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Our Ultimate BetterHelp FAQ. Your Most Important Questions Answered

Our Ultimate BetterHelp FAQ. Your Most Important Questions Answered

Updated June 4, 2020

BetterHelp offers a new way of delivering therapy that threatens to shake up century-old traditions about how therapy is done. These new options can be confusing and bring up a lot of questions, including whether online therapy is the same as traditional in-person therapy. Over the past three years, we have done extensive research into BetterHelp, including signing up for their service multiple times. In this article, we answer your most important questions and share the tips and tricks we have discovered for getting the most out of BetterHelp.

OpenCounseling is user-supported. We should note that BetterHelp and Regain are sponsors of OpenCounseling and we earn a commission if you subscribe to them after you follow a link to 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.


Section 1: Is BetterHelp Safe and Does it Work?

 


How does BetterHelp work?

BetterHelp works by matching people with licensed counselors for online counseling sessions.

 

You can fill out a questionnaire to be matched with a therapist via BetterHelp's algorithm, or you can manually select a therapist from a list that shows up when you enter your area code. You can only choose from therapists who are licensed to practice in the state in which you live.

 

You and your therapist set up a schedule for sessions based on what works for both of you. After you log in to the site, you'll see a chat page that shows your scheduled sessions in the leftmost pane. This chat page is where you'll exchange messages. It's also where you will receive and be able to "answer" voice or video calls; your counselor must initiate them.

 

Scheduling a Session on BetterHelp

 


When you're picking a counselor, you can see whether they offer video, voice, or messaging sessions. We recommend going with a counselor who offers video sessions and do not recommend choosing a counselor who offers messaging services only.

     

 


Does BetterHelp work?

We wish there was a simple answer to this question, but the simplest answer we can provide is, "probably."

 

There are a long history of peer-reviewed research studies supporting the effectiveness of therapy via videoconferencing technology, popularly known as "teletherapy." Here's just a few:

 

 

These studies support the argument that video sessions with a qualified therapist are not significantly less effective than in-person sessions with a similarly qualified therapist.

 

The issue, however, is that BetterHelp doesn't distinguish between the three modalities it offers on its site: video sessions, phone sessions, and therapy via messaging. We, however, distinguish greatly between these three modalities. We do not recommend phone sessions as much as video sessions, and do not recommend messaging alone as a substitute for real-time therapy sessions at all, only as an adjunct to them.

 

While research supports the efficacy of video therapy, it does not support the efficacy of text-based therapy. The American Psychological Association issued a strongly-worded statement about this: "There is no research suggesting that texting alone is an effective modality for psychotherapy." 

 

Text messaging can be comforting, and may form part of therapy, but should never be a substitute for more substantial communication. We recommend using it only as a support to live sessions, not in place of them.

     

 


Is BetterHelp legitimate?

Like most other Silicon Valley tech start-ups, BetterHelp's legitimacy depends on how you evaluate its business model. 

 

BetterHelp is a for-profit business. It is an online platform with a specific design as well as a digital matchmaking service that connects counselors who want to provide online counseling services with people who want to receive those services. 

 

BetterHelp puts effort into vetting its counselors and making sure they are properly licensed. It does not guarantee, however, that the services you receive on its site are the equivalent of in-office therapy. It states in no unclear terms that it does not consider its services adequate for the provision of clinical diagnoses that could be used in court or to receive compensation from an insurance company. 

 

This doesn't mean that the counselor or therapist you work with on BetterHelp isn't legally able to diagnose you; it means that they aren't legally able to diagnose you through the BetterHelp platform.

 

We believe this is because BetterHelp is trying to limit its liability in providing a service that carries potential legal risk. This is typical of businesses trying to limit their liability.

 

Even though BetterHelp as a platform tries to limit its liability, it is important to know that the therapist you end up seeing on the platform carries the burden of ensuring the treatment is appropriate. Licensed therapists must ensure their treatment meets the “standard of care”, and must actively assess your appropriateness for using the platform.

 

Ultimately, it's up to you to determine whether the platform's legal and clinical limitations are a dealbreaker for you.

     

 


How does online counseling differ from in-person counseling?

Therapy via video feels similar to in-person therapy sessions. However, something is lost when therapist and client do not share the same physical space. Therapy has intimacy at its core, and this intimacy takes a hit when people are separated by screens. It's similar to the difference between spending face-to-face time with your significant other and Skyping with them. 

 

Research studies like those cited above suggest that these differences have a subtle rather than overwhelming effect on therapy outcomes. Some styles of therapy are also more likely to be impacted by the video format than others.

 

In reviewing the array of therapists on BetterHelp, we noticed a high number of therapists who list cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or  solution-focused therapy (SFT) as their primary techniques. These are shorter-term treatments that focus on improving symptoms through cognitive change.

 

We noticed fewer therapists on BetterHelp offer psychodynamic therapy. Psychodynamic therapy effects emotional change through an intimate relationship between therapist and client. This sort of intense relationship depends on highly-attuned empathy and quick and clear responses to subtle nonverbal communication that are more difficult to achieve online.

 

We believe that the therapists who gravitate to online therapy are the ones who know their therapy methods are more likely to work online.  Their methods (CBT, SFT) are somewhat "manualized," which seems to help them translate well to the online format. 

     

 


Is online counseling with BetterHelp effective?

Probably. Whether counseling on BetterHelp is effective depends on a few different factors:

 

  1. Your BetterHelp counselor's general level of clinical skill and expertise
  2. Whether your BetterHelp counselor is a good match for you as a client
  3. Which of the three modalities (video sessions, voice sessions, messaging) you use

 

We believe BetterHelp is only as good as the counselors on its platform. It is a matchmaking site that features counselors with a wide range of backgrounds, and it is as prone to variability in quality of services as brick-and-mortar clinics and private counseling practices.

 

Many people say in their reviews that they are happy with the counselor they're matched with on BetterHelp. For us, one of our biggest frustrations with the site is how poorly its algorithm seemed to work in matching us with counselors. We should say that we have extensive background in therapy and may be particularly picky.

 

Still, we recommend taking the time to do your own research and choosing a counselor manually or being willing to change counselors until you find a good match. In many cases, it may be easier to find a counselor who's a good match on BetterHelp than you can locally where you live (especially if you live outside of a major metro area).

     

 


What reviews exist for BetterHelp?

It is difficult to find objective reviews from clients of BetterHelp. On-site reviews focus on specific counselors rather than the service as a whole. We spent a lot of time looking, and the most complete review we found was done by us (ahem). You can read it here. You may also want to browse through first-person accounts on reddit

 

BetterHelp has been subject to controversy over the legitimacy of reviews published by the people and pages it sponsors (like us). Many questionable positive reviews have popped up on YouTube, which has since also been the source of a lot of critical reviews of BetterHelp's Terms of Service, payment model, and other issues.

 

We think some simple facts have gotten lost in the controversy. BetterHelp's issues as a business and platform are less likely to impact your experience than whether or not you find a therapist on the site who is a good match. If online therapy is what works best for you given your schedule and location, we believe it's a solid, legitimate option that's worth considering.

 

BetterHelp has made a strong effort to avoid legal liability. It does vet its counselors to make sure they are licensed but refuses to guarantee that services you receive are equivalent to in-person therapy. We advise being savvy and doing your own research to make sure you find a good therapist on the site who is a good match for you.

     

 


Can I get diagnosed on BetterHelp?

No. While many of the counselors who work on BetterHelp are qualified to diagnose clients, the site's policy and Terms of Service explicitly disclaims use of the site "for the provision of clinical diagnosis". 

     

 


Can BetterHelp prescribe medication?

No. Traditionally, any counselor or therapist who is not a Doctor of Medicine (MD)—that is, a psychiatrist—is not allowed to prescribe medication. There are some variations in some states and generally, psychiatric nurse practitioners can also prescribe medication. 

 

Psychologists (PhDs or PsyDs) and master's-level counselors (LCSWs, LPCs, MFTs, etc.) cannot prescribe medication as it is not considered to be within the scope of their education or training (while counseling or therapy is considered to be their particular realm of expertise). 

 

Even so, regardless of your counselor's credentials, BetterHelp disclaims the use of its site for advice or information regarding medications or medical treatment in its Terms of Service.

     

 


What relationship does OpenCounseling have with BetterHelp?

BetterHelp and its partner site ReGain are affiliate partners, or sponsors, of OpenCounseling. We earn a commission if you subscribe to them after following a link from this site.

 

OpenCounseling started out as a small local site with information about affordable counselors in Orange County, California. We've since grown to cover the entire country, and along the way have picked up sponsors to help support the mission of our site. 

 

We think BetterHelp is a great option for many people and a natural partner for us in our mission of helping people find affordable counseling. However, we don't believe it's the right fit for everyone. We defer to our users when it comes to selecting from the number of options for affordable counseling we report about on our site.

 

We take objectivity and our ethical responsibility to our users seriously. Most of our team have tried BetterHelp for ourselves and paid out of our own pockets for the service. We never accept gifts and strive to report objectively on the pros and cons of BetterHelp. You can learn more about our policies regarding affiliate relationships here.

     



Section 2: BetterHelp Pricing

 


Is BetterHelp free?

No. BetterHelp charges for its services, usually on a monthly basis. The therapists who work with BetterHelp receive part of your subscription cost and BetterHelp takes a portion for providing the platform and infrastructure.

     

 

How much does BetterHelp cost?

BetterHelp's standard plan (as of June 2020) costs $260 per month. It costs more if you want to pay weekly instead of monthly. 

 

BetterHelp's Pricing (June 2020)

 

BetterHelp does not limit the number of live sessions you can receive a month. You and your therapist arrive at a mutually agreed number, usually one live session per week. The length of sessions varies from therapist to therapist, but the standard session length is one hour. 

 

We found that most therapists responded once or twice a day to our messages. Most therapists will tell you upfront when you start working with them how and how often they use messaging.

     

 


Does BetterHelp take insurance?

No. BetterHelp does not accept insurance directly and you can't be reimbursed indirectly by submitting claims for services you receive on BetterHelp to your insurance company.

 

There are two main reasons for this. One is that BetterHelp does not authorize using their platform for diagnosing mental health conditions. Insurance companies require mental health services to be associated with a diagnosis to be covered. 

 

The other is that BetterHelp's billing structure is different from how therapists typically bill. BetterHelp charges a flat rate by month or week, rather than charging for type of sessions you receive. Insurance usually bills based on codes for the type of service.

 


Does BetterHelp offer financial aid?

Yes. BetterHelp offers financial aid in the form of discounts of 10 to 40 percent off of its standard price. Discounts are based on your income.

 

Excerpt from BetterHelp Financial Aid Application

 


When you sign up for BetterHelp, you will answer a series of questions. When you reach the screen where you enter your payment details, there will be an option to apply for financial aid. If you qualify, you will get a discount immediately after filling out the form. 

 

You need to reapply every three months to continue receiving the lower rate. BetterHelp will send you a reminder email as that date approaches.

     

 


Is BetterHelp cheaper than in-person therapy?

It depends. If you have mental health coverage through your insurance, your insurance co-pay for seeing an in-network therapist will typically be cheaper than BetterHelp. 

 

However, if you can only see out-of-network providers or are paying out-of-pocket for therapy, BetterHelp is typically cheaper.

 

It also depends on how many live sessions you are receiving. If you receive one live session per week, BetterHelp's standard charge of $65/week is less than standard hourly therapy rates in most states, which are often over $100 an hour. If you only receive a couple of live sessions a month, you may be paying the same per-session rate you would pay to see a therapist in person.

 

It's important to understand that even if you have insurance with mental health coverage, you may not be able to use your insurance to cover in-person therapy sessions. Insurance will only cover treatment of a mental illness (such as depression or anxiety). It generally doesn't cover therapy for symptoms that don't reach the threshold of a clinical diagnosis or therapy provided for reasons other than treatment of a mental health condition, such as for personal growth.

     

 


Can I get a refund from BetterHelp?

It depends on the reason you are requesting a refund. In general, we have found BetterHelp's customer service to be accommodating. They seem to want to keep you happy (and to keep you as a subscriber). Here are a few examples of refunds we have received:

 

  • One of us signed up for a month but was unsatisfied after a week. Customer service offered to refund the unused portion of that month.
  • One of us signed up and was matched to a therapist. The team member liked the therapist, but the therapist was not available during the first week of the subscription period. Customer service extended the subscription to compensate for the lost week.
  • In another case, a therapist was on vacation and could not offer therapy for a week. BetterHelp extended the subscription for a week.
  • One OpenCounseling team member tried couples counseling on BetterHelp's sister site ReGain. He was unsatisfied with the first two counselors and was trying to switch to a third. In this case, an extra week was automatically added to his subscription even without him contacting customer service to request the additional time.

 

As with all mental health treatment, there is no guarantee that you'll get the results you are hoping for, and we doubt BetterHelp will refund you if you simply don't feel like your therapist was as effective as you'd hoped. However, our experiences suggest that BetterHelp's customer service team wants you to be satisfied and is generous in its attempts to make things right.

     

 



Section 3: BetterHelp How-Tos

 


Can I choose my therapist with BetterHelp?

Yes, but it is not the default option. BetterHelp's standard sign-up procedure matches you with a therapist based on your responses to a questionnaire. You'll answer questions about your preferences regarding your therapist's gender, religious orientation, and language. You'll also answer questions about the issues you are seeking help with and any mental health symptoms you are experiencing. 

 

There is also a "secret" way of choosing your own therapist:

1. Visit the BetterHelp home page (opens a new window).
2. Scroll to the bottom, and click on the faint link in the footer that says "Find a Therapist."

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 are more hands-on or have specific preferences about the type of therapy you would like to receive, you may 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 do I change therapists with BetterHelp?

One of BetterHelp's best features is how painless it is to change therapists. Simply open your profile menu and click "Change Counselor." This takes you to a page with a list of six different counselors to choose from. 

 

 

Changing Therapists on BetterHelp

 

The profiles you see on the "Change Counselor" page are a little more detailed than the profiles you see when you browse therapists via the "Find a Therapist" link. For example, the profiles on the "Change Counselor" page include information about when each therapist is available for live sessions. This can help you choose a counselor whose availability fits your schedule.

 

This method of changing counselors only brings up a list of six different therapists. If you want more choices, then you can once again browse the counselor profiles that show up when you click the "Find a Therapist" link located in the site's footer. If you find a therapist you like, you can contact customer service and request to be switched to that specific counselor.

     

 


How can I pick a good therapist on BetterHelp?

We believe the best way to find a therapist on BetterHelp who's a good match for you is to do some research first.

 

There are a lot of things you won't find out until you've had a session or two with a therapist. Still, before you sign up, you can determine whether the method(s) a therapist uses, their practice philosophy, and their overall personality and approach are a good fit for you.

 

We review some general principles for choosing a therapist in this article. In summary, we recommend taking some time to think about your therapeutic goals, the kind of counselor you'd feel most comfortable with, and what therapeutic method suits your needs best.

 

However, we understand that for some people, this kind of research can be anxiety provoking. Fortunately, this isn't your only option for ending up with a good therapist on BetterHelp. One thing that's easier on BetterHelp than with in-person counseling is changing therapists. If the thought of researching a therapist is overwhelming, just let the site match you and change therapists as needed until you've found a good match.

     

 


Does BetterHelp offer couples counseling?

No, but its sister site does. BetterHelp's sister site, ReGain, offers couples counseling sessions where both partners can participate in counseling together. We have published a review of ReGain here.

     

 


Can I pause BetterHelp or suspend my subscription when I go on vacation?

Yes. According to BetterHelp's customer service, you can to suspend your subscription for up to three weeks. If you want to suspend services for longer than that, they recommend cancelling your subscription and restarting at a later time. When you resubscribe, they will do their best to pair you with your original counselor, but they can't guarantee it. 

     

 


How do I reach BetterHelp customer service?

If you are an existing client, the easiest way to reach BetterHelp's customer service team is through the app or by logging onto their website. You can also call BetterHelp customer service at (888) 688-9296. Their email address is contact@betterhelp.com.

     

 


How do I cancel BetterHelp?

Canceling BetterHelp is surprisingly easy. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Click on the drop-down arrow next to your name and profile photo and select "Account Settings." 
  2. Then, under "Payment Settings," click on "Change Plan / Quit Counseling." A pop-up menu will open giving you different choices for changing your subscription. 
  3. Select the final choice, "Quit Counseling." This will open a questionnaire for you to fill out explaining why you're quitting. 
  4. Fill out the questionnaire and click on "Quit Counseling." 

 

You'll be able to use the service through the end of your current pay period.

     

 



Section 4: Alternatives to BetterHelp

 


BetterHelp vs. Talkspace: Which is better?

In our comprehensive review of both services we found BetterHelp to be the better provider. Please read our review of both services to learn why we came to this conclusion. Most importantly, BetterHelp emphasizes live sessions while TalkSpace emphasizes messaging. There is a weight of research emphasizing the effectiveness of video sessions, while there is no such evidence supporting the effectiveness of messaging. We should note that both companies are affiliate partners of OpenCounseling.

 

We were not able to find many other reviews that seemed credible. There are several other reviews that exist on the internet, but they seem to be surface level at best. The closest we found was the perspective of a therapist who worked with both platforms in this podcast.

 


Are there free therapy alternatives to BetterHelp?

Our specialty on OpenCounseling is finding free and low-cost options for people who are seeking traditional in-person therapy sessions and who can't afford standard therapy rates.

 

We encourage you to explore our articles and listings to find potential options for affordable therapy where you live. Depending on your local resources, you may be able to get free or low-cost therapy sessions through student therapists at local colleges or qualify for financial aid or sliding-scale therapy at a local nonprofit. Please visit our home page to search for providers in your area.

 

Public mental health providers and state-funded counseling are other options to explore. Whether you qualify for public mental health services will depend on your specific condition and needs, as well as the eligibility requirements in your state. Some states have stricter requirements than others.

 

As far as free online therapy providers, there are none that we know of. There are some websites that offer free sessions with "trained listeners," but not actual therapy from licensed therapists.

     

 

 

Why should I choose BetterHelp over an independent therapist offering online therapy?

We believe the match between you and your therapist is far more important than the platform you use to find and connect with your therapist. Whether you should choose BetterHelp or get online therapy another way (or ultimately opt for in-person therapy) depends on your preferences, local resources, and individual circumstances.

 

There are many excellent therapists who offer therapy over the internet. Some of these therapists choose to use BetterHelp as their platform for delivering therapy, while others use different platforms such as Practice Better, Zoom, or Skype.

 

Some reasons to choose a BetterHelp affiliate therapist:

  • It's quick and easy to start therapy on BetterHelp.
  • BetterHelp will probably be cheaper. This is because insurance typically does not cover online therapy and standard hourly therapy rates are typically higher per session than what you pay per session on BetterHelp (especially if your counselor on BetterHelp provides weekly live sessions).
  • BetterHelp offers a secure, integrated HIPAA-compliant platform where you do all your communication. Independent therapists sometimes use insecure means of delivering therapy like the consumer version of Skype.
     

Some reasons to use an independent therapist who offers online therapy:

  • The range of therapists you can choose from is greater if you don't limit yourself to a specific platform. Other platforms and independent practices may include therapists who offer specializations that may be particularly important to you.
  • It is possible that your insurance could reimburse you for online therapy claims if you meet with an online therapist who will diagnose you and prepare or submit paperwork. Insurance companies are becoming more open to reimbursing online therapy.
  • BetterHelp's rates are pretty good if you use the service regularly. However, some people only want to see a therapist once or twice a month. Some people also get to a point where they want to taper off the frequency of their sessions. This can be difficult with a flat-rate subscription like BetterHelp that can make you feel "locked in" to a certain schedule in order to get the most value out of the site. Theoretically you can switch to their weekly plan which is $80 per week as needed, but then you need to resubscribe and cancel constantly and may not get the same therapist.

     



OpenCounseling is user-supported. We should note that BetterHelp and Regain are sponsors of OpenCounseling and we earn a commission if you subscribe to them after you follow a link 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.


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