Many people have started managing their basic healthcare needs online. The exponential growth in the telehealth industry means consumers have a variety of options for seeing a doctor without leaving home.
Video chat makes it easy to consult with a physician virtually and have an experience that’s similar to visiting your doctor in person. This is especially true for counseling and therapy services. There are many instances where online consultations are just as effective, and usually they’re much more convenient.
BetterHelp, the largest online counseling platform in the world, makes professional counseling available anytime, anywhere. With over 7,800 licensed counselors available, 900,000 patients and almost 70 million sessions completed, BetterHelp is one of the major players in the online therapy space. So we wanted to know, is BetterHelp worth a try for those considering online therapy?
We thoroughly evaluated BetterHelp’s online therapy services in order to share with you what you can expect from virtual counseling sessions at BetterHelp.
- Professional, licensed and rigorously vetted counselors possess at least 3 years and 2,000 hours of experience.
- BetterHelp counselors can treat individuals for many mental health concerns.
- Communicate online or via the mobile app.
- Choose to message, live chat, speak on the phone, or video conference with your counselor.
- For many, $40-$70 per week is more affordable than in-person therapy.
- Fast, intuitive, and user-friendly.
- Change your counselor anytime to find the best fit for you.
- 7-day free trial.
- Counselors cannot make an official diagnosis or prescribe medication.
- BetterHelp cannot fulfill court orders.
- Insurance plans do not typically cover BetterHelp therapy sessions.
- Getting the free trial is a little tricky.
We recommend BetterHelp for anyone looking to improve their quality of life through counseling. BetterHelp has counselors who can assist with everything from general concerns to specialized issues such as anxiety, stress, relationships, family conflicts, addiction, trauma, and more.
It’s especially ideal for those who prefer to speak to a counselor from the comfort of their own home – or wherever they’re most comfortable – as opposed to attending an in-person session in their therapist’s office.
BetterHelp offers convenient online counseling in an intuitive, trustworthy environment.
After being matched with a BetterHelp counselor that fits your preferences and needs, you’ll get unlimited messaging and weekly, real-time counseling sessions via your choice of live chat, phone call, or video call. Schedule counseling sessions when it’s convenient for you and meet with your counselor from the comfort of your own home - or wherever you choose!
- Why you should trust us
- How qualified are BetterHelp counselors?
- What are some of the areas BetterHelp can help with?
- How BetterHelp setup works
- How to find the best BetterHelp therapist
- How much does BetterHelp cost?
- Is BetterHelp worth the money?
- Ease of use and the overall member experience
- Is BetterHelp a safe and secure site?
- BetterHelp vs Talkspace, which is better?
- Counselor response time
- How we evaluate health service companies
Innerbody Research recently celebrated its 20-year anniversary online. Over the past two decades, we have helped tens of millions of readers make more informed decisions involving staying healthy and living healthier lifestyles.
We extensively test each health service we review, including BetterHelp. We try our best to give you, our readers, an unbiased exploration of at-home health services, free of marketing jargon or gimmicks. We evaluate the service based on our adherence to quality, the latest medical evidence and health standards, and a simple question: would we buy the product or service ourselves if it weren’t part of our job, and would we recommend it to family and friends?
Additionally this review of BetterHelp, like all health-related content on this website, was thoroughly vetted by one or more members of our Medical Review Board for accuracy.
BetterHelp was founded in 2013 by Alon Matas, an ad tech professional who experienced depression himself. After realizing that he needed to seek help, Matas learned that most people who need counseling aren’t getting it. He decided to use technology to minimize many of the pain points of traditional, face-to-face therapy, including cost, stigma and convenience.
Matas realized, however, that the most important resource BetterHelp provides is the counselor herself. So he built a rigorous counselor application process with that in mind.
Although BetterHelp was acquired by Teladoc, Inc. in 2015, Matas still leads the company and BetterHelp continues its diligent counselor vetting process. In fact, only 15% of counselors that apply to the BetterHelp platform are approved.
The BetterHelp counselor application process comprises:
- A review of each counselor’s background, experience, and references
- Verification of credentials
- A case study exam evaluated by a licensed clinician; a video interview
- A platform skills test
BetterHelp counselors are also subject to ongoing quality improvement, monitoring, and client feedback throughout their tenure at BetterHelp.
All BetterHelp counselors have a Master’s Degree or a Doctorate Degree in their field and are experienced and accredited as:
- Psychologists (PhD / PsyD)
- Marriage and family therapists (LMFT)
- Clinical social workers (LCSW / LMSW)
- Licensed professional counselors (LPC)
In addition, BetterHelp counselors have been qualified and certified by their state’s professional board; they have at least 3 years and 2,000 hours of hands-on experience prior to joining; after joining BetterHelp, they regularly go through peer review, results monitoring and ongoing training and support; they each have a mentor to help guide them through the BetterHelp process.
BetterHelp sets high standards for the counselors who utilize their platform. While they do maintain that they are not responsible for patient-counselor interactions – BetterHelp is simply the platform – it’s clear that they make a good faith effort to ensure the counselors they work with are not only accredited and experienced, but highly rated as well.
Couples counseling, teen counseling and LGBTQIA counseling
BetterHelp offers specific programs for couples, teen and LGBTQIA counseling.
- Regain.us is BetterHelp’s sister site dedicated to couples counseling
- TeenCounseling.com is where BetterHelp offers counseling for teens.
- Pride Counseling is BetterHelp’s therapy service focused entirely on providing specialized counseling and support for those in the LGBTQIA community.
BetterHelp may automatically connect you to their sister sites from the BetterHelp website, based on the counseling needs you convey. Whether you use BetterHelp, ReGain, TeenCounseling.com or Pride Counseling, the pricing structure is essentially the same and all counselors meet the same high standards and undergo the same rigorous screening.
In reality, all of us can benefit from talking with a counselor. No matter who we are, there are obstacles that face us in life – things that can get in the way of our happiness or things that become roadblocks as we pursue our goals. And it may be the goals themselves that are changing and we could benefit from exploring that.
BetterHelp therapists are all highly qualified to help you as you seek to improve your life. BetterHelp also works with counselors who specialize in particular areas of concern, including but not limited to:
- Family conflict
Not intended for an emergency situation or dangerous crisis
BetterHelp is not the service you should contact for any active emergency situation. If you are suicidal or contemplating self-harm – or if this describes someone you know – call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-TALK (8255).
The BetterHelp setup process is relatively quick and easy. It requires answering questions about yourself, what you’re looking for in a counselor, and paying for your first month of therapy. The process is intuitive and the site walks you through each step. It takes about 15 minutes to complete the questionnaires and be matched with a counselor.
If you’re not ready to pay, we recommend stopping after you’ve been matched with a counselor. You’ll receive an automated welcome message from your counselor asking for more information from you. Once you type up your response and hit “send” you’ll be asked to pay in order to continue, which can be frustrating if you spent time on your reply but aren’t quite ready to pull out your credit card. The good news is that BetterHelp does save your message, so if you choose to pay later or unlock the 7-day free trial, your message won’t be lost.
See our “Pricing and plan options” section below for steps on how to unlock the 7-day free trial.
Here’s more detail on each step in the BetterHelp setup process:
Step 1: Fill out a short questionnaire
BetterHelp uses your responses to its initial questionnaire to identify which areas you’re hoping to address in your therapy sessions and match you to an appropriate counselor. The questionnaire asks basic demographic questions, what type of counseling you’re looking for, whether you’ve been to counseling in the past, and a series of questions about how you’re sleeping, your energy level, and how you’re feeling mentally.
Step 2: Create your private account
You can choose to sign up with Facebook, Google, or by entering your email address and password directly into the site. You’ll be emailed a verification code that you’ll need to enter into the BetterHelp site.
Step 3: Identify what you’re looking for in a counselor
Let BetterHelp know what you want from your counselor. You can indicate whether you have a preference for gender, age, religion and even sexual orientation. Next select the areas you’d like your counselor to have experience in, including depression, addiction, family matters, motivation and self-esteem, eating disorders, parenting, executive and professional coaching, sleeping disorders and more. Finally, you’re asked to give a brief description of what brings you to BetterHelp.
Step 4: Get matched with a counselor
Based on all of the information you provided, BetterHelp’s sophisticated algorithm will match you with a counselor who best fits your requirements. Keep in mind, in order to find the best fit, BetterHelp may not be able to accommodate all of your preferences. For instance, during one review we selected that we’d prefer a female counselor but were initially matched with a man. You’ll see a picture and short bio of the counselor you’ve matched with, as well as a list of her specialties, licensing, and communication options. You can request to change your counselor at any time if you feel the person you’re matched with is not a good fit.
Step 5: Send a message to your counselor, confirm your plan, and pay
You’ll see a message from BetterHelp followed by an automated, introductory message from your counselor asking for more information from you. The messaging feature is not real-time and once you’ve entered your message, you’ll be asked to pay for your first month of sessions up front. Each month of counseling will include unlimited messaging and one live chat, phone, or video session per week. If you can’t afford therapy, there’s also an option to check whether you’re eligible for financial aid by answering a few questions.
Once you’ve paid, you’ll have the option to schedule your weekly live chat, phone, or video session with your counselor based on the availability listed on their calendar.
By default, BetterHelp uses your answers to its questionnaire to match you to a therapist algorithmically. Talkspace’s method of matching you to a therapist – through a conversation with an actual therapist who asks you similar questions – is more personable and some people find it to be more successful also.
In our testing, BetterHelp’s algorithmic method yielded positive results as well. We did not feel an appreciable difference in the level of success between the two companies. However, it’s important for clients to feel fully comfortable as they begin therapy. If you want more control over the matching process with BetterHelp, there is a useful trick to select therapists for yourself.
Scroll down to the very bottom of the page, in the footer section of the BetterHelp website, where you will find a link that says, “Find a Therapist”. If you click this link and then specify your geographic location, then you can browse the available therapists serving your area.
The list of therapists is limited to 20 at first, but clicking refresh allows you to see more available therapists. You can read information about their amount of experience along with their own descriptions of themselves and their practice. You can use this method for identifying and selecting a therapist based on your own criteria.
Changing your counselor
BetterHelp makes it easy to change your counselor if you are unsatisfied with your current match for any reason. If your counselor takes too long to reply to a message, BetterHelp suggests the option to switch counselors within your message thread. You can also do so through your account.
In our experience, we requested to change counselors around 9pm on a weekday and were matched with a new counselor by 9am the following morning. BetterHelp will ask why you’ve requested to switch counselors and you have the option of sharing that feedback, or not, with your current counselor.
Is BetterHelp free?
No, BetterHelp isn’t free, but you can try it for free for a full week in order to see if it works well for you. As long as you cancel your subscription before 7 days, you will not be charged. Alternately, as you sign up, you can select “I can’t afford therapy,” and walk through the ensuing prompts in order to establish your trial week at the outset.
Because therapy is an investment, we consider this trial week to be a very valuable service and something that sets BetterHelp apart from its competitors.
Plans start at $35/week and if you are unable to afford this amount, you can apply for financial aid in order to reduce the price.
Pricing and plan options
BetterHelp advertises that the cost of counseling ranges from $40 to $70 per week and that you can cancel your membership online at any time, for any reason. You can pay via credit card or PayPal.
In our experience, once matched with a counselor, we were directed to a payment page with one price option of $65/week, billed monthly.
However, if we left the payment screen, navigated to our profile in the upper right-hand corner of the site, clicked on the menu, and selected “subscribe,” we were given more payment options, including:
- $80/week, billed weekly – you are charged $80/week
- $65/week, billed monthly – you are charged $260/month
- $45/week, billed quarterly – you are charged $540 every three months
- $35/week, billed yearly – you are charged $1,820/year
All options include one live counseling session per week and unlimited messaging for the duration of the plan.
An added benefit of all the plans is that 10% of your first week’s payment will be donated to a mental health cause. We were able to select from the following charities:
On each payment screen, you’re given the option to select “I can’t afford therapy.” This link takes you to a questionnaire that allows you to check whether or not you’re eligible for financial aid.
If you don’t think you’re eligible, or don’t want to fill out the form, you can click “still not ready.” This takes you to a page with four options for why you feel you’re not ready to start therapy. Selecting one of these reasons will take you to a page with additional information and another option to start therapy or select “still not ready” again.
If you continue through these prompts and continue selecting “still not ready,” you’ll eventually be offered a 7-day free trial.
You’ll still need to enter your credit card to activate the free trial, but you won’t be charged until your trial is complete and BetterHelp indicates that they’ll inform you before they charge your card.
The BetterHelp homepage lists Couples and Teen counseling options in addition to Individual therapy. Each of these services sends you to a sister site when selected. Couples are sent to Regain.us and Teens are sent to TeenCounseling.com. Pricing for these services is similar to what BetterHelp offers its individual patients.
Though they don’t list it from their homepage, BetterHelp has a separate website devoted to LGBTQIA counseling, called Pride Counseling. Its services are just as affordable and structured the same as BetterHelp, but therapists with Pride Counseling specialize in providing counseling to people in the LGBTQIA community. Pride Counseling also protects your privacy and anonymity as rigorously as BetterHelp.
Does insurance cover BetterHelp?
BetterHelp services are typically not covered by health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. It’s always worth checking with your provider, but BetterHelp is likely to be an out-of-pocket expense.
However, BetterHelp has priced its services to be competitive with what many patients pay out-of-pocket when factoring in co-pays, deductibles, and stringent coverage requirements that insurance providers set.
Consult your health insurance provider to find out what your current plan actually covers and compare your real costs to BetterHelp’s pricing to determine which route makes the most sense for you.
BetterHelp can be significantly more affordable than what many people pay for traditional therapy. In that sense, if you find that online therapy and live sessions are as helpful and productive for you as traditional, in-person therapy, then yes BetterHelp is worth the money and a good value.
Like all therapy, though, the value comes when you find the therapist with whom you can develop a very productive and useful routine and working relationship. BetterHelp makes it easy to find and, if necessary, switch counselors. This makes your chances of worthwhile therapy very good via BetterHelp.
Therapy, in general, is very much “worth it”. Most of us can benefit greatly from therapy, but in spite of this, too many of us neglect our own mental health and emotional wellbeing. Therapy can greatly improve quality of life. $40 per week boils down to a little over $5 per day. That seems like a worthy investment, certainly something worth trying. And best of all, though they don’t exactly advertise this (which we believe they should), BetterHelp allows you to try a week for free.
Now that we have covered the sign-up and counselor matching process, what is it like to be an ongoing member of BetterHelp?
BetterHelp offers a simple, intuitive way to communicate with a counselor via the method you’re most comfortable with. Since you can choose your desired mode of communication each time you book a session, you’re not committed to only one option. We like that you can have a phone call one week and video chat the next – all for the same price. This kind of flexibility, with no impact on pricing, makes for a very good ongoing counseling experience.
As mentioned, making sure you’re matched with a counselor that’s right for you is paramount. Take the time up front to ask a lot of questions. You’re paying your counselor, so make sure you like them and that they’re responsive and available when you need them. If you want to change counselors, even more than once, you can and should.
The more you share with your counselor up front and the better you express your expectations to them – including communication expectations – the more likely you are to have a great experience. You may be matched with the perfect counselor immediately, or you may need to talk with a few different people before you find someone you want to work with.
The website and mobile app both offer simple, easy-to-use interfaces that make managing your account, setting appointments with your counselor, and reviewing previous sessions seamless.
If you’re comfortable with email and messaging services, live chat, and video calls, you’ll have a straightforward and intuitive experience interacting with your counselor using the BetterHelp site or app.
Unlimited messaging with your counselor
Every BetterHelp payment plan includes unlimited messaging. This is not a real-time feature, but instead works like email. You’ll send a long-form message to your counselor and she’ll reply when she’s able. Messaging works through the BetterHelp site or mobile app, so you can review the conversation thread at any time.
You’ll be alerted via email (and possibly a mobile notification, based on your settings) when a message comes in, but you’ll need to login to the site or app to read and reply to it. Much like email, you can include attachments, send video or audio files, and even flag a note as urgent.
The primary advantage of choosing to communicate via live chat is that you’ll have a record of your conversation with your counselor available at your fingertips. Much like texting or using an online chat program to type back-and-forth with a friend, BetterHelp’s live chat option lets you use your mobile device or computer to communicate with a counselor. Since it’s scheduled in advance, you know your counselor will be available and committed to responding to you during that time.
For people who like to review what was discussed after the fact or who are uncomfortable speaking or video chatting directly, live chat is a fantastic feature that can allow many people to open up in a way that can be difficult on the phone or face-to-face.
BetterHelp also allows you to communicate with your counselor via a traditional phone call if you so choose. Whether you don’t have the technology for a video session or just prefer to hold the phone to your ear, a phone call can be a great option for those who find live chat too impersonal, but face-to-face sessions too burdensome.
Most people are familiar with video chat, and BetterHelp video calls are no different than those on most major platforms. You’ll need a decent internet or data connection, then you can use the camera and microphone on your computer or mobile device to see and speak with your counselor face-to-face, in real time.
The video session is the closest option to an in-person therapy session and we’d recommend scheduling at least a few video sessions early on so you can get a good feel for your counselor and how they are interacting with you. Once you’re comfortable and have established a rapport, it’s easy to schedule a phone call or live chat if that’s most convenient for you.
How long are BetterHelp live sessions?
In our testing, a once-weekly live session with a therapist typically lasts around 20-30 minutes. The length and frequency of live sessions also depends on what works best for you and your therapist – something for you to determine as you work together. Some people find that more frequent and briefer sessions are more useful, while others prefer the less frequent but slightly longer sessions. It really is all about finding that ideal rhythm for your needs. And of course, between the live sessions you will be interacting frequently via messaging and routine check-ins with your therapist as well.
What is BetterHelp's cancellation policy?
Canceling a BetterHelp subscription is very easy and can be completed online in just a couple of minutes.
Once you’ve logged in, navigate to your payment settings. You’ll see a link that allows you to change or cancel your plan. To cancel, simply click the link and answer a multiple choice question about why you’re cancelling. You’ll have the option to share the fact that you’re cancelling with your counselor, or not. Then you’ll be asked if you’d like the same counselor in the event you resume therapy in the future. Once you confirm the cancellation, you’ll receive an email with a cancellation confirmation.
BetterHelp definitely takes your privacy and security very seriously. From a security standpoint, they use SSL encryption as well as banking-grade 256-bit encryption in order to make your messaging absolutely secure. The company’s servers are hosted under the highest security.
And in terms of privacy, all therapists with BetterHelp adhere strictly to HIPAA regulations and abide by all state and federal laws protecting your confidentiality. You don’t have to use your name at all, but instead remain totally anonymous to your therapist using an alias (a “nickname” in their system). BetterHelp does not ask for your full name when you sign up.
Because BetterHelp doesn’t work with insurance or employers, they don’t share any information at all with those entities.
If there is a message that you don’t want to remain even in your account, you can click to “shred” it. (However, having messages to review and revisit at later times can be very beneficial in therapy, so we recommend you use this sparingly.)
On balance we believe that BetterHelp is the better choice for most people seeking online therapy at this time. When looking for good online therapy, at a certain point it’s almost inevitable that many of us will end up comparing BetterHelp and Talkspace. They’re both very large and successful and, on the surface, seem very similar.
Both services are built around a network of very qualified and experienced therapists. Both use a subscription structure. Both companies make it easy to switch therapists if you are not totally satisfied by your current therapist.
But the two companies do differ in some meaningful ways. Here are three of the more significant differences, in our opinion:
Live sessions vs. messaging
Though some of BetterHelp’s participating therapists do not do live video sessions, most of them do. And the BetterHelp service is built more around establishing a cadence of live sessions that works well for both you and your therapist. The general “default” cadence is something like one live session per week. While unlimited messaging is valuable, we believe that it cannot replicate some of the real value that comes from face-to-face interaction between the therapist and client. Anybody who has ever misconstrued a text message can understand this point. Talkspace facilitates live sessions as well, but not at the entry-level; Talkspace requires a bigger investment for it. We believe BetterHelp has the better approach in this case.
Try before you buy
Online therapy companies typically do not dwell too much on this reality: when it comes to therapy, what works excellently for some people won’t work well for others. This is one reason why there are so many therapeutic modalities to begin with. There is not one universal approach that works best for everyone, and this is also true of online therapy. Many people are trying it for the very first time. When you try it, you may find it works so well that you don’t miss traditional therapy sessions at all. On the other hand, you may find it to be not as helpful. This is why BetterHelp’s one-week free trial period is so valuable. With it, BetterHelp is not only acknowledging that online therapy might not work ideally for you, but also conveying that they’re confident it will be very useful for most people. The company’s dramatic growth seems to bear this out, as well.
BetterHelp’s service will be more affordable, unless you opt for a messaging-only subscription (meaning you will have no live sessions with your therapist). If you’re someone who is absolutely confident that you can get everything you need from text messages only, then you can disregard this advice. However, we do believe that live video sessions provide significant value.
When considering these and other factors, BetterHelp is our top choice for most people.
You can learn much more about the differences between the two companies – as well as other providers of online therapy – by reading our full 2020 guide to the best online therapy.
Counselor response times vary from counselor to counselor. It’s important to be clear with your counselor up front and share your communication expectations with him or her. Your plan includes one weekly, scheduled live session, where your counselor will focus on you. In addition, you have unlimited messaging, which is like sending an email. Each counselor maintains their own schedule, so it’s important to understand when and how frequently your counselor will be checking and responding to your messages.
You can easily view your counselor’s availability through the BetterHelp calendar interface and schedule a live chat, phone, or video session by clicking on one of the dates and times listed. Once you’ve scheduled your session, BetterHelp will send a confirmation text 24 hours prior to it. They will not share your phone number with your counselor.
What if your counselor doesn't reply?
Each counselor is different and maintains his or her own schedule, so it’s important to establish communication expectations and availability up front.
If your schedule or your needs don’t match with your counselor’s availability, you’ll need to change counselors. Luckily, this is easy to do and, in our experience, we were matched with a new counselor in about 12 hours (overnight).
If you’ve reached out to your counselor multiple times without a response and/or they have missed live sessions, contact BetterHelp to discuss your options. They may reimburse you or offer additional weeks of counseling free of charge.
In our testing, we were matched with a counselor immediately after completing the sign-up process. Here’s what followed:
10:49am, Monday: Received a generic welcome message from our counselor (right away).
12:24pm, Monday: We replied with a detailed message explaining our goals for therapy.
8:22pm, Tuesday: We received a message from BetterHelp acknowledging that our counselor hadn’t responded and offering the option to change counselors.
8:59pm, Tuesday: We received a terse note from our counselor stating he hoped to speak soon, which was likely prompted by BetterHelp urging him to respond.
10:09pm, Tuesday: We requested to change counselors.
9:09am Wednesday: We were matched with a new counselor that fit our previously identified preferences.
In this case, our new counselor’s welcome message included a lot of detail about her availability, when she would respond, and indicated that we’d work together to find a schedule and communication style that worked for us. She was very responsive and her availability worked much better for us than that of our previous counselor.
For us, our first counselor wasn’t a good fit, but our new counselor was great.
At Innerbody Research, we customize our evaluation criteria depending on the type and nature of the health-related service. For BetterHelp and other health services and products, we have five areas that we use for our evaluations, including:
Quality: How well does the company deliver its core service(s) to the customer? For testing services, does the company adhere to the latest and most advanced testing technologies and achieve a very high degree of accuracy? For non-testing telehealth services, is the quality of the service high enough that we would recommend it to loved ones without hesitation? If not, why not?
User-friendly: How intuitive and user-friendly is the service? Does the device/program/app/website achieve a good degree of user-friendliness for its customers?
Value: Are you getting your money’s worth? Are there any hidden costs or charges? Does the company offer discounts?
Privacy: If health data is stored, will your data be stored securely? Are payments secure?
Customer support: Particularly in situations where ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t make sense, how well does the company help to make the service ideal for you?