This article is part of Money's January 2022 digital cover, which features 22 ways to make 2022 the best money year of your life. Browse all 22 articles here.
If you’re looking to invest in your mental health in 2022, apps like Talkspace and BetterHelp could be a good place to start.
“There's all this prep work that takes place to go see a [traditional] therapist,” says Dr. Stephen Schueller, an associate professor at the University of California at Irvine and the executive director of One Mind PsyberGuide, which analyzes and reviews digital health apps.
That process can include making cold calls, completing phone screenings and exchanging emails with multiple providers until you find a therapist you can afford who's currently accepting new patients.
“These apps cut down on that prep work,” Schueller says.
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What to expect from therapy apps
Talkspace, BetterHelp, Cerebral and others can connect you with a licensed therapist shortly after setting up your account — sometimes within hours. Unlike a traditional client-therapist relationship, you can usually text your provider at any time of day. Weekly and monthly plans on these are also much cheaper than traditional therapy sessions.
The type of care you receive will depend on the service and plan that you choose. Therapists are trained to address a wide range of mental health concerns—depression, anxiety, relationships, trauma, grief, PTSD, eating disorders and so on—and the apps ask for your preferences on the type of therapist you’d like to see. You can talk to a provider using an app’s messaging system, which works just like texting, writing at your own pace. They’ll usually respond within a set interval (like 24 hours) and your conversations will be saved so you can go back and reread them whenever. You can also talk to your therapist via live audio or video chat.
These apps are not without their drawbacks: All of them have been criticized over privacy concerns, and because they're so new, there’s not a lot of data about how effective their therapy models actually are. But the notion that therapy apps don’t work at all is a misconception, Schueller says.
He recommends trying out a therapy app for a month or two to see if it works with your budget and goals, and to see how it compares to more traditional therapy, before deciding whether or not it's for you. A lot of your experience will depend on the specific provider your app connects you with, and it’s ok to try more than one therapist—and more than one app—in your search for a therapist you click with.
And remember: To get the most out of apps like these, “you have to have a little bit of willingness [to engage] in something that is still being tested and still being figured out,” Schueller says.
How much do therapy apps cost?
These are the starting prices for the three unlimited messaging plans offered by Talkspace. The cheapest plan is for app-based messaging only, while the other two plans allow you to schedule live sessions with your therapist (either on video or via voice chat, or via “live” text messaging where your therapist responds right away).
Messaging therapy: $52 per week
Messaging therapy plus one live session per month: $63 per week
Messaging Therapy plus one four sessions per month: $79 per week
Prices at Talkspace vary depending on your location, therapist availability and the frequency of your billing plan, with discounts available for quarterly or biannual subscriptions. Talkspace also offers therapy for couples and teens and a psychiatry program for medication management. Providers in the psychiatry program can prescribe meds, but they cannot prescribe controlled substances like Adderall and Xanax. The app also partners with employers and universities across the country and accepts certain insurance.
Therapy at BetterHelp costs between $60 and $90 per week, billed monthly. As with other platforms, the price varies by location and therapist availability, since not every provider is licensed to practice in every state. The fee covers unlimited messaging with your therapist as well as one live chat, voice call or video conference per week.
BetterHelp is not generally covered by insurance, and providers on the platform cannot prescribe medication. The app can connect you with counseling services for couples and teens through two partner sites.
Cerebral offers a discount on your first month of treatment, and it also bills itself as HSA and FSA eligible. Here are the prices for each plan:
Medication and Care Counseling: $30 for the first month and then $85 per month. This plan will match you with a prescriber to help manage and prescribe medication. It also covers monthly sessions with a care counselor to help guide you through the process. Your care counselor will be trained in therapeutic techniques like mindfulness and breathing exercises but will not necessarily be a licensed therapist.
Therapy: $99 for the first month then $259 per month. This covers weekly sessions with a licensed therapist but does not include medication management.
Medication and Therapy: $139 for the first month then $325 per month. This plan connects you with a prescriber for medication management as well as a licensed therapist for weekly sessions.
Cerebral also accepts some insurance plans.
How to find affordable in-person therapy
If you’re looking for affordable therapy outside of apps like these, there are other options. If you have health insurance, you could be covered for visits with a therapist. Check with your health insurance provider to find out if mental health care is covered in your plan. Many therapists also offer sliding scale payment options, regardless of insurance. It’s also worth exploring community mental health centers in your area.
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