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.
Talkspace, one such online therapy company, even reports growth since the 2016 election was 80% higher than projected, according to CNBC.
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?
Check out BetterHelp, a top online counseling app that offers therapy via phone, text and video >>
If you are considering online therapy, here are some things you should know:
- How does online therapy work?
- Online therapy vs traditional therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy online
- Get started with 4 online therapy sites
- How much does online therapy cost?
- Online therapy sites that take insurance
- Free online therapy
- Pros of online therapy
- Cons of online therapy
- Real moms review online therapy
What is online therapy?
Online therapy is what it sounds like: Counseling services that are delivered through digital mediums, instead of in-person, like traditional therapy. Online therapists through reputable sites, are licensed and certified, and provide sessions through video, phone calls, text or email—depending on the client's preferences.
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.
Typically, online counseling works like this:
After you are matched with a counselor, there will be an in-take session. This might be over the phone or video, and you may be asked to provide information over email or an online portal.
If you prefer phone or email, that is up to you! You never have to use video (for example) if you don't want to.
From there, depending on what you agree to with your therapist, you can schedule weekly calls of 50 minutes each — very much like a traditional, in-person session. Most of the online therapy sites offer an option for unlimited email or text communications, to account for unexpected event that arises, or questions or concerns that come up between regular sessions.
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.
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 whether online or face-to-face therapy 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!
Online couples counseling
Whether you are seeking marriage counseling, couple's therapy or relationship therapy, online therapy can help. Couple's counseling is a very specialized practice, and experts disagree about how effective it can be. What they do agree on is that it takes a highly trained and experienced therapist to be effective—which can be hard to find. Online therapy sites help, since you have access to thousands of licensed professionals around the country, and are not limited to therapists near you.
Cognitive behavioral therapy online
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a popular approach to treating depression, sleeplessness, family drama, substance abuse, stress, anxiety, relationship problems. Instead of delving deep into your past, CBT focuses on your current life, and works to change your perceptions and behaviors now.
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.
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.
BetterHelp: Online therapy review
BetterHelp offers a large database of online counselors that it may match you with. The site states:
“We have found that we are able to provide a successful match most of the time; however, if you start the process and you feel your counselor isn't a good fit for you, you may elect to be matched to a different counselor.”
Each counselor is verified via:
- Being in good standing with their licensing board
- Video review
“The result of this rigorous 4-5 week process is that only about 15% of the therapists who apply to work through BetterHelp are accepted to the platform,” BetterHelp's site states.
- 98% of users made significant progress
- 94% of BetterHelp users preferred the service over traditional, face-to-face therapy
- 70% reported reduced depression
How much does online therapy cost with BetterHelp?
Online counseling offered through BetterHelp will set you back between $40 to $70 per week, although the cost of counseling is billed monthly. They also note that you are able to cancel your subscription at any time.
Does my insurance cover online therapy with BetterHelp?
BetterHelp states that their online therapy services are traditionally not covered through insurance. However, you may receive some coverage depending on the plan you have.
Specifically, BetterHelp shares that you may have to be diagnosed by your therapist with a mental disorder or issue before you can expect reimbursement from your insurance company. Your therapist may also have to send proof of your disorder to your insurance company, including your copies of your medical records.
BetterHelp has an A+ Better Business Bureau rating.
HealthSapiens: Online therapy review
HealthSapiens is a online counseling service that gives you 24/7, unlimited access to a licensed, U.S.-based therapist, for a flat monthly fee. Typical issues HealthSapiens therapists address include:
- Grieving/loss of a loved one
- Mood Disorders
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Relationship Issues
- Substance Abuse
- Teen/parenting issues
How much does online therapy cost with HealthSapiens?
HealthSapiens typically charges $120/month, but for WealthySingleMommy.com readers, the fee is $29.95/month.
Does my insurance cover online therapy with HealthSapiens?
No, HealthSapiens does not work with insurance companies.
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.
Online-Therapy.com: Online therapy review
Online-Therapy.com is 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 with Online-Therapy.com?
Therapy offered through Online-Therapy.com starts at just $31.96 per week when you factor in the initial 20% discount you get the first month. This monthly payment includes access to the firm’s online therapy program plus daily contact with your therapist.
If you want a more robust online therapy program, there are also two alternate subscription services to choose from that cost $47.96 per month or $63.96 per month. Having more than one option lets you tailor your therapy to your needs and your lifestyle.
Does my insurance cover online therapy with Online-Therapy.com?
Online-Therapy.com does not accept insurance as a form of payment, although they state “it may be a good idea to reach out to your insurance company to see if they will cover online therapy.”
If your insurance company covers online therapy sessions, you may be able to submit your bill to them for reimbursement after your sessions.
For Talkspace users, a therapist is chosen for you by a shrink matchmaker of sorts.
Talkspace: Online therapy review
During rapid-fire text exchanges, the 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.
How much does online therapy cost with TalkSpace?
TalkSpace offers several subscription therapy services that start at $49 per week or $196 per month. You can also choose a monthly plan for $236 per month or an unlimited plan with LiveTalk therapy for $316 per month.
Couples therapy is also offered for $79 per week or $316 per month. You also have the option to add on live video sessions to any plan for $49 per 30-minute session.
Does my insurance cover online therapy with TalkSpace?
TalkSpace partners with several U.S. health insurance plans, although individual insurance plan participation varies. In other words, you’ll need to check with your insurance provider to see if online therapy is covered and what you’re expected to pay out-of-pocket.
Talkspace also shares that many of their customers pay for their therapy with a credit card or Paypal then submit their bills for reimbursement through a Flexible Spending Account (FSA).
TalkSpace has an A+ Better Business Bureau rating.
Breakthrough's sign-up process, however, works a little differently.
Breakthrough: Online therapy review
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.
How much does online therapy cost with Breakthrough?
Breakthrough offers online therapy with a variety of counselors, which is why there is no set rate for how much you’ll pay. Instead, Breakthrough charges a $6 fee per session and individual therapists tack on their own fees that vary based on their experience and area of expertise.
Does my insurance cover online therapy with Breakthrough?
Unlike some other online therapy providers, Breakthrough has contracts with some insurance companies around the United States. If your insurance company is one of them, you can expect reimbursement for your online therapy sessions. If you’re not with an insurance provider that works with Breakthrough already, you may want to consider reaching out to your insurance provider to find out if they offer coverage for therapy offered online.
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 $40-$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.
Online therapy sites that take insurance
Free online therapy
Sorry, there is no free online therapy (unless you count watching old Oprah episodes on YouTube). Online-therapy.com, however does offer a 20% discount for the first month. And Breakthrough accepts most insurers — so you may only have to pay a co-pay and/or deductible, depending on your plan.
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.
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:
BetterHelp 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’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 an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. 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.