If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or call 911 or local emergency services.
Was this helpful?
If therapy on your time and in your own space sounds appealing, you’re not alone.
While not the right solution for everyone, online therapy — also known as telehealth — is quickly becoming one of the top ways people seek mental health services.
Whether you’re new to therapy or curious about how online counseling works, you’ll want to take some time to research what’s available. With that in mind, here are our top nine recommendations for online therapy.
BetterHelp was one of the top online therapy services in our study. Users ages 18–24 also found it appealed to LGBTQIA+ needs.
Did you know?
Talkspace was one of the top online therapy services in our study. Participants said the platform stood out because of the offered external suggestions, like journaling, habit tracking, and gratitude journaling.
Did you know?
MDLive received positive reviews in our study thanks to high satisfaction in finding a therapist, professional ability, and therapists’ understanding of patient needs.
Did you know?
Users in our study appreciated that Doctor on Demand is a one-stop shop for both therapy and psychiatry, ultimately providing a great value.
Our team of medical experts carefully vetted each online therapy service. They considered the medical credibility, business practices, and social impact of each platform to ensure they meet our high standards.
A mental health professional from the Healthline Medical Network medically reviewed this article to provide insights, offer advice, and verify that the medical content is accurate.
We considered many criteria when selecting the best online therapy platforms, including:
mental health professionals who are all licensed social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists
a simple sign-up process
positive customer feedback
flexible payment options and fees
a range of subscription options and services
therapists with a wide range of expertise, including anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship issues, substance use, grief, and eating disorders
How we researched
In early 2022, Healthline’s Consumer Insights team conducted a study to find out what online therapy users value the most. Here’s what we learned:
Pricing is a key component in choosing the best online therapy platform.
Common complaints from online therapy users include not feeling like they’re being heard and feeling like there’s a lack of trust.
Convenience, accessibility, and immediate access to a therapist are all important factors in picking a good online therapy program.
We kept all of these factors in mind when deciding on our list of the best online therapy services.
It’s convenient: With many platforms, you can meet with your therapist via phone call, messaging, or live video from the comfort of your own home.
It may be more accessible: Depending on the platform you choose, it may be easier to make appointments outside typical business hours, find the right therapist, and receive consistent access to them via texting or messaging.
It may be less expensive than in-person therapy: Online therapy can be cheaper than in-person therapy, depending on the treatment or plan you’re seeking.
Some platforms offer homework and activities: If you want to get more out of your online therapy experience, some apps and websites allow your therapist to assign homework and activities specific to your treatment between appointments.
Insurance won’t always pay for online therapy: Some insurance networks don’t yet recognize online therapy, so you may have to pay out of pocket depending on your coverage. Additionally, some teletherapy platforms don’t accept insurance, either.
It’s not typically suitable for more severe mental health conditions: Some mental health conditions, like eating disorders or addiction, are better suited for in-person or group therapy than online therapy.
It’s not for emergency mental health situations: It’s best not to rely on online therapy for emergencies. In the case of a mental health crisis, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or call 911.
It requires consistent internet access: Online therapy requires a consistent, reliable internet connection and a smart device or computer. Additionally, public computers and Wi-Fi networks are not the best ways to access online therapy because of privacy concerns.
Teletherapy is good for people who prefer a range of communication formats and are comfortable using technology to communicate and disclose personal information. It’s important to have a quiet, private area, a functional device, and a strong, reliable internet connection.
Online therapy can be beneficial for a variety of people and conditions. It can address several types of issues and feelings, such as:
big life changes
Online therapy is also suitable for people who:
feel more comfortable in their own environment
cannot leave their home due to a disability or health condition
While there are many similarities between online therapy and in-person therapy, there are some differences to expect. The main one is that appointments will primarily be done via video or phone call or even messaging.
Matching with a therapist
Like face-to-face therapy, you may have the opportunity to pick your therapist. This depends on the platform you use, though, since some options match you with a mental health professional who best fits your needs and goals.
However, some teletherapy platforms allow you to sift through a list of available therapists and counselors.
Your first appointment
Also like in-person therapy, your initial appointment may consist of getting to know one another. Your therapist may ask you questions about:
what you’re looking to accomplish in therapy
any traumas or triggers
whether you’ve been to therapy before
whether you’ve received any mental health condition diagnoses
whether you’re currently taking any medications for mental health conditions
any goals you have moving forward
If you filled out any questionnaires or intake documents prior to meeting, your therapist may go through your answers with you to ensure everything is correct.
Communicating with your online therapist
Some people tend to prefer online therapy because all communication is done virtually. This will ultimately depend on the platform you choose, your therapist, and any subscriptions you’ve signed up for. You may have the ability to chat via messaging or audio call between sessions.
For many users, online therapy is more convenient if you have consistent access to a computer or smartphone. However, don’t expect your therapist to respond immediately if you don’t have a scheduled appointment. In some cases, it can take them hours or days to reply.
There’s no doubt that therapy is expensive. The average out-of-pocket cost for a session can range from $75 to $150. Fortunately, online counseling — in many cases — is more affordable.
If you have insurance that covers mental health services, start by contacting them to see if the service you’re interested in is part of their network. You’ll also want to find out if the online platform you’re using takes insurance. Many companies do not, so it’s worth looking at a few different sites to see if one fits your needs and accepts insurance.
Some top online therapy programs offer different subscription plans to make counseling more affordable. Some private therapists who provide online counseling offer a sliding scale, with some willing to lower costs as much as 50 percent.
The other place to check is with your EAP. Many employers offer mental health benefits as part of their EAP package.
Finally, community-based behavioral health clinics offer free or low cost services to anyone who qualifies.
Plenty of research supports the effectiveness of online therapy. In general, live video calls are most similar to face-to-face therapy sessions and offer the most benefit.
Many people appreciate the variety of available communication formats, such as text, video calls, and chat rooms. A 2019 study suggests psychotherapy platforms offering several digital communication options can effectively treat depression.
According to research from 2017, internet-based CBT is an economical and effective way to treat several mental health conditions, including phobias, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Research from 2021 found that live video psychotherapy sessions were as effective as in-person sessions. The video sessions involving CBT for anxiety, depression, and PTSD were most effective.
To determine the best type of therapist for your needs, consider your main reason for having therapy and whether you require a diagnosis or medications.
Psychologist: Psychologists offer psychotherapy that relates to behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. Psychologists have a doctorate degree, typically a PhD or PsyD, and can provide psychological testing to diagnose and provide treatment recommendations. In most states, they’re unable to prescribe medications.
Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist is either a doctor of medicine (MD) or osteopathic medicine (DO). They diagnose and treat mental health conditions and can prescribe medications.
Licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT): LMFTs have a master’s degree. They provide counseling to families and married couples to resolve specific concerns and treat mental health conditions. In some states, LMFTs can diagnose mental health conditions.
Licensed professional counselor (LPC): An LPC has a master’s degree. They treat mental health conditions, and in some states, can diagnose them.
Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW): LCSWs have master’s degrees in social work and are licensed to provide diagnosis and counseling services to clients.
Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner — board certified (PMHNP-BC): PMHNHP-BCs are nurses with a master’s or doctorate degree. They specialize in mental health diagnosis, counseling, treatment, and can prescribe medications.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more insurance companies have begun to cover online therapy. Online therapy coverage depends on your insurance plan, therapist, and state regulations.
Medicare is now covering online therapy for all Medicare members. Medicare Advantage plans also cover online therapy.
When it comes to Medicaid, your coverage depends on your state. You can call the number on your Medicaid card for more information.
There are personal and financial privacy considerations to think about when using online therapy. Read the website for details about how each platform manages security and protects your information.
Companies should offer transparency regarding how they collect and use your data. Reach out to the platform if you have specific questions regarding privacy and confidentiality so they can clarify any gray areas. Find out the process for deleting your account data if you cancel your plan.
Online therapy platforms on this list follow Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) federal guidelines to encrypt information and keep health data private. For example, companies encrypt all messaging systems and don’t record video calls.
However, HIPAA laws may not prevent companies from sharing some of your personal data that you submit to an app, questionnaire, or chat box, especially if you do so before you start an account.
It’s important to know that online therapy platforms may provide information to third parties, including Facebook.
Companies can use this data for targeted ads and marketing research, which is something to consider when dealing with sensitive information. Your profile information may also be visible to users if you use an app to connect to a community support group.
The FTC ordered BetterHelp to pay $7.8 million to impacted customers who found that some of patient’s health information was released to third-party platforms like Facebook and Snapchat.
The proposal would also have BetterHelp be more transparent about its information-sharing practices and require the company to implement a comprehensive privacy program. It would also limit how long information can be held, and direct third-party platforms to delete consumer health data.
Online therapy is making mental health services accessible and more affordable for many people.
With the ability to see a counselor at your convenience and in your own home, virtual visits may become the new norm, at least for a while.
Last medically reviewed on October 23, 2023
How we reviewed this article:
Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.