More Americans have discovered the benefits of online therapy during the pandemic than ever before, for a multitude of reasons. While looking for the best online therapy opportunities and comparing options, a big rivalry emerges and deserves analysis. We’re of course talking about BetterHelp vs. Talkspace.
Many of our readers have reached out asking which provider is really better. Both services respect your privacy and partner with very qualified and experienced therapists in order to give you access to therapy from the comfort of home (or wherever you’re located). So which provider delivers the most meaningful and beneficial online therapy service in 2021?
In this guide, we’ll analyze BetterHelp and Talkspace, breaking down all of the differences so that you can determine which company is the better choice for you. For those in a big hurry, here’s the bottom line.
Who delivers the best value in 2021, BetterHelp vs Talkspace?
Overall we believe most people will find BetterHelp therapy to be a better service right now.
For most people, BetterHelp therapy offers a more affordable balance of messaging and live sessions.
Both BetterHelp and Talkspace are great companies providing a valuable service. And in some cases -- with certain types of insurance, or if you know you need prescription treatments, for instance -- Talkspace could be a better fit. But for most people, we suggest BetterHelp.
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Read on for all of the reasons why we’ve formed our opinion. Not everyone agrees with us, but we are confident in our assessment and also have a few lesser-known aspects of BetterHelp’s service to share, which helped us arrive at our recommendation.
Along the way, you’ll also learn about situations in which Talkspace might be a better choice. What’s best can vary from person to person based on differences both large and small between the two providers.
The Innerbody Research team has spent more than 100 hours testing, researching, and comparing these two services. 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 product and service we review. We try our best to give you, our readers, an unbiased exploration of at-home health products, free of marketing jargon or gimmicks. We evaluate the product or 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, like all health-related content on this website, was thoroughly vetted by one or more members of our Medical Review Board for accuracy.
BetterHelp distinguishes itself from Talkspace in its built-in emphasis on routine live sessions with your therapist.
For a great many people, online therapy is intriguing and attractive, but also totally new. Since it’s new, even those of us who seek therapy routinely might wonder if this new format will work well for us.
Most people find value in online therapy, but the degree to which it’s valuable varies from patient to patient for personal reasons. Some people who pay more for traditional in-person therapy find it to be a better use of their money than the mixture of messaging and live, virtual interactions that constitute most online therapy services.
Based on our testing, research, and interviews both with experts and with other people who subscribe to online therapy services, we believe BetterHelp’s emphasis on live sessions as an primary feature of its online therapy positions it best for anyone new to online therapy, not to mention the rest of us. The flexibility to choose how you’d prefer to interface in a live session – text, voice, or video – means you can replicate a traditional session to the greatest extent possible or instead get real-time attention regardless of your location at the time.
If you’re totally new to online therapy, we believe you’re in for an exciting discovery and we encourage you to try it. It might greatly improve your life, but you won’t know until you try, and it’s possible that you discover it isn’t ideal for you.
Conclusion: For online therapy newbies, BetterHelp wins
Because live sessions are built into affordable plans without requiring additional investment, the clear advantage goes to BetterHelp for people who are just starting with online therapy.
How much does BetterHelp cost compared to Talkspace, and why? Pricing with these two companies can be a little tricky to compare because of the presence of different plans and discount opportunities, all of which affect the effective per-week cost.
Here’s a breakdown.
The lowest effective weekly cost of BetterHelp therapy will be $48 at this time (the price of therapy with financial aid applied). The company’s standard weekly rate is $80, so financial aid can save you 40% of your costs. (For unlimited messaging and one weekly live session with a good therapist, we believe this is a fantastic value.)
Many people end up with a rate of $65 per week thanks to a reduced fee discount, based on their sign-up questionnaire. And BetterHelp gives our readers 10% off if they sign up using our coupon code (INNERBODY). With our coupon discount added to that reduced fee discount, your effective weekly rate becomes less than $59, saving you almost 30%.
Confused by all of these discount possibilities? We’ll explain how this works.
Though it’s not obvious when you start the sign-up process and work through the questionnaire, the company actually provides two different paths for getting a reduced price:
- Financial aid
- What they call the “Reduced fee discount”
You set off along one of these divergent paths at different points in the sign-up questionnaire.
- During the questionnaire, you can qualify for a reduced fee discount if you indicate your financial status is poor or fair and further describe yourself as either a student, a veteran, disabled, unemployed, employed with low income (less than $50,000 yearly), or impacted by the COVID pandemic. Any one of these circumstances qualifies you for the reduced fee discount.
- At the end of the questionnaire – if you did not receive the reduced fee discount – you have the opportunity to check eligibility for financial aid. No matter who you are, take this opportunity! Even if you considered your financial status to be “good” earlier in the questions, you could still qualify. In some cases, factors that determine your eligibility for financial aid are different from the factors BetterHelp uses to determine your eligibility for a reduced fee discount, so it’s worth your time to check whether you can receive financial aid. Toward the end of the questionnaire, simply click the box labeled “I can’t afford therapy”. Then, describe your circumstances in greater detail (employment status, number of dependents, race, whether you live in a rural or urban environment, and other details).
These paths are exclusive of each other, which confuses many people; you may think you should be able to seek financial aid (or at least check eligibility) if you qualify for a reduced fee, but those who qualify for that reduction don’t end up seeing the option to apply for financial aid later in the questionnaire.
Also, bear in mind that the financial aid lasts for 90 days, after which you’d need to reapply for it.
No matter which discount opportunity you use, you’ll get unlimited messaging with your counselor as well as an expectation of having live sessions the way you prefer – text, phone, or video. The majority (but not all) of BetterHelp therapists are happy to do video sessions. A normal cadence for these live sessions is one per week – you could think of this as the generally accepted baseline. More or less frequent live sessions are also not uncommon. The company gives you and your therapist room to work out the routine that’s best for you.
Pricing at Talkspace
Talkspace prices are all based around monthly membership, which means you can’t buy one week to try it out. Prices depend on how long you commit as well as how many live sessions you feel you’ll want in your plan (anywhere from none at all to one per week).
Unlimited Messaging Therapy Plus
This plan includes text, video & audio messaging. No live sessions are included, but your therapist responds daily, 5 days per week.
- Billed each month: $260 (equivalent weekly cost of $60)
- Billed every 3 months: $708 (equivalent weekly cost of $54)
- Billed every 6 months: $1248 (equivalent weekly cost of $48)
Unlimited Messaging Therapy Premium
The premium plan includes everything the lower-priced plan includes, along with one live session each month. The live session will be about 30 minutes in duration.
- Billed each month: $316 (equivalent weekly cost of $73)
- Billed every 3 months: $852 (equivalent weekly cost of $65)
- Billed every 6 months: $1512 (equivalent weekly cost of $58)
Unlimited Messaging Therapy Ultimate
The “Ultimate” plan from Talkspace gives you all of the same unlimited text, video and audio messaging and the same level of therapist response as with the other two plans. But this plan includes four live sessions per month (with the same 30 minute duration).
- Billed each month: $396 (equivalent weekly cost of $91)
- Billed every 3 months: $1068 (equivalent weekly cost of $82)
- Billed every 6 months: $1896 (equivalent weekly cost of $73)
Most health insurance plans will not cover BetterHelp costs.
By contrast, Talkspace expenses could be covered by the insurance of somewhere around 40 million Americans right now. Cigna, Humana and other major insurers will cover costs of Talkspace. So if you have very good health insurance from Cigna, Humana, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield, or Optum, you might be able to shave off some of the extra cost of Talkspace, as compared to BetterHelp cost.
BetterHelp’s lowest price of $48 per week for those who need financial assistance, however, is not much more than the copay you’d pay, in many cases, even if you were able to cover it with an insurance plan. So BetterHelp’s most affordable subscription, which includes a live session each week along with unlimited messaging, is the best value in our opinion.
Conclusion: BetterHelp cost can be much less than Talkspace
This breakdown shows how qualifying for BetterHelp financial aid yields just as low of a per-week cost as any Talkspace plan, even though the most competitive Talkspace plan doesn’t include live therapy sessions.
|Full psychiatric service||
|Lowest weekly cost available||$48||$48|
|Lowest weekly cost of plan with a weekly live session||$48||$73|
|Anonymity with a nickname||
|Any insurance coverage?||
|Payments accepted||Credit card or PayPal||Credit card|
Both of these companies enable convenient and ample messaging with your therapist, in whatever form you prefer. (You could think of these as emails, voicemails and non-live video messages.) By leaving a text, voice or video message for your therapist to receive, in return you’ll get a message back from your therapist.
These are different from a live session, in which you are interacting with a therapist in real time. BetterHelp puts greater emphasis on live sessions than Talkspace right now.
Some people may prefer messaging-only service – or think they prefer it. In some cases, it may be correct that they’ll get everything possible from text messaging. But in our experience, based on testing as well as discussions with those in the counseling community, there are qualities to live interaction that are very hard to replicate in any other form of communication.
Working with your Talkspace therapist
With Talkspace, every plan includes unlimited text, voice and video messaging. You’ll get one live session per month included as part of its Unlimited Messaging Therapy Premium plan, but the lower-cost Unlimited Messaging Therapy Plus plan doesn’t include any live sessions.
If you want your plan to include one live session per week, you’d need to invest in the Unlimited Messaging Therapy Ultimate plan. You could add a live session to any Talkspace plan, a la carte, but each extra session will cost $65.
Working with your BetterHelp therapist
By contrast, BetterHelp encourages you to schedule either a live text, phone, or video session with your counselor whenever it works for you both, as part of your plan – and generally once a week is a common and expected pace for these sessions.
Consider this when you look at the pricing descriptions above as well. With BetterHelp, you can pay $48 per week for unlimited messaging and a live session per week. With Talkspace, your cheapest per-week cost may be the same, but it requires a 6-month subscription and doesn’t include any live sessions.
Conclusion: BetterHelp gives room for better interaction
If you want the benefit of live sessions, BetterHelp will typically be the more affordable route that leads to satisfaction. Comparable plans with BetterHelp cost less than the plans at Talkspace, unless you opt for Talkspace’s most entry-level offering. BetterHelp has no analog to this messaging-only plan, but that’s because the company believes in the irreplaceable value of live sessions. Frankly, we do too.
We’re not alone in believing this. Many counselors stress the importance of live, in-person therapy sessions because it’s difficult to have the same depth of communication via text or even phone. Anybody who’s ever been on the sending or receiving end of a misconstrued text message or email, or wondered what’s happening on the silent end of a phone call, knows exactly what we’re talking about.
BetterHelp and Talkspace also differ in the default ways they choose to match you to your therapist at the outset.
- When you begin with Talkspace, an actual therapist will chat with you to learn more about your situation. Afterward you will be matched with a therapist based on your conversation with this person.
- BetterHelp, meanwhile, guides you through a series of questions about your situation and then, using a proprietary algorithm, matches you with a therapist.
Quite a few people prefer Talkspace’s approach in which a human being – and a qualified therapist, no less – is involved in helping match you with a therapist at the outset. It is actually debatable which process yields the best results (and in our testing, we found BetterHelp’s algorithm to produce just as desirable results as Talkspace’s matching process). To learn more about the process at Talkspace, please visit our full Talkspace review.
What to do if you want more control over matching
BetterHelp doesn’t provide an “intake therapist” experience, but we actually have a little-known workaround to share for BetterHelp matching, if you would like to use BetterHelp for any number of reasons (lower BetterHelp cost, or more live sessions, for instance) and prefer not to be matched based on the algorithm.
Scroll to the bottom of its webpage, where you will find a link that says, “Find a Therapist”.
Click this link and then, on the new page, give details about your geographic location.
Browse available therapists that provide service in your area.
To make the list longer than the initial, default list of 20 therapists, simply click the refresh button. This reveals more options.
Explore each therapist’s experience, interests and how they describe themselves. You can learn a lot about them from their own descriptions.
Select a therapist who looks like an ideal fit for you.
Conclusion: BetterHelp has the edge, since you have options
In our opinion, BetterHelp’s algorithm is as successful as the intake therapist conversation at Talkspace. The additional opportunity to select your own therapist via BetterHelp (even if they don’t exactly advertise this option) solidifies our conclusion that BetterHelp gives you more opportunity to be matched to your ideal therapist from the start.
However, the beauty of both companies is that they both make it very easy to switch therapists at any time. Since switching is so easy, we definitely recommend you not settle for anything other than what feels like an ideal fit. These companies work with thousands of licensed and highly experienced therapists. Don’t hesitate to switch repeatedly until you find the person who’s right for you. To learn more about switching counselors at BetterHelp, check out our full BetterHelp review.
You can find psychiatrists in the therapy networks of both BetterHelp and Talkspace. However, what these psychiatrists will do on these platforms is different.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who focuses on the treatment of patients using prescription treatment when necessary. The psychiatrist is qualified to provide therapy sessions as well as prescribe medication.
- BetterHelp’s psychiatrists do not prescribe medication but they do provide therapy as mental health professionals. In other words, they bring perhaps a different perspective or set of qualifications to therapy sessions, but your relationship with them fundamentally will be the same as your relationship with a different therapist in BetterHelp.
- Talkspace offers psychiatry as a unique offering from its “talk therapy”. With Talkspace, you pay $199 for initial psychiatric evaluation and then $125 for every subsequent psychiatric session that you use. These psychiatric sessions with Talkspace are not intended to be therapy sessions – which is why they’re so expensive – but instead simply opportunities to check in about a prescription treatment and its effectiveness, or to get a refill. It’s more about the prescription, much less about the therapy session.
Conclusion: Talkspace psychiatry wins, if you have an existing prescription
In this case, we feel that Talkspace has the edge over BetterHelp if you have existing prescription needs. You won’t be able to get prescriptions via BetterHelp.
However, if you don’t have an existing prescription, or are unsure if you need one, then BetterHelp is still your best first step to take, based on our testing. At BetterHelp, you have the best path to determine with a therapist whether psychiatric attention might be valuable for you. This saves you money at the outset, while allowing you to take what you’ve learned and seek full psychiatric attention at Talkspace or a different provider.
And in the process, you might just discover the value of talk therapy at BetterHelp, which we believe can be of great benefit whether or not you need ongoing prescription management elsewhere.
At Innerbody Research, we customize our evaluation criteria depending on the type and nature of the health-related service. For health-related products and services, we have five areas that we use for our evaluations, including:
Quality: How well does the company deliver its core service(s) and product(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 and/or product 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 product and/or service? Does it 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?