday), tests to monitor your progress and access to the forum.
They have a really great website that is easy to navigate and best of all they start at just $39.95/week.
How much does online therapy cost?
Where traditional therapy can cost hundreds of dollars each session (and God forbid you have multiple sessions in a week!), online therapy can be drastically cheaper.
Talkspace's unlimited sessions cost between $128-$396 per month, depending on the tiered program you choose.
BetterHelp charges a flat fee of $35-$70 per week for unlimited access to your counselor. It's also worth noting that BetterHelp offers a free one-week trial to see how you like their programs before you're ever charged a penny. Breakthrough is the priciest online provider because their network of professionals operates on a name-your-price basis according to experience and specialty.
A session can cost you anywhere from $50 to $400, but the average session is reportedly around $145.
Pros of online therapy
Convenience and cost
All of these sweet, sweet technological advances mean you don't have to leave the comfort of your own home — or even your bed – to talk to your therapist.
Plus, you'll save money formerly spent getting to the therapist's office and paying for childcare while you're there.
Normalizes mental health care
Historically, mental health care has been stigmatized. Lately, though, the tide is turning and online therapy services are playing a role in that change.
Unlimited access anytime
Because so many online therapists offer unlimited plans, you don't have to wait weeks or months for your next visit.
Cons of online therapy
Modern e-therapy comes with its fair share of downsides. Lost connections, crappy WiFi, frozen screens and dying batteries all have the potential to detract from the experience and utility of your session.
Not always available out-of-state
Some states require you to use therapists who are licensed in your state, which can really cut down the pool of eligible providers.
This issue can be easily sussed out prior to completing the application process, thankfully, but it can still be disappointing.
Real moms review online therapy
So, is online therapy worth it? I asked members of my closed Facebook group, Millionaire Single Moms, what their experiences have been:
Talkspace helped me make big changes in my life and stop dragging my feet in my divorce. I was honest with my therapist and she helped tell me see the reality of things. I am forever grateful! As a stay at home mom, the convenience meant everything. — Ruthie, San Antonio, TX
I kept switching. I tried both Talkspace and BetterHelp and in the end I decided it wasn't worth it. Most of the time I didn't find it helpful. I got paired with a great therapist but he left BetterHelp shortly after. He offered to continue our sessions at the same price, which I regret not doing. When I tried to contact him recently, I found that he regularly charges more than I can afford. — Sammie, Elko, NV
I’m working with a therapist through BetterHelp. I love her a ton. She’s helped me out so much. It only costs me $45 a week, which is much cheaper than normal counseling. – Shawna, Salt Lake City, UT
Share in the comments: Have you used online therapy sites? What has been your experience?
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.