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BetterHelp vs Talkspace: A Therapist Reviews Both (October 2020 Update)

Last Updated Oct 3, 2020
Two of the largest online counseling providers, BetterHelp and Talkspace, have shaken up the therapy world, raising new questions about what counts as therapy. Is online counseling a viable alternative to traditional in-person therapy? We had two of our team members—a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Masters-Level Social Worker (MSW)—try them both to see how they compared to in-person therapy and to each other. In total we completed two months of in-depth testing on both BetterHelp and Talkspace.


What to expect from our most comprehensive review yet:

OpenCounseling is user-supported. We should note that BetterHelp and Talkspace are sponsors of OpenCounseling and we earn a commission if you subscribe to them after you follow a link to them from this site. In fact, BetterHelp is our largest sponsor. Nonetheless, 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.




Who is Online Counseling For?

While online counseling isn’t for everyone, it's a great option for many people. Depending on the options you have where you live, online counseling can sometimes be less expensive than paying out-of-pocket for traditional therapy. It also offers greater convenience, anonymity and flexibility with scheduling. People who face a long drive to the closest counselor's office can sign up for online counseling without having to sign up for the time or expense of a commute.

 

BetterHelp and Talkspace are two of the biggest and most popular online counseling providers. Both of these companies work exclusively with licensed mental health professionals. BetterHelp links consumers with therapists for messaging services and live video or voice sessions. Talkspace offers a similar array of services but emphasizes messaging over live sessions.

 

In general, most therapists, and the online counseling sites themselves, don't recommend online counseling for people with severe mental health conditions or symptoms. We recommend seeking a local counselor for in-person sessions if you require more support.

        



Signing Up

BetterHelp matches you with a therapist based on the results of an intake assessment that you complete at sign-up. You'll answer questions about the issues bringing you to therapy, the severity of any symptoms you're experiencing, and what your therapy preferences are. Once you complete this assessment, BetterHelp links you with a counselor, usually within 24 hours or less. 

 

BetterHelp's intake process is quick, but it can feel impersonal since it is automated. Another frustration is that the BetterHelp matching algorithm doesn't always work that well. Our team members had better luck researching and choosing their own therapists on the platform than they did letting the platform match them with a therapist. (If you'd like to choose your therapist instead of letting BetterHelp choose for you using their algorithm, there is a technique you can follow in our section, How to Sign-up for BetterHelp our Recommended Way).

 

The Talkspace assessment process is more interactive. You participate in a live chat with a therapist who asks questions, screens your responses, and guides you through the sign-up process. Sometimes the process feels personal, but at other times it feels like they are copying and pasting standard responses. At the end of the sign-up process, you are given three different therapists to choose from. For the most part, we liked Talkspace’s sign-up process as it felt more personal, and we liked the opportunity to take a more direct role in choosing our therapists.

 

Both BetterHelp and Talkspace make an effort to assess if you're appropriate for online counseling. But because they can't see you in person, neither Talkspace nor BetterHelp can fully assess your appropriateness for online therapy. BetterHelp and Talkspace are just the platforms through which therapy is delivered, and the actual therapist you see should do a more in-depth assessment to confirm that online therapy is right for you.

 

Unfortunately, not once in all the times we tried these services did any therapist seriously discuss whether online therapy was the best option for us. If you have severe symptoms or are unsure, we suggest consulting with someone in person to figure out what level and type of care you need.

        



Why Live Sessions Are So Important



Scheduling a Live Session with BetterHelp


At OpenCounseling, we believe the gold standard of therapy will always be in-person therapy. To have the most in-depth experience with online therapy, it's important to get as close to the in-person experience as possible. The closest online therapy can come to a traditional in-person therapy session is a live video session.

 

The tools therapists use work best when a therapist can see and respond to your verbal and nonverbal communication in real time. Video sessions can be affected by issues like lag or background distractions that impact your connection with your therapist. However, these issues are subtle, and therapy via video generally works the same way as therapy done in person. 

 

The next-best option is live voice sessions. You lose the ability to read each other's nonverbal cues over the phone, but you can still respond to each other in real time.

 

Of any of the options online counseling providers offer, messaging is the least like an in-person therapy session. The American Psychological Association has issued a strongly worded statement about this: "There is no research suggesting that texting alone is an effective modality for psychotherapy." We agree with them and recommend only using messaging in addition to live sessions, not in place of them. 

        



A Crucial Difference Between BetterHelp and Talkspace

With the standard plan on Talkspace, you get no live sessions. This means the only "therapy" you get on Talkspace by default is by messaging. To get effective therapy, we strongly recommend that you opt for one their more expensive plans that includes live video sessions. However, as soon as you start paying Talkspace for live sessions, it gets expensive and can be even more expensive than seeing a therapist in person. 

BetterHelp offers you one 30-50 minute session a week with their basic plan. We feel the difference between 30 and 50 minutes is a big one. It can be a bit of a lottery what your specific therapist on BetterHelp will offer. Fortunately, it's easy to switch therapists with BetterHelp. If your therapist offers only 30 minute sessions, and you find that limiting, we recommend you switch therapists.

        



Online Therapy’s Biggest Weakness

Many people have difficulty remaining engaged on online therapy platforms. In addition to the disconnect that asynchronous messaging can create, another reason it can be hard to stick with it is that it's so easy to sign up and so easy to quit. The simplicity and the impersonal nature of the process makes it seem like leaving therapy is no more significant than deleting an app from your phone. It's tempting to quit if you feel disconnected or when therapy gets uncomfortable—as it nearly always will.

 

Just like going to the gym, real progress in therapy requires work and very often discomfort. And like traditional, face-to-face therapy, online counseling requires you to be vulnerable. It can be easy to try to hide your vulnerability online by not sharing as openly, by editing your replies, or by postponing your responses out of fear of what they'll reveal about you. 

 

When face-to-face with you, it's easy for your therapist to see when you're hesitant to talk about something due to the negative emotions it brings up, and it's easier for the therapist to help you through the difficult feelings. This helps you connect to your therapist and engage more deeply in therapy. When your therapist is exchanging messages with you online, they can't see your face and may have no idea that you might be struggling with something you're discussing.

 

Sometimes, online therapy clients respond to the negative emotions a message brings up by not responding, or even quitting and “ghosting” the therapist altogether. We have heard that this is one of the most common ways that online therapy falls apart. 

 

Using video sessions as your main form of therapy significantly reduces the chances of this happening, as your therapist can hear your tone of voice and see your facial expressions and body language, and they can respond when you show discomfort.

 

If you're responding to your therapist less often, it may be time to introspect and see if there is an uncomfortable emotion you are trying to avoid. It's at such moments that you have the most potential to make a breakthrough in therapy—but only if you stick with it. Both BetterHelp and Talkspace therapists do a good job reaching out if you stop responding. However, you may need to be the one to take the next step and re-engage.

        



Which is the Better Value?

BetterHelp and Talkspace offer similar services with slightly different pricing structures. BetterHelp charges $320 per month for unlimited messaging and one 30-to-50-minute session per week. The closest equivalent plan with Talkspace costs $396 per month but limits the live sessions to 30 minutes. In short, if you are looking for weekly live sessions, BetterHelp is cheaper and may offer longer sessions too.


The price of the BetterHelp plan does not change whether you use your weekly live session or not, so which platform makes more sense for your budget depends on what you're looking for. While we strongly recommend live sessions if you're seeking traditional therapy, messaging-only may be all you need if you are just looking for guidance to help you solve a specific problem. Most of our advice is for people who want to pursue in-depth therapy, so keep your personal situation and needs in mind when making your choice between these two platforms.


We also note that BetterHelp offers financial aid based on your income, so you may pay less than the standard price if you qualify for assistance. Talkspace does not offer any financial assistance.


Detailed Pricing (Updated October 3, 2020)
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). There is however a possibility of getting a greater discount, as little as $48 per week.

When you enter your payment details, look for the "Apply for Financial Aid" link as 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.

 


Talkspace's Pricing October 2020


Talkspace will discount your fees 10% if you subscribe for a 3 month period, or 20% if you subscribe for a 6 month period. For us this seemed like a huge gamble. We would not recommend choosing this option unless you had already settled in with a therapist and were certain you were going to see them long term.

If you are on a subscription plan and want an extra live session, you can pay an additional $65 per 30-minute session.

Talkspace also has an unlisted plan where you do not pay any subscription fees but pay $79 per 30-minute live session à la carte. Messaging services are not included with this plan. It seems the only way to get this option is to request it directly from customer service after subscribing to another plan. This may be a good option for someone who has subscribed for a while and still wants occasional sessions with their therapist, but without the cost of a monthly subscription.

 



Which We Prefer and Our Recommended Way of Signing Up

Our team members had positive experiences with both Talkspace and BetterHelp. However, one fundamental difference between the two platforms makes us strongly prefer and recommend BetterHelp over Talkspace.  

 

BetterHelp makes it more affordable to get live sessions, which is the closest you can get to the benefits of traditional in-person therapy. With live sessions, you can address a wider range of issues and go deeper in therapy than you can through asynchronous messaging. Therapy does not translate as well into the messaging format as it does to live video sessions where your therapist can see and respond to you in real time.

 

If you need help addressing a specific life situation that may not warrant the depth of formal therapy, messaging services may be enough to help you resolve your issue and are similar on both platforms. Here Talkspace offers a lower priced option.

 

It is important to remember that the specific therapist you end up seeing will have a much bigger impact on the effectiveness of your therapy than which platform you choose. Both platforms make it very easy to switch therapists if you are looking for a better match.

 

Both BetterHelp and Talkspace provided us an opportunity to get better on our own terms. Ultimately, we found that connecting with the right therapist on BetterHelp gave us the best experience, merging the advantages of online therapy with the advantages of in-person therapy during regular live sessions. Starting online therapy is a big choice, but if you do your research and put careful thought into it, it can be a fruitful one that can change your life for the better... 



How We Recommend You Sign Up for 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.
5. If you think you may qualify, don't forget to apply for financial aid. This will be a small green link on the page where you enter your credit card details.


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 are more hands-on or have specific preferences about the type of therapy you would like to receive, you probably 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.


 



How We Recommend You Sign Up for Talkspace

Talkspace advertises a standard coupon for $65 off on their home page. However, we monitor Talkspace's newsletters and social media to give you the limited distribution coupons that give you a bigger discount.

To Sign Up for Talkspace:

  1. Visit their Home Page (opens in a new window).
  2. Go through their sign-up process that includes talking to a live agent.
  3. Eventually they will give you an option of which plan you want to choose.
  4. From the payment page that follows, enter the coupon code of "CARE130" for $130 off your first month subscription (checked October 3, 2020).

 

 



Comparison Table


Live Sessions
Text Messaging
Value
Price$320 per month to message your therapist with four 30-50 minute sessions per month.

$260 per month to message your therapist with no live sessions.

$316 per month to message your therapist with one 30 minute live session per month

$396 per month to message your therapist with four 30 minute live sessions per month

Overall

 



 



About the writing of this article.

This article was first published in April 2017 and has been updated since we've learned more about these services and about online therapy in general. This article is the result of extensive research and firsthand experience with these platforms by Mark Pines, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), and by Jennifer Novak, a Master's-Level Social Worker (MSW). Both writers are experienced therapists. The writers used both BetterHelp and Talkspace for a month each as clients. Other research included 30 hours of course-work exploring online counseling and attending an in-person workshop held by a leading expert in the field.

 

Through our extensive research, we have attempted to give you the information you need to make a safe and informed decision. Of course, please consult with a mental health professional to get guidance specific to your unique situation.