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Wellness

How to find a therapist online

Teletherapy companies are making mental health care easier to access and afford. Here’s how five popular platforms do it.

Young man using online therapy

Research shows online therapy can be equivalent to face-to-face care.

Amwell/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Gone are the days when you had to meet with a therapist face to face to get help. Texting, phone calls and video conferencing have made it easier than ever to get mental healthcare from wherever you are. Whether you used to see a therapist and stopped, or always wanted to go but could never quite make it happen, now is the best time to start.

And compared to in-person therapy, online therapy can often be cheaper. "Therapists reduce their costs by not needing to rent offices and pay other costs related to a separate workplace," says Mark Pines, a licensed therapist and CEO and founder of OpenCounseling, a website that reviews online therapy platforms and helps connect people to free and affordable counseling. "They also eliminate the time and expense of commuting to work. The low cost, accessibility and added convenience opens therapy up to a whole new audience."

But not all online therapy platforms are created equal. Below, a primer on five popular HIPAA-compliant services that only employ licensed and trained mental health professionals. 

Talkspace

talkspace
Talkspace

How it works: Onboarding takes place with a chatbot, which tells you about the platform and then asks you a few very basic questions. To answer, you choose from available responses and then you're immediately given a few possible therapist matches who can help with your specific needs. 

Therapists: More than 5,000 licensed therapists who each have more than 3,000 hours of clinical experience. Each one has been vetted by Talkspace and trained to use the platform. 

Services: Talkspace offers three tiers of service. With each one you're able to send your therapist an unlimited number of text, video and audio messages and your therapist will respond daily, five days a week. With the more expensive tiers, you also get either one or four live video sessions a month, though anyone can add on live 30-minute video sessions for an additional cost. 

Cost: $65-$99 per week billed monthly. If you pay for three months upfront, you save 10% or pay for six months in advance and save 20%. Add-on video sessions are $65 per 30 minutes. Couples therapy is $99/week, also billed monthly and eligible for discounts when you pay for a long-term plan. 

There are no contracts and you can cancel your plan at anytime. For financial assistance, check with your human resources department; Talkspace works with health plans to provide online therapy to employees through employee assistance programs and behavioral health benefits. 

BetterHelp

betterhelp-smartphone-app
BetterHelp

How it works: You're asked a variety of questions that touch on your gender identity, sexual orientation, mood and more that only take a minute or two to answer. After that you'll be matched with a therapist -- usually within 24 hours or less. You can read a bit about the counselor and then message them, or request a new match specifying any preferences, like gender. 

Therapists: More than 4,000 licensed and vetted psychologists (PhD/PsyD), marriage and family therapists (LMFT), clinical social workers (LCSW / LMSW), or licensed professional counselors (LPC). Each therapist has a masters or doctorate degree in their field, plus at least 3 years and 2,000 hours of relevant experience.

Services: You get access to unlimited text-based messaging and live weekly interactions that are scheduled in advance and conducted by phone, video or chat. BetterHelp provides more than 150 digital worksheets and modules to help you in treatment and also provides free access to more than 20 live group therapy sessions. 

Cost: $80 per week if billed weekly; $40 to $70 per week if billed monthly; $45 per week if billed quarterly, and $35 per week if billed yearly. BetterHelp doesn't work with any insurance companies or employers. As a result, services are usually not covered by health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, but you should check your specific plan details. You can cancel your BetterHelp membership at any time.

Amwell

Amwell online therapy portal
Amwell

How it works: After creating a free account and adding your insurance information, if applicable, you're able to navigate Amwell's entire platform, which, in addition to therapy, includes urgent care and specialty care, like dermatology. Click on the therapy tab and you'll be given a list of licensed therapists in your state with limited information about each. From there you can schedule your first appointment. 

Therapists: Hundreds of licensed psychologists that have either a master's degree or doctorate in their field. Each are trained in telehealth prevention and treatment techniques. Amwell also offers online psychiatrists who can prescribe medications, as well as a national network of U.S. board-certified clinicians to manage other medical needs.

Services: Live video sessions that are scheduled in advance. Therapists are available 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST, 7 days per week. 

Cost: $85 to see someone with a master's degree; $99 for a therapist with a PhD. All sessions are 45 minutes. Amwell works with a variety of employers and leading health plans, so you may end up only paying a co-pay or whatever is needed to meet your deductible.

Doctor On Demand

Dr. On Demand apps
Dr. On Demand

How it works: Take a free mental health assessment to see if you'd benefit from talking to a therapist or dive right in by creating a free account. Once you do, you'll be shown a list of available therapists. Unfortunately, there's no way to search or sort by preference. Schedule your first session with the counselor of your choice.

Therapists: Hundreds of licensed psychologists and board-certified psychiatrists, as well as doctors who can provide urgent or preventative healthcare. 

Services: Live video sessions that are scheduled in advance.

Cost: $79 for 25 minutes or $119 for 50 minutes. Dr. On Demand also accepts insurance and works with more than 400 employers. 

MDLIVE

MDLIVE app
MDLIVE

How it works: Register for free and choose a reason for your visit. After answering a few questions, you'll be shown a list of available therapists and their bios, which you can sort by specialty, language and gender. Appointments must be requested; they're not instantly booked. 

Therapists: Licensed mental health professionals and board-certified physicians, including psychiatrists. All providers receive telehealth training and undergo background checks. 

Services: Pre-scheduled phone or video sessions. 

Cost: $99 out of pocket. MDLIVE accepts insurance and also partners with a variety of employers and health plans.

Find a therapist the good old-fashioned way

If you don't want to go through a third-party platform, you can still work with a therapist online. Many now offer online options through their private practices. If you have insurance, you may be able to search for therapists through your provider's portal. 

Or, browse databases like the one maintained by Psychology Today, which lets you narrow down your choices according to a variety of parameters, including gender, languages spoken and whether the counselor offer online therapy. 

Whatever route you choose, keep these tips in mind as you search:

  • Make sure they are licensed professionals. Make sure that whomever you're considering is a licensed therapist (in your state!) in good standing. "Therapist and psychotherapist are not legally protected words in most states, meaning anyone can claim to be a therapist and offer services that may appear as therapy" according to the APA. So ask for a license number and verify it with the licensing board in your state. A therapist can be a nurse, counselor, social worker, psychologist, or a psychiatrist. 
  • Be honest and specific about what you're dealing with and what type of support you're looking for. "Sometimes clients will send me a description saying I want to improve my self-esteem," says Kalai. "But that's just not enough for me to know if I'm the right [therapist] for you." 
  • Ask your potential therapist questions about themselves and their practice. "Make sure to find a therapist who feels confident treating your symptoms," says Kalai. Especially remotely -- not all forms of therapy can be conducted online. Stumped about what to ask them? Here's a list of questions to ask a therapist.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.