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Why I Was Wrong About BetterHelp: A Skeptic's BetterHelp Review (October 2020 Update)

By Stephanie Hairston, MSW. Updated 10/4/2020.
Stephanie HairstonStephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. (Full bio below.) 


I didn't expect BetterHelp to change my life. I didn't expect much from it at all, really. I knew I needed to work on some things, but I was skeptical and thought of BetterHelp more as an experiment than a solution. I'd experienced therapy before, both as a client and as a therapy provider, so I knew how much it could help, but I wasn't sure BetterHelp would be as effective as seeing a therapist in person.

 

OpenCounseling is user-supported. We should note that BetterHelp is a sponsor of OpenCounseling and we earn a commission if you subscribe to them after you follow a link to a them from this site. We take objectivity seriously and the views in this article reflect the independent conclusions and judgment of the writer. We never accept gifts and pay for all our subscriptions out of our own pocket. You can learn more about our policies regarding affiliates here.

 

What got me to try BetterHelp wasn't faith that it was a legitimate alternative to traditional in-office therapy, but curiosity and the desire to be a better-informed writer. I'd been covering both offline and online therapy as a writer for OpenCounseling for nearly a year, but I only had personal experience with traditional therapy. I knew firsthand experience would help me write about online counseling with more insight.

 

For BetterHelp to win me over on a personal level, it needed to overcome my innate skepticism. There were so many things about BetterHelp that triggered my inner cynic, from the way they marketed themselves to whether therapy translated to the online format. Could I find a therapist on there who was any good? Could I find one who was a good match and who had anything to offer but the most generic kind of help? Would it truly be better help, or would it be meh help—a little better than trying to figure out things by myself, but only barely?

 

I was sincerely surprised to find that BetterHelp was the real deal. It did change my life, despite my minimal expectations. Working with my therapist on BetterHelp helped me gain insight into my unhealthy patterns and start changing them. It helped me heal emotional blocks and develop a much better understanding of what I want and need to be fulfilled and happy. Thanks to my therapist, I have more clarity about my life than I've had in a long time.

 

In this review, I'll share what I learned—and some tips—with you. To have the best experience with BetterHelp, you'll need to do some things that might not be obvious if you're new to therapy. By following these steps, you can curate a great experience for yourself on BetterHelp that will compare well to traditional therapy but that may be a better fit for your schedule and budget. 


Tip: There is a way of signing up with BetterHelp that allows you to choose your therapist instead of letting the site choose for you. We believe this is vital in improving the effectiveness of your therapy. BetterHelp buries that option in hard-to-find menus, but our step-by-step guide will show you how to find and use this alternate option.


What Makes Therapy Work?

 

As mentioned above, I've experienced therapy as both a client and as a provider. After I received my Master's in Social Work, I spent six years making a living as a clinical social worker. I never quite accrued enough supervised hours to get my license, so I worked under the guidance of a licensed supervisor at the sites where I provided therapy. In various settings, I provided individual and group therapy, crisis intervention, diagnosis and assessment. Over time, I learned what worked and what didn't work for a range of different clients.

 

I've also learned about what works in therapy and what doesn't from the perspective of a client. I had my first formal experience as a therapy client from 2015 to 2016, when a Jungian therapist helped me get through a period of major career and general life transition. I attended traditional therapy sessions in her beautiful downtown office full of mid-century furniture and antique rugs. The work I did with her helped me better understand myself, release unhealthy relationship patterns, and become more confident, creative, and expressive.

 

I know from having been on both sides of the therapy room that the subtleties of interacting in the moment are what make therapy work. A good therapist doesn't just note down what you tell them but also pays attention to how you tell them. Facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice can reveal where you're feeling tensions or don't completely believe your own story. Over time, as you build trust with your therapist, you share more with them, entering into deeper and deeper realms of catharsis.

 

Therapists are more than just professional problem-solvers. They are artisans who use the raw materials of your relationship to build a healing connection with you. They're detectives, too, using the clues you give them to get beyond your cover story and to the deeper truths you need to discover to grow as a person and to improve your life. They need to do more than just give nuggets of advice to do their jobs well.

     

 

What Made Me Skeptical About BetterHelp

 

If you're an older millennial like me, you grew up at the same time as the internet and the tech industry. You remember the Wild West days when the internet hadn't yet been taken over by corporations.  You remember being able to log on without having to navigate a hidden temple's worth of tricky ad traps and pop-ups. The phrase "dot-com bubble" sits somewhere in your brain next to mental images of Bill Clinton, Tupac, and Beavis and Butt-Head. If someone mentions a 56k modem, you recall the sound immediately. You remember when Google made a name for themselves with the simple motto, "Don't be evil," and what it was like before they failed to live up to that motto.

 

It's been a long time since the tech industry took on a cynical sheen. We've learned that when people see dollar signs in something they can do on the internet, there's usually a catch. I figured that BetterHelp wasn't any different. They seemed to be another Silicon Valley startup designed to capitalize on a legitimate service by "disrupting" it—the Lyft or Uber of therapy—and that didn't give me a whole lot of hope that what they were doing was legit.

 

As far as I could tell, BetterHelp's approach to "disrupting" therapy seemed to be removing the therapy part altogether by replacing live sessions with messaging. Exchanging messages with another person, no matter what their credentials are, removes too much of what is essential in the relationship between therapist and client. If that was what BetterHelp was offering, there would be no comparison between it and seeing a therapist for a live in-office session. I took the plunge and signed up expecting to experience something that didn't quite measure up.

     

 

What Proved Me Wrong About BetterHelp

 

It took a little work for me to find my therapist on BetterHelp (more on that later), but once I did, things escalated quickly. It became apparent she was serious about using the BetterHelp platform to deliver top-quality therapy. The genuine care and connection I felt when I worked with her quickly eroded my skepticism. I was having a relationship with a real-life therapist, not BetterHelp as a company. 

 

They need to do more than just give nuggets of advice to do their jobs well. My therapist and I used the messaging feature to share and discuss my history and to explore some of my issues and goals, but it was clear we would be using it to support the work we'd do in live sessions, not as an alternative to them. Right away, we started scheduling one live session every week.

 

Most traditional therapists provide their clients with one "therapy hour" (about 50 minutes) a week. If you get an hour-long video session every week on BetterHelp like I did, what you're receiving is only subtly different from traditional therapy. Online therapy sessions can be affected by issues like lag, dips in video quality, or background distractions like naughty pets or ringing doorbells, but your therapist can still see and respond to you in real-time like they would in an office setting.

 

What I got on BetterHelp was clearly therapy, and clearly effective. The level of connection I had with my BetterHelp therapist was only subtly different from the connection I had with the therapist I saw in person. I often forgot I was using BetterHelp and video chat; to me, it was just "going to therapy." I was honestly surprised by how familiar online therapy felt.

 

Not only has online therapy felt authentic, I think it's actually been a little more effective than my first round of therapy was. One reason is that each round of therapy builds upon the previous round. Another reason is that I've clicked so much with my therapist and the tools she uses.

     

 

How Does Online Therapy Compare to In-Person Therapy?

 

I was surprised when my therapist suggested that I try eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). Not only do I not have a history of "big-T Traumas," as she put it, I also didn't know how that method would translate online. But my therapist believed that some of what was keeping me stuck was "little-t traumas" that I'd never fully processed, and she knew how to make EMDR work over a video connection by using tapping instead of eye movement.

 

Well, it worked, as did the other methods and exercises we tried. The strength of our connection was evident in how well my therapist's skills and expertise matched my needs as a client. I believe one of the best things about BetterHelp is that it helps you access therapists who are trained in a wider range of methods than you might find locally, increasing your chances of finding an effective therapeutic match.

 

That said, therapeutic method isn't as important as the quality of the relationship you have with your therapist and your level of motivation as a client. You have to feel inspired by the work you're doing and want to change enough to continue the work after the session is over. In other words, the more you apply what you're learning, the more effective therapy will be for you. This is no less true of offline therapy, but it's even easier to be passive and disengaged in online therapy. As good as my therapist is, and as good a match as she's been for me, I wouldn't have gotten what I've gotten out of BetterHelp if I hadn't been motivated to work as hard as I did.

     

 

Is BetterHelp Affordable?

 

Whether BetterHelp is affordable depends on your circumstances. First, it's important to know that you can't use insurance to cover therapy on BetterHelp. If you can find therapists near you who accept your insurance, chances are pretty good that co-pays for insurance-covered therapy will cost less than paying for online therapy out of your own pocket. However, if you have to (or prefer to) pay out of pocket, it may cost less to use BetterHelp than it would cost to see a therapist in person, depending on the standard hourly rates for therapy where you live.


One of the things I knew I could use some help with at the time I signed up for BetterHelp was figuring out how to get out of survival mode and maximize my career and work potential. I was having trouble finding the inspiration or drive to level up my career or my life in general. I was barely scraping by as a writer, which meant I couldn't afford typical in-person therapy rates. However, at the time I signed up for BetterHelp, the total monthly subscription cost was less than what therapists charge where I live, making it the more affordable option for me. 


My savings grew further when I found out I could get financial aid. Based on my income, I qualified for a significant discount. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got the discount, as it meant I could budget for a longer term of therapy than I initially thought I could afford. 


     

 

How Can You Get the Most Out of BetterHelp?

 

My positive experience on BetterHelp was rooted in the fact that my therapist provided me with weekly video sessions, which are the closest you can get to the traditional therapy experience online and which give you the most "bang for your buck." I strongly recommend taking the time to find a therapist who's not only a good match for you, but who offers the services and schedule that meet your needs as a client.

 

I also recommend taking the time to research and manually select your own therapist instead of letting the site's algorithms match you. If the thought of doing a bunch of research and trying to figure out your own best match overwhelms you, don't let that stop you from getting the most out of BetterHelp—you can always let the site match you and change therapists later if you need to. But whether you do the choosing upfront or use a process of trial and error, you're much more likely to have a good experience if you put in the effort to get the best match.

 

Tip: There is a way of signing up with BetterHelp that allows you to choose your therapist. BetterHelp does not make it easy, but we put together a step-by-step guide.

 

Personally, the most frustrating part of my experience with BetterHelp was how difficult it was to get matched with my therapist. The first therapist the site selected didn't match several of the preferences I'd indicated in my sign-up questionnaire. Then, when I clicked on "Change Therapist," many of the therapists I'd noted as potential matches in my initial research no longer showed up as options. I couldn't find them even after refreshing the page dozens of times or going back to the zip code search where I initially found them. I was finally able to get matched with my therapist by e-mailing BetterHelp's customer service and requesting her specifically. 


I can only speculate on why the site's matching algorithms didn't work for me. I do know that I found an amazing therapist on BetterHelp and that it was worth the extra time and effort it took to find her. Ultimately, while I liked many aspects of the platform, including the streamlined interface and helpful reminder messages, the excellent experience I had on BetterHelp was almost completely due to how much I clicked with my therapist and how well I worked with her. For this reason, I recommend that you also take the time to specifically choose your therapist on BetterHelp.

     

 

Conclusion: BetterHelp Works, If You Work It

 

BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that offers a fast, simple, and accessible way to start working with a therapist. If you get weekly video sessions from your BetterHelp therapist, the differences between your online therapy experience and traditional in-office therapy should be subtle, not definitive. If commuting to a therapist's office is difficult or impossible for you, online therapy can give you something close to the in-office experience without the commute.

 

The more self-motivated and capable of doing your own legwork you are, the better experience you're likely to have with BetterHelp. Ultimately, BetterHelp is only as good as the therapists who work for them, and the quality of your therapy will hinge on how good your therapist is and how good of a match they are for you. That will depend on how much effort you put into finding the right therapist. Your success in working with your therapist will also reflect how motivated you are to do the work both during and after your sessions.

 

Thanks to my therapist, my experience on BetterHelp was life-changing. I'd have missed so much if I hadn't tried BetterHelp when I did. I continue to be grateful for the circumstances that led to me signing up for BetterHelp and meeting my therapist on their platform. It is my hope that other people can use the BetterHelp platform to have their own profoundly healing experiences in therapy.

 

Our Recommended Way of Signing Up to BetterHelp

BetterHelp's standard sign-up procedure matches you with a therapist based on your responses to a questionnaire. You indicate your preferences for your therapist's gender, religious orientation, and language. You also answer questions about the issues you're seeking help with and any mental health symptoms you are experiencing.

 

There is also a way you can choose your own therapist, which we recommend over the standard sign-up procedure:
1. Follow this link to BetterHelp (opens a new window).
2. Scroll to the bottom, and click on the faint link in the footer that says, "Find a Therapist."

If you are on a smartphone, you may not see the link. You need to request the desktop view on your mobile web browser. In Safari, hold down the refresh button and choose "Request Desktop Site". In Chrome, press the three dots menu button and select "Desktop site".

3. From there, choose your state. You'll be shown a selection of therapists who are licensed to practice in your state.
4. You can read their profiles and click to sign up with the specific therapist you choose. 

Bonus tip: BetterHelp only shows you 20 therapists on the "Find a Therapist" page, but if you refresh your browser, you can see an updated list.


The method you use is up to you. If you're more hands-on or have specific preferences about the type of therapy you would like to receive, you'll want to choose your own therapist. Some people like the ease and simplicity of letting the site's algorithm match them using the questionnaire. In either case, rest assured that it is easy to switch therapists on BetterHelp if you are not satisfied with your first choice or the first therapist the site matches you with.


BetterHelp's Pricing October 2020

BetterHelp offers financial aid for people who qualify. The initial questionnaire asks whether you are unemployed or having financial difficulty. If you select either of these, you will get a discounted rate of $65 per week (charged every 4 weeks). It is possible to get as further discounted rate up to 40% off.

When you enter your payment details after the questionnaire, look for the "Apply for Financial Aid" link shown in the image above. You'll answer a few questions about your income and ability to pay. The discount you receive is instant and is based on a good-faith representation of your finances.


 





Stephanie Hairston
Posted on 7/2/2020 by Stephanie Hairston, MSW

Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As an MSW (social worker with a Master of Social Work degree), she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments. She has also worked as a technical writer for a medical software company and an editor for a company that appeals behavioral health insurance denials. As a writer, she is motivated by the same desire to help others that brought her into the field of social work. She strongly supports the mission of OpenCounseling to make therapy accessible for everyone.

Article Updates:
7/2/2020: Initial publication.
7/22/2020: Updated article to indicate BetterHelp’s new policy regarding live sessions.
8/10/2020: Included current pricing and instructions for signing up for financial aid.
9/9/2020: Updated pricing and procedure for applying for financial aid.
10/4/2020: Updated discounts available through financial aid.