BetterHelp is the most popular online therapy app. Like TalkSpace, it allows patients to connect with licensed therapists in the comfort of their own home, and pay for therapy at a lower price than an out-of-pocket visit would typically cost. But is online therapy even effective?
In this article we’ll review the medical research on BetterHelp, as well as medical research generally comparing the effectiveness of online therapy to in-person therapy.
Medical Research on BetterHelp
There has been one medical study testing the effectiveness of BetterHelp. The clinical trial published in 2019 examined whether patients using the platform saw improvements in their depression. The results were impressive.
At baseline, 33 of the 318 patients were diagnosed as having severe depression, and at the end of the 3 month trial only 18 patients received such a diagnosis.
0 patients were diagnosed with minimal depression pre-trial, and 63 patients (20% of the total) had this diagnosis post-trial. There was a shift from more severe to less severe diagnoses over the course of the trial, and the study authors concluded that overall patients experienced “significant symptom reduction.”
It’s notable that there were several studies proving the effectiveness of TalkSpace, but only one for BetterHelp.
BetterHelp Vs. In-Person Therapy
When it comes to any of the popular online therapy apps, the main question patients have is whether it’s proven to be as effective as in-person therapy. Thankfully, there have been more and more research studies comparing the efficacy of the two types of therapy.
A 2021 meta-review compared clinical trials on in-person versus online therapy. It’s the most thorough research review on the topic to date, as the researchers cited over 100 individual trials. What they found was encouraging for BetterHelp users: that online therapy was just as effective as in-person therapy for treating mental conditions.
One type of therapy, called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was actually found to be more effective in a virtual setting than an in-person setting. Our guess is this is because CBT is typically used for treating phobias, and patients can more comfortably actualize and work through those phobias in a comfortable setting like their home than in a therapist’s office.
Another clinical trial comparing in-person and online therapy had a similar conclusion to the previously-linked review: that there was no statistical difference between the two methods of therapy.
The patient population in this study had a documented eating disorder, and both groups (online and in-person) showed similar improvements in eating habits and weight gain (when there was a doctor’s recommendation for weight gain).
Another fascinating medical study published recently examined how therapists’ attitude and perception of online therapy may impact patients. The researchers tracked different metrics on the therapist end like emotional connection with patients, distraction and perceived efficacy of online therapy.
What they found was that therapists who started online therapy with a preconceived notion that it would be ineffective ended up more likely to have negative attitudes about online therapy and more likely to report it as ineffective after trying it (as a provider).
What this suggests is that it’s imperative for patients to find a therapist they really trust and that works well with them, because how enthusiastic and open the therapist is towards online therapy as a whole may influence how effective the therapy is for the patient.
It may be worthwhile for patients to actually ask their online therapist about their thoughts about the practice generally, and to consider switching providers if the therapist has strong negative opinions about the efficacy of online versus in-person therapy, because research has proven them to be similarly effective on average.
The cost of BetterHelp is clearly stated on their site: a range of $90 to $120 per week depending on patient location and preferences.
It appears that this cost is fixed regardless of patient medical insurance, because BetterHelp doesn’t contain much information on their site about health insurance and how it affects their service. They even state that patients are unlikely to be reimbursed by their insurer for the service.
It’s worth noting that around $100 per session is much cheaper than the out-of-pocket cost for a therapy session at most therapists, but may be more expensive than an in-person therapist session that’s covered by medical insurance.
We recommend that patients work with their Primary Care Provider (PCP) and insurer to determine whether BetterHelp suits their individual budget.
BetterHelp Vs. TalkSpace
As we referenced earlier in the article, there is more medical research published on the efficacy of TalkSpace than BetterHelp. However, since they’re both online therapy providers, we don’t believe one is more likely to be better than the other; the most important factor by far is the individual therapist.
We recommend that patients choose a therapist first and a platform second. Feel free to browse the therapists on both platforms before making a selection.
As far as cost, which app will be the better option depends mostly on insurance coverage. TalkSpace is covered by some insurers and employers, so for patients with medical insurance we recommend reaching out to your provider to see if TalkSpace is covered. If it’s covered, it probably makes sense to use TalkSpace because the cost might be fully subsidized.
For patients without medical insurance or with poor-quality medical insurance with a high deductible, BetterHelp may be the superior option since its per-session cost is lower. TalkSpace text and video therapy starts at $129 per week (higher than the upper range of BetterHelp) and has no fixed upper limit published on their site.