Most of us have finally grokked that talking to a trained mental health professional when you can’t self-help yourself out of an emotional pothole or have a problem that’s too complicated to work out with a friend can be an enormous help.
But for some of us — maybe you can’t find the right therapist near you, or your life is wall-to-wall obligations — it can be hard to travel to an office, have your session and get back at least once a week.
That’s where therapy apps that let you find someone great to speak to via phone, text, or video can be a godsend. “For some people, it can be supplemental to in-person therapy, and for others it can stand alone,” says Rachel Rothman, Chief Technologist and Engineering Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute, who cites lower cost, greater discretion, and a wide pool of types of therapists to choose from as some of the other benefits to “telemental health.” And the best platforms are very secure, she adds. “Online platforms are also designed with privacy and security measures that rival that of the banking world.”
And while it may feel weird for anyone who isn’t a teenager to spill your guts into a face on your iPhone, an analysis of studies found telemental health to be very helpful in many cases, including for people with diagnosable disorders such as depression and anxiety, or substance abuse issues, and for folks dealing with quality of life issues like stress and low self-esteem. Another review of the research found that telemental health is comparable to in-person services, less expensive, and is a particular boon to people who live in more isolated areas.
Want to find someone you click with, and “meet” with them on your own couch as opposed to theirs? Some things to keep in mind: “When choosing a platform, it’s important to ensure that it is HIPAA compliant and has rigorous privacy standards,” including encryption, says Rothman (some offer the the option to withhold your last name as well.) “You’ll also want to check the credentials of the counselors on the site, and in particular the therapist you’ll be working with.” Check that the platform screens for therapists’ credentials and licensing in your locality. “Many set minimum standards for the types of licenses and experiences the clinicians must have,” she says. Prices vary, depending on how you communicate with your therapist and how often you use it, but they are usually less than you’d pay for in-person help, and some are covered by insurance.
Talkspace is the platform you’ve probably seen Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps standing up for: You sign up for one of several plans, and depending on how often you use the service and what medium you use (live video therapy, text messaging, audio or some combination), you pay $65-$99 a week, billed monthly. They also have therapy for teens and couples, and the service is often offered free through employers as an employee benefit or in network through EAP and health insurers. All therapists have the highest clinical license in the state in which they practice, as well as three years of direct clinical experience.
What’s cool about it: Unlike with a regular once-weekly therapist, you can text your counselor questions or observations as they come up, and they’ll reply within a guaranteed period of time. “The onboarding process includes a real person matching you to several therapists you can choose from,” says Rothman, whereas others match you based on data you provide (and then allow you to switch.)
BetterHelp matches you to a therapist based on a questionnaire, says Rothman, and therapists must have at least three years and 2,000 hours of experience. You may switch counselors if your person is not a match, but therapists are not able to diagnose or prescribe over the platform. You can toggle between live video sessions, phone sessions, texting, or live chats.
What’s cool about it: The website and app are very user friendly, and you can choose to remain anonymous if you like. In fact, the platform does not work with insurance companies or employers, if you’re concerned about privacy. It’s also affordable, with packages ranging from $40-$70/week, billed weekly, and you can cancel at any time. One preliminary study from the University of California at Berkeley found that adults who used BetterHelp reported significant reduction in severity of their depression symptoms.
Larkr offers video talk therapy for $85 a session, with no subscription or commitment. When you first sign up, Larkr uses artificial intelligence to match you with a therapist based on the info you provide; it also has a self-care interface that you can use for free before you sign up (stuff like mood tracking and journaling), and the data gathered from that aids in finding you the right therapist. (No actual human is able to see your private information, emphasizes Shawn Kearnes, the founder and CEO). Once you are working with a therapist, you can use any information in the app to, say, remember how you were feeling the previous week, or why you texted your therapist at 2 a.m. Therapy for teens and young adults is also available. While you can call or text your therapist between sessions, the sessions themselves are live, says Kearnes, as Larkr believes that visual cues are important in helping the therapist help you.
What’s cool about it: While any therapist you’d work with would be licensed in the state where you live, says Kearnes, they have therapists who live in many time zones, enabling you to reach out to someone at any time of the day or night, even if your regular person isn’t available. You can also submit to your insurance for reimbursement, although like most online platforms, therapists on Larkr don’t prescribe, but rather coordinate with your primary care doctor.
If you and your sweetie could use some support working through problems in your relationship, ReGain may be able to help. Couples share an account, and you and your partner and therapist all have access to the same “room.” In addition to live sessions alone or with your partner, each of you write what’s going on and ask questions and spell out your issues, and then your therapist logs into the “room” and offers feedback and advice. ReGain is clear in their FAQs that their platform isn’t right for any relationships in which physical abuse is present, and there are other situations in which couples would be better off seeking in-person help.
What’s cool about it: It can be hard enough to schedule therapy for yourself, let alone coordinate with your partner. ReGain relies on written communication, not real-time therapy, so you can do it at any time, and you and you partner can go back and read any advice at any time. It’s also affordable couples therapy, ranging from $40-$70/week. You can also opt not to give your names.
As the name suggests, TeenCounseling is for teens 13-19, which is helpful because kids can’t always make it into a therapist’s office without a parent driving them. Similar to ReGain, the client has a “room” that only she and the therapist have access to, and they can go back and forth as often as needed, even in the middle of the night. The teenager can also schedule audio calls or video sessions, the parent is only notified if there’s a risk of self-harm or harm to others, and authorities are notified in cases of abuse. Subscriptions are $40-$70 a week, generally not covered by insurance.
What's cool about it: A teen has four options for talking to their therapist: messaging, live chatting, or scheduled phone or video sessions. All the over 3,000 therapists are state licensed and trained, and have experience with young people.