9 Best Online Therapy & Counseling Services: Features, Cost & Reviews

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Not too long ago, online therapy services were a total hit-or-miss, and it was hard to tell if virtual sessions helped as much as an in-person session. But today, online therapy has grown into a mainstream method of getting mental health support, with several virtual services popping up over the last few years.

Jump ahead to these sections: 

So, if you’re ready for online therapy, how do you know when one will work for you? Comparison research can be time-consuming, especially when you’re already feeling stressed. As a licensed mental health practitioner, I’ve done the heavy lifting for you. I spent hours and hours researching each of the major online therapy platforms. I’ll give you my honest opinion, and highlight the key features, pros, and cons of each service.

Keep in mind that online counseling platforms are not appropriate for emergencies like suicide risk or self-harm. If you or your loved one are in crisis or need emergency help, please call 911 for services in your area.

So if you're ready to consider online therapy, let’s dive in and get the details on each of these platforms.

What is Online Therapy and Counseling?    

Online therapy is a form of counseling that takes place online through a website, video chat platform, or mobile app. Usually, therapists from different geographic locations, backgrounds, and specialties set up have profiles or are hired on a therapy platform. So once you pick what platform is best for you, you can find or be matched with a therapist, and get started. 

Some platforms match you with a therapist during an onboarding session, while other platforms allow you to see a large selection of therapists and their specialties so you can choose for yourself. 

Many platforms offer a subscription service to allow regular access to your therapist. Others have a fixed rate for each session, and you pay for one at a time.

Overall, it's a user-friendly and straightforward way to get started with therapy. When you need counseling, online therapy platforms do everything possible to make it a smooth and simple process.

» MORE: How do you host a virtual funeral? Start here

 

Why Do People Choose Online Therapy Over In-Person Sessions?  

Online therapy has taken off in the last few years. So, why do people prefer online counseling over in-person therapy? For some, it comes down to convenience, and for others, it might be comfort and cost. Let’s take a closer look at why people may choose virtual sessions over in-person appointments.

  • Easier access to specialists: If you have a special counseling need, you aren’t bound to the professionals in your neighborhood. You can branch out and find the therapist that fits your needs without traveling.
  • More convenient and flexible: Online therapy can be an ideal choice for people who live far away from counseling services or who have challenging schedules.
  • Can be less expensive: With online therapy, you don’t spend money on transportation and can often find lower rates than therapists in physical locations. 
  • Can be less socially uncomfortable: Having the screen between you and the therapist creates a boundary, which can help you feel more comfortable. You can stay in your home or another environment that feels safe and familiar.
  • Easier to choose therapy over not getting help: It’s easy to get started and continue online therapy. Doing therapy is a more comfortable choice for someone who might otherwise hesitate to get help.  
  • Keeps therapy more consistent: Online therapy avoids common obstacles to attending therapy sessions. Bad weather, transportation issues, and mild illnesses don’t interfere with the session schedule.

What Are the Different Types of Online Therapy or Counseling? 

Online counseling covers nearly every type of special need and mental health diagnosis. These are some of the more common types of online counseling people search for. 

Individual counseling

Therapists are trained to help with many different conditions. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common. While most therapists can help with these two issues, many develop areas of specialty. So when you explain your situation at the start, you can match up with someone who genuinely understands your struggles.

Teen counseling

Teens need counselors that understand the challenges of living between childhood and adulthood. While they may struggle with similar issues as adults, teens are still maturing and need guidance. Teens usually value a mix of independence and support from adults. 

LGBTQ+ counseling

Acceptance is an important consideration when starting therapy. This is essential when considering gender, orientation, and identity. Counselors with personal experience or training on LGBTQ+ perspectives promote acceptance and empathy.   

Couples counseling

Sometimes couples need help sorting out conflict, harmful patterns, and poor communication. Couples counseling helps both individuals stay accountable as they improve their relationship.

Telepsychiatry

When medication is part of your treatment plan, you’ll need to visit with a medical professional a few times. If you’re doing online therapy, having online medical visits as well is even more convenient. This is often called telepsychiatry and can be done with or without therapy sessions.

Grief counseling 

Grief counseling is a unique type of therapy often offered as a specialty. While grief can be painful, it's a natural experience and is not considered a mental disorder. Some people find short-term grief counseling helpful as they deal with their loss. Some loss is traumatic, and people may experience multiple losses in a short time. 

How Did We Compare Each Online Therapy Service? 

Before starting online therapy, you need answers to your most essential questions. But in your moment of greatest need, making a decision like this can feel overwhelming. So, I spent hours scouring each service’s site, reading reviews, scrutinizing the services offerings, and compiled a comparison of the services. Here’s some detail on the data I collected.

Here’s the data I reviewed and compared for each platform:

  • Price per session: This covers the amount per session, which can depend on the platform's payment arrangement and the type of service (therapy or psychiatry) 
  • Payment arrangement: Do I pay for each session as they come, or do I pay a membership fee? 
  • Insurance: Do online platforms take insurance? If so, what kind? 
  • How you are matched with your counselor: Does the platform match you with a counselor, or do you choose?
  • How you communicate with your counselor: Do you communicate by video-only, or does the platform offer phone, email, chat, or texting options?
  • How your privacy is protected: This covers data encryption, the release of information to third parties, and protection of sensitive information within the platform. 
  • Psychiatry services: If you need medication, can you get psychiatric services on the same platform? 
  • Confidentiality: Do you have to use your real name? How private is your identity? 
  • Availability of grief counseling: Grief counseling is a specialty type of therapy. Having this available means that other specialties may be available as well. 

Popular Online Therapy Services Compared

People are more comfortable trying online counseling now than ever before. But here’s the bottom line: the gold standard of therapeutic connection is an in-person session with another live human being. There is simply no substitute for this type of interaction. 

Here's a quick look at the winners: 

With that said, being in-person isn’t always practical or possible for a variety of reasons. When online therapy is the best option, the positives far outweigh the limitations. The best services match the benefits of in-person counseling with online convenience.  

Best overall: Talkspace  

Talkspace's homepage

  • Price per session:  Plans start at $65/week for individual therapy, couples therapy starts at $99/week, higher-cost options include more live sessions per month
  • Payment arrangement:  Membership
  • Insurance:  They take insurance, many EAP plans also cover their services, and some people use health flex spending accounts
  • Counselor matching process: Platform matches you with a counselor
  • Communication:  Text, audio, video, and picture messages 
  • Privacy: All communication is encrypted, HIPAA-compliant, unique passcodes, iOS app uses Touch ID and Face ID on enabled devices
  • Confidentiality:  You can use a nickname, they will also ask for an emergency contact
  • Psychiatry services:  Yes, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners
  • Grief counseling:  Yes

What sets Talkspace apart is the variety of communication methods. That said, the most budget-friendly option does not include video sessions. However, you can start with more video sessions and drop to a less expensive option as you progress. If you’re looking for a one-stop option for psychiatric services and therapy, Talkspace offers the least expensive combination on the same platform. 

Learn More About Therapy On Talkspace.com

Best for psychiatry services: Amwell  

Amwell's home page

  • Price per session: Therapy - $99 (master’s level) or $110 (doctoral level), Psychiatry - $269, follow-up visits are $99
  • Payment arrangement: Pay for one session at a time. Before you have each visit, you'll see a real-time price estimate based on your insurance. You can continue or cancel based on that.
  • Insurance:  They work with many insurance companies
  • Counselor matching process:  Self-match with a counselor
  • Communication:  Video chat only
  • How your privacy is protected: Private, secure, HIPAA-compliant tool, video sessions are not recorded or stored, federal and state privacy laws
  • Confidentiality: Doesn’t specify if you can use a nickname, but video chat is the only option, so identity is partially revealed
  • Psychiatry services:  Yes
  • Grief counseling:  Not specified 

Of the three medical platforms, Amwell has the lowest cost for both therapy and psychiatric sessions. The cost is higher than any of the therapy-only platforms. Yet, Amwell has the most encouraging stance on working with insurance. 

A person with complex mental health needs may need to see specialists or more than one person. Amwell makes it easy to find multiple professionals on the same platform. The platform's best financial feature is the estimated cost preview before each visit. And with insurance coverage, your cost may be lower than other platforms in the end.

Learn More About Therapy On Amwell.com

Best grief counseling: Doctor On Demand  

Doctor on Demand's homepage

  • Price per session:  Counseling: $129 for a 25 min consultation, $179 for a 50 min consultation. Psychiatry: $299 for initial 45 min consultation, $129 for 15 min follow-up
  • Payment arrangement:  Pay for one session at a time
  • Insurance:  They take insurance from many companies, depends on whether your plan covers telehealth services
  • Counselor matching process: Self-match with a counselor
  • Communication:  Video chat only
  • Privacy: HIPAA-compliant, can release information to a third party with your explicit request
  • Confidentiality: Doesn’t specify if you can use a nickname, but video chat is the only option, so identity is partially revealed
  • Psychiatry services:  Yes
  • Grief counseling:  Yes

Doctor On Demand is the most expensive platform in this review. However, they specify a focus on the mind and body. This is crucial for treating mental health issues. You may also be willing to pay more if you find a specialist that would otherwise be difficult to see in person. 

Learn More About Therapy On DoctorOnDemand.com

BetterHelp  

BetterHelp's home page

  • Price per session: $40-$70 per week billed monthly
  • Payment arrangement: Monthly membership
  • Insurance: They will take insurance, but state that their services are often not covered.
  • Counselor matching process: Platform matches you with a counselor
  • Communication:  Live chat, phone, and video sessions
  • Privacy: All communication is encrypted and HIPAA-compliant. Users have unique passcodes and you can “shred” any digital message. When not using insurance, nothing is reported or filed outside the platform. Information is only shared with a release form.
  • Confidentiality: You can use a nickname, they will also ask for an emergency contact
  • Psychiatry services: No
  • Grief counseling:: Yes

BetterHelp is a solid and economical option for online counseling. You can communicate with your counselor in a variety of ways and have some additional control over your privacy with message shredding. 

Their library of articles covers a wide range of mental health conditions, so you can find support outside of your sessions. Note that BetterHelp is a sister site to Teen Counseling, Regain, and Pride Counseling, so many other features are similar. 

Learn More On BetterHelp.com

MDLive  

MDLive's homepage

  • Price per session:  Therapy: $108 per session, Psychiatry: $284 for the initial session, $108 per follow-up session.
  • Payment arrangement:  Pay for one session at a time 
  • Insurance:  They work with some insurance companies, may be part of a group coverage benefit
  • Counselor matching process: Self-match with a counselor
  • Communication:  Video chat and phone
  • Privacy: HIPAA-compliant tool, privacy protected by state and federal laws, can be shared with a third party as allowed by law
  • Confidentiality: Doesn’t specify if you can use a nickname, but video chat is the only option so identity is partially revealed
  • Psychiatry services:  Yes
  • Grief counseling: Yes

While not the lowest cost option for therapy and psychiatric services, MDLive is quite competitive. This platform is still likely to be less expensive than in-person sessions, and they do work with insurance. You still have to match yourself with your provider, but their counseling and psychiatry services are listed on the front page for a smooth start.

Learn More About Therapy On MDLive.com

Pride Counseling  

Pride Counsleing's homepage

  • Price per session: $40-$70 per week billed monthly
  • Payment arrangement: Membership 
  • Insurance:  They will take insurance, but state that their services are often not covered.
  • Counselor matching process:  Platform matches you with a counselor
  • Communication:  Live chat, phone, and video sessions 
  • Privacy: All communication is encrypted, HIPAA-compliant, unique passcodes, you can “shred” any message, when not using insurance nothing is reported or filed outside the platform, information release required to share information
  • Confidentiality: You can use a nickname, they will also ask for an emergency contact
  • Psychiatry services:  No
  • Grief counseling:  Yes

Pride Counseling's home page invites you to get matched with a few simple questions. Trust is essential to all counseling relationships, especially in the LGBTQ+ community.

Pride Counseling does it right by making their welcoming message clear from the start. Cost, privacy, and other features are similar to its sister sites.

Learn More About Therapy On PrideCounseling.com

Teen Counseling  

TeenCounseling's homepage

  • Price per session:  $40-$70 per week billed monthly
  • Payment arrangement:  Membership
  • Insurance:  They will take insurance, but state that their services are often not covered.
  • Counselor matching process:  Platform matches you with a counselor
  • Communication:  Live chat, phone, and video sessions 
  • Privacy: All communication is encrypted and HIPAA-compliant. Users have unique passcodes and you can “shred” any digital message. When not using insurance, nothing is reported or filed outside the platform. Information is only shared with a release form.
  • Confidentiality: You can use a nickname, they will also ask for an emergency contact
  • Psychiatry services:  No
  • Grief counseling:  Yes

Teen Counseling offers separate starting points for parents and teens. Each individual answers questions to help them get matched with a counselor.

The different FAQ sections help teens and parents address a variety of issues. Teen Counseling clearly shows itself as a place dedicated to specialized family counseling.

Learn More About Therapy On TeenCounseling.com

Regain   

Regain's homepage

  • Price per session:  $40-$70 per week billed monthly
  • Payment arrangement:  Membership
  • Insurance:  No insurance coverage is mentioned, only PayPal or credit card payments
  • Counselor matching process: Platform matches you with a counselor
  • Communication:  Live chat, phone, and video sessions
  • Privacy: All communication is encrypted and HIPAA-compliant. Users have unique passcodes and you can “shred” any digital message. When not using insurance, nothing is reported or filed outside the platform. Information is only shared with a release form.
  • Confidentiality: You can use a nickname, they will also ask for an emergency contact
  • Psychiatry services:  No
  • Grief counseling:  Yes

The advantage of choosing Regain is its focus on couple therapy. This platform offers other helpful information with a vast library of advice articles. Because it is a sister site to Better Help, the services and payment options are otherwise similar. 

Learn More About Therapy On Regain.com

Grief Coach  

Grief Coach's offerings

  • Price per session:  $99 annual fee
  • Payment arrangement: Membership 
  • Insurance: No
  • Counselor matching process: Doesn’t apply
  • Communication:   Personalized messages are sent to you based on the information you provide about yourself, your loss, the relationship of the other individual, the cause of death (if you choose to add this information)
  • Privacy: Data is secure with encryption, private, not shared, and you control how much information you add to your profile 
  • Confidentiality: Doesn’t apply, service does not include two-way communication
  • Psychiatry services: No
  • Grief counseling: Not counseling, but provides education and supportive messages

Grief Coach is not a therapy platform, and it’s not trying to be one. Instead, it’s a grief support service delivered through an app. Grief Coach sends tips, reminders, and resources for getting through the grief process, and your messages are customized to you and your loss.

Each message you receive is created by expert contributors and presented on a regular basis, and at important times like anniversaries and holidays. You can invite your friends and family to contribute, and Grief Coach will send them suggestions based on your situation.

Grief Coach is not a substitute for counseling therapy, but many grieving people could benefit from the support and attention it provides.

Learn More About Coaching On Grief.coach

Online Therapy: Building a Foundation of Trust 

Online therapy platforms bring a lot of value, making therapy more accessible than ever. Some differences are worth considering as you make your choice, but it’s all about the therapeutic relationship.

Whether you’re in-person or online, change starts with two people and a foundation of trust.

How do you host a memorial during a pandemic?

Organize a virtual event with help from our friends at GatheringUs.

 

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