Online therapy is used by millions of people to improve wellbeing, reduce symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, and treat their root causes. It differs from traditional therapy in that patients and their therapists communicate online, via text messaging and chat, voice calls or messages, and live video sessions.
Also known as teletherapy or virtual therapy, online therapy isn’t right for everybody. If you are experiencing an acute mental health emergency, having thoughts about suicide or harming yourself or others, or have previously received a diagnosis of a serious mental illness like severe depression or schizophrenia, you should seek in-person counseling.
If you are in a life-threatening situation or mental health emergency, contact 1 800 273 8255 or 911 for help.
Most paid and free online therapy apps can be accessed using your computer, smartphone or tablet.
Online counseling platforms vary, but it’s likely your journey will be similar to the following:
1. You begin by answering a few questions about your current and past mental health, why you’re seeking an online therapist and some details about your personal life.
You might come across questions about your religion, gender identity, sexuality, or relationship status, for example. Answering these questions is rarely mandatory, but doing so can ensure you get the most beneficial experience.
2. Next, you’ll be matched with a therapist online. Many online counseling services will let you select from a shortlist of therapists, while others match you with whomever they think best fits your profile.
All online counseling apps give you the choice of asking for a new therapist if you feel uncomfortable or like you’re not making progress with your current one. Remember, opting for free therapy online doesn’t mean you don’t still have full control over your mental health—so exercise this right as necessary.
3. Once matched with an online therapist, you can typically begin a conversation straight away. In some cases, the therapist may reach out to you first, to introduce themselves and explain their approach to paid or free online therapy.
You may also be able to set up a voice or video call, depending on the platform and your plan. Free therapy online rarely includes these options, though, so you may decide a paid plan is best for you.
4. 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 offering both paid and free online therapy typically cater to a wide variety of specializations. These often include:
With the large number of paid and free online therapy apps available today, you can find a therapist for just about anything. Counsellors who conduct paid and free therapy online have the same licenses as their offline counterparts (and indeed, most paid and free online therapy is administered by counselors who also offer in-person sessions).
Virtual counselling is typically much cheaper than in-person therapy. Even the best online therapy typically comes in at roughly $60 to $90 per session, although there are some free online therapy solutions out there.
Based on the platform you select, you may find a variety of plans to choose from. Many popular online therapy apps, like BetterHelp, propose a single, monthly rate. Online therapy apps typically offer unlimited free texting and one video or voice call per week (although, live sessions may cost extra, depending on the service).
Free online therapy solutions are more likely to be self-guided, although these can be quite effective for maintaining one’s mental health and dealing with more mild mental health issues. Except in emergency or acute distress cases, it can be useful to start with free therapy online, and then move to a paid solution if you find you need it.
Finally, certain online therapy platforms are covered by insurance or online therapy that takes Medicaid. Others may offer financial assistance.
There are several reasons to opt for paid or free therapy online.
As mentioned above, even the best online counseling can be less expensive than in-person options. At between $60 and $90 per session or week, usually with unlimited messaging, it isn’t difficult to find an affordable solution for online therapy.
One of the biggest advantages of the best therapy apps is the ability to message your therapist at any time, night or day, and without an appointment. Your therapist responds when they can, usually within 48 hours. Free therapy online (which again, typically takes the form of self-guided, self-paced therapy courses or workshops) is highly accessible. Both paid and free online therapy, though, can be accessed by anybody with a stable internet connection. For this reason, it’s ideal for those with reduced mobility or living in rural communities.
For many people, teletherapy is more comfortable and more convenient than in-person therapy. You might feel more at ease speaking through text messages, for example, which gives you more time to put your thoughts and feelings into words. Online therapy affords individuals access to counselors from the comfort and security of their own home, or any other safe place of their choosing. It is more convenient and, in some ways, more discreet.
To get started, first decide on an online counseling service. You can use our chart above to compare the best online therapy services based on your preferences. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:
Your choice of an online therapist is important. Fortunately, this is one domain where the best online therapy apps excel. Most employ intelligent algorithms to find the right virtual counselor for you based on the questionnaire, which will likely ask many of the same questions as these:
You might be surprised to find out that you can actually get a fair amount of free online therapy resources. In addition to free, self-guided courses that use CBT, journaling, and other self-service tools, many paid online therapy services also offer a library of free resources to supplement your live therapy sessions.
BetterHelp, for example, has an “Advice” section of its website with a huge number of articles touching on a wide variety of mental health subjects, including how to get the most from your therapy.
You should not expect, however, to find free therapy online that includes interacting with a licensed therapist.
As mentioned above, free online therapy services are unlikely to include sessions or interactions with a licensed therapist. Reputable free online therapy resources will provide you with litterature, workbooks, and even interactive tools for addressing common mental health difficulties like depression and anxiety. A quick Google search can help you uncover many of these.
Other free online therapy resources include communities with volunteer listeners. Such platforms can be helpful when you need to speak to somebody, but be aware that volunteers, although they will have received some training, are typically not licensed therapists. Speaking to a licensed therapist will cost extra.
Platforms that claim to offer free online therapy from licensed therapists should be subjected to intense scrutiny. As is often the case, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” And when it comes to your mental health, you don’t want to mess around with disreputable platforms or individuals. If you’re unsure whether online therapy is right for you, some services offer a free trial. If you simply can’t afford it, you’re better off using self-guided tools built by licensed therapists, or else engaging in community support, rather than trusting in a questionable free online therapy service.