What is online therapy?
Like traditional therapy, the goal of online therapy is to improve one’s well-being, reduce symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, and find and treat their root cause. The only difference is that, rather than attending in-person sessions, patients and virtual therapists communicate via text or voice messaging, live chat, and voice and video calling.
A recent study, as explained
, shows the benefits of online therapy. Most notably the ability to reach people who otherwise wouldn't be able to make it to an office in person, and even more attractive is the flexible prices that are typically cheaper than in-person therapists.
Online therapy, also called teletherapy or virtual therapy, isn’t right for everybody. Individuals who are experiencing an acute mental health emergency, are having thoughts about suicide or harming themselves or others, or who have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness like severe depression or schizophrenia will benefit more from in-person counseling.
If you are in a life-threatening situation or mental health emergency, contact 1 800 273 8255 or 911 for help.
How does online therapy work?
You can access most of the best online therapy apps using your computer, phone, or tablet.
While every online counseling platform is different, you can expect your journey to look something like this:
1. You’ll start by filling out a short questionnaire regarding your current and past mental health, your reasons for seeking therapy online, and who you are as a person.
For example, you may encounter questions about your religious or spiritual beliefs, your gender identity and sexuality, or your relationships status. Of course, you won’t be required to answer any questions you don’t want to, but doing so can help a lot with the next step.
2. This step involves being matched with a therapist online. Some online counseling services provide you with a shortlist of online counselors to choose from, while others will match you with the therapist they think best meets your needs and preferences.
All online counseling apps allow you to ask for a new therapist if you feel you’re not making progress with your current one.
3. After you’ve matched with an online therapist, you can begin messaging them immediately. Otherwise, they might reach out to you to introduce themselves and explain more about their treatment approach.
Depending on the platform and plan you’ve chosen, you’ll also have the option of setting up a voice or video call.
The best online therapy apps offer a huge variety of specializations, making it much easier for you to find the right online therapist for your situation. These include the following:
Family counseling, divorce, adoption, infertility, infidelity, pregnancy, postpartum depression
Child or teen counseling
Depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder
Religious and spiritual counseling
Grief, trauma, PTSD, chronic pain
Eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, and obesity
Sleep disorders and insomnia
With the huge number of online therapists available today, just about every specialization is represented. Counsellors who conduct therapy online have the same accreditations as: in traditional therapy, including:
Accredited psychologists (PhD. PsyD)
Licensed professional therapists (LPC or LPCC)
Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW/LMSW)
Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT)
Our Top 3 Online Therapy Services
- Quick matching to licensed therapists based on your needs
- High availability of therapists
- Caters to a wide variety of groups (LGBTQIA+, Christian, teens, etc.)
- Change therapists easily
- Video and phone sessions, live chat, message your therapist anytime
- Anywhere, anytime therapy with the iOS and Android apps
- Standard weekly video sessions are only 30-45 minutes
- Therapists can’t diagnose illnesses or prescribe medication
- BetterHelp can’t substitute face-to-face therapy in every case
BetterHelp is a 100% online therapy platform, with over 30,000 licensed therapists serving clients globally. The site matches you with a therapist who can help you with issues like depression, anxiety, bereavement, and more.
Its standard membership includes weekly 1-to-1, 30-minute sessions, unlimited messages, live chat, and group webinars. Prices are affordable compared to traditional therapy, and you can access BetterHelp on any device.
- Get matched to a licensed online couples therapist quickly
- Unlimited messaging, plus live chat, phone and video sessions
- Extra privacy tools to ensure confidentiality and control of your data
- Meet or talk with your therapist individually or as a couple
- Three-way live sessions (3 different locations) not supported
- The platform does not regulate counselor services
- No live chat for assistance on the site
We all encounter relationship issues from time to time, and sometimes we need a little help to work things out.
ReGain is a convenient, discreet, and affordable couples therapy platform, which uses a thorough assessment to match individuals and couples with a therapist that suits their needs and preferences.
All therapists are licensed practitioners with a range of expertise. But what unites them is their interest and experience in working with couples and individuals.
- Licensed, Christian therapists from the BetterHelp network
- Unlimited messaging, plus live chat, phone and video sessions
- Financial aid available for those who meet certain criteria
- Choose to what degree religion will be involved in your therapy
- Short and quick, but relatively thorough questionnaire
- No customer chat or phone support
- Prices may vary based on your location and preferences
Faithful Counseling is a good solution for anybody looking for a blend of traditional and spiritual therapy. One of the best aspects of the platform is being able to decide for yourself, with the help of your therapist, the role you want faith to play in your sessions. The well-thought-out questionnaire and large network of 6,000 licensed therapists also mean you’re likely to find the right counselor for you in a very short period of time.
Faithful Counseling’s therapists blend empirically validated therapy with Biblical wisdom and religious perspective to respond to a large number of issues, from grief or anger counseling to stress, anxiety, and depression. The pricing is on par with competitors, and financial aid is available for those who need it. If you’re looking to benefit from therapy that will work with, rather than against your spiritual beliefs, Faithful Counseling may be right for you.
How much does online therapy cost
Affordability is one of the primary benefits of virtual counseling. The average cost of online counseling services, even for the best online therapy, sits at around $60 to $90 per session.
Some online therapy platforms offer a variety of plans, although many of the most popular ones, like BetterHelp, have just one flat rate per month. Most online therapy apps include unlimited free texting and at least one voice or video session per week, although some charge extra for these live sessions.
Additionally, some platforms offer online therapy that’s covered by insurance or online therapy that takes Medicaid, while others offer financial aid for those in need. It’s possible to find free online therapy in the form of self-guided, self-paced sessions, although many people have greater success working actively with an online therapist.
Why choose online therapy
Online therapy offers a number of advantages to traditional therapy.
As already mentioned, even the best online counseling can be significantly less costly than traditional, in-person therapy. At around $60 to $90 per session or per week, often with unlimited text messaging, finding an affordable online therapy solution can be much easier than finding an in-person one.
The best therapy apps allow you to message your online therapist 24/7, without having to book an appointment, and they’ll respond when they’re able. Anybody with a stable internet connection can use online counseling, making it particularly useful for individuals with reduced mobility or who reside in rural communities.
Convenience and comfort
Many people find teletherapy far more convenient than its traditional counterpart. For example, you may be more comfortable expressing yourself via text message rather than speaking. It gives you time to put your thoughts and feelings into words. With therapy online, you can get help from the comfort and security of your own home or another safe place. In addition to making it more convenient, this makes it more discreet.
How to get started
The first thing you’ll need to do is choose an online counseling service. There are a few factors you’ll want to consider. You can use our chart above to compare the best online therapy services and choose the one that fits your needs best.
How much does it cost?
Compare plans to find one that suits your needs and fits your budget. Does the therapy app include unlimited text messages? Are video calls extra? Is it covered by your insurance or does the app offer financial aid? Do the overall costs fit your budget?
Does it have the features I want?
Not all online counseling apps are built the same. Some include useful, extra features like journaling, mental health resources, and built-in session scheduling.
Is my privacy being protected?
Online counselling services are not as tightly regulated as other telehealth sectors. Some online counseling apps have partnerships with third parties, like Facebook and Google, and have been known to share user data with these platforms. Check online for a history of data breaches or information on what kind of data is being shared.
How can I communicate with my therapist?
Decide whether you want to communicate with your virtual therapist primarily with your computer or your smartphone, or both. Is text therapy enough or do you prefer voice or video calls?
Is the app user friendly and enjoyable to use? Is there user support available?
You’re going to be using this app often and for an extended period of time. Make sure you enjoy its look and feel, that it’s easy to use and understand, and that user support is available if you encounter any problems.
Is online therapy right for me?
You may not know the answer to this until you’ve tried out an app, but it’s an important question. If you find that online therapy isn’t right for you, you’ll probably want to switch to in-person therapy.
How to choose a therapist
Choosing an online therapist is an important part of your mental health journey with therapy online. There are a few important factors to consider, but this is one area where the best online therapy apps definitely excel. Many popular therapy apps use sophisticated algorithms to match you with a virtual counselor based on an initial questionnaire. You’ll find many of the same questions as these:
What are you seeking help for?
Most therapists specialize in a few specific domains. Make sure your online therapist has the education and experience necessary to help you overcome whatever difficulties you’re facing. Think about your reasons for seeking help, how your difficulties are affecting you, and what you hope to gain from therapy.
Do you feel comfortable with them?
Therapy works best when you are open and honest; that can be hard to do if you don’t have a good connection with your therapist. If you don’t “click” with the first virtual counselor you meet, don’t give up. Just ask to be assigned to a new one. You may need to try two or three therapists until you find the right one—but you’ll be glad you did.
Are they licensed and state certified?
Most online counseling apps rigorously vet their therapists before allowing them on board. You can check these requirements on the platform. You may also want to find an online therapist that’s licensed in your state, as licensing requirements vary.
What kind of treatment options do they offer?
Therapy comes in a variety of flavors. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular approach based on identifying and changing negative thought patterns. However, other approaches can also be useful and may feel like a better fit. Find out what treatment options your virtual therapist offers and discuss their merits with them.
Are they responsive and available when you need them?
You shouldn’t expect your online therapist to respond to your messages as soon as you send them, but they should respond within a reasonable timeframe. Make sure they’re available for voice or video calls at a time that suits your schedule as well.