Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to online therapy.
Talkspace is the most popular online therapy application, and offers a range of options from individual therapy to couples therapy and psychiatric care. The site boasts that they already have over 1 million users.
But is online therapy as effective as in-person therapy? Are there downsides?
In this article we’ll review the medical research on online therapy vs. in-person, as well as some research published on Talkspace specifically, to determine whether we’d recommend it to consumers.
Medical Research on Talkspace
There has been some research published in established medical journals about Talkspace in the past few years.
A 2021 clinical trial published in the JMIR Formative Research journal examined patterns of Talkspace intake inquiries, and was able to establish that the pandemic was causing many more incidents of anxiety than depression.
This research wasn’t to evaluate whether or not Talkspace worked, but it proved that the platform can provide valuable population insights that can help inform doctors and therapists.
Another study more directly tested the effectiveness of Talkspace for improving mental health conditions. The researchers examined the results from over 10,000 Talkspace users, tracking how their anxiety and depression was affected over the course of 12 weeks of therapy.
The study authors found that Talkspace was effective for improving both anxiety and depression outcomes, with around 30% of patients experiencing complete remission of their symptoms, and around 37% experiencing improvement from baseline.
It’s worth noting that one of the 5 authors of the study is a Talkspace employee, and another received consulting fees from Talkspace, so there is some level of bias. However we still think the study was well-designed and the research is valuable given such a large set of respondents.
An ongoing study using Talkspace is going to compare the results of text-based therapy to video-based therapy for depression patients, and the results should be published later this year.
What’s clear to us is that whether or not Talkspace is more effective than in-person therapy on average, the data that will result from Talkspace usage and medical studies can improve patient outcomes. It’s much easier to aggregate and analyze data from a digital mental health platform than from millions of in-person sessions, so we think Talkspace is a net positive to society in that regard.
Talkspace Vs. In-Person Therapy
The question most patients are curious about when considering Talkspace is whether it’s as effective as seeing a therapist in person. Of course individual responses will vary, but there has been some research on this topic.
A 2022 study compared the results of virtual vs. in-person therapy for eating disorders, and found results to be comparable. Not only was patient satisfaction similar, but the documented weight gain (in patients who had a medical need for weight gain) was similar also.
This suggests that online therapy may be just as effective as in-person for eating disorder treatment, but this was a small study using self-report assessments. Much more data is needed from future studies to validate these results.
A comprehensive review of in-person psychotherapy versus videoconference psychotherapy was recently published in the Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy journal. The study authors of this review analyzed over 100 individual trials on in-person and virtual psychotherapy. They concluded that “therapy is no less efficacious when delivered via videoconferencing than in-person.”
One fascinating finding from the above-linked review is that video therapy was actually significantly more effective for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is frequently used with affective disorders such as phobias or avoidance. This is potentially because CBT involves re-training the mental response to various stimuli, and undergoing this process in a relaxed setting at home may have additional benefits.
Most Americans do still prefer in-person therapy according to research, but we would imagine this preference will continually decrease over time as the digital platforms improve and more patients become aware of the relative efficacy between the two therapy options.
We can conclude from the above research that Talkspace is likely to be as effective as visiting a therapist in-person on average. It’s important to highlight how these reviews only use averages across large study populations.
Patients who feel that in-person therapy is a better option for them should absolutely seek in-person therapy, and we’re not trying to change opinions of patients who have a preference one way or another. We feel this information is valuable for patients who may be considering therapy for the first time, and are trying to compare between virtual and in-person options (and confirm whether virtual therapy even works).
Talkspace features different pricing plans based on type of therapy. Text-based therapy is the cheapest, starting at $69 weekly.
Videotherapy starts at $99 per week and includes four 45-minute sessions per week.
Text and video therapy starts at $129 per week.
These are the out-of-pocket costs, but Talkspace may be covered by medical insurance as mentioned on their site. They claim that 40 million Americans now have insurance which would be covered.
We strongly recommend that patients considering Talkspace contact their insurance provider or check this resource page on their site to search your employer and insurer and check whether coverage is afforded.
The out-of-pocket cost of Talkspace is cheaper than the out-of-pocket cost of many in-person therapy providers, so it may be a good choice for lower-income patients seeking therapy, considering that virtual therapy has already been shown to be as effective on average.
Talkspace Vs. Betterhelp
Betterhelp is another popular online therapy platform that offers similar therapy options.
The cost of Betterhelp ranges from $80 to $100 weekly according to their site, which is a slight improvement over Talkspace, given that Talkspace’s listed prices only have a lower range (meaning consumers can’t see what the upper range is).
Like Talkspace, Betterhelp has been featured in several legitimate medical publications, including this study published in JMIR which found Betterhelp to be effective for reducing depression severity.
The efficacy of online therapy is going to be much more tied to the actual provider (therapist) and not to the platform used in our opinion. There isn’t any clinical data suggesting that Talkspace or Betterhelp are more effective; they’re both platforms that allow you to video call with a therapist.
We recommend that patients comparing Talkspace and Betterhelp choose whichever option better fits their budget and insurance, because switching between therapists within one of the apps is likely to have a much bigger impact than switching between therapy apps.