5 Things to Know Before You Sign Up for BetterHelp
It’s not easy to decide when to start therapy. It’s also not easy to know where to go.
If you’re considering BetterHelp (a sponsor), it can be hard to get through all the hype (both good and bad) and base your decision on a realistic understanding of how it compares to your other options.
We’re here to help. Read on to learn some important facts about BetterHelp that can help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.
Don't worry, it's therapy.
One of the biggest worries people have about BetterHelp is that it somehow isn’t “real therapy.” We’re here to tell you: it is.
There’s two main reasons people worry about this:
- They worry that online therapy isn’t real therapy.
- They worry that the therapists on BetterHelp aren’t real therapists.
Neither is true. Let’s start with the online therapy part.
Not that long ago, online therapy was controversial. Many therapists were skeptical of it and refused to offer it on principle, arguing it wasn’t real therapy.
Then the pandemic happened.
Out of necessity, these same skeptical therapists adopted it and learned what we all know and accept now:
Research shows that for most clients, online therapy that uses live video (the kind we recommend) is as effective as in-person therapy. Most therapists acknowledge that their clients benefit from therapy whether their sessions are held in person or over streaming video.
So, while there are reasons to choose in-person therapy over online therapy (and vice versa), they are both ways to get real therapy.
One of the times online therapy isn’t recommended is if you have severe symptoms or conditions that put you at significant risk of harm. It’s easier and more effective to develop a crisis or safety plan with a therapist who knows local resources. So, if you need a little more help keeping yourself safe, we recommend looking for a local therapist who offers in-person sessions.
So, what about the other concern—that somehow, the therapists on BetterHelp aren’t real therapists?
That one’s bogus, too.
One of the most important things to know about BetterHelp is that they require all therapists who use their platform to be licensed.
Having a license doesn’t automatically prove they’re good therapists. However, it does prove they’re real therapists. It proves they’ve met the same standards all therapists have to meet to practice wherever they choose to practice.
To get a therapy license requires years of study and supervision. Maintaining a license requires therapists to pay their dues, take a certain number of continuing education courses every year, and not have clients file serious complaints about them for unethical practice to their state licensing boards.
To learn more about what it means for a therapist to be licensed—and to learn how to check your therapist’s license—you can read any (or all) of the following articles:
- How to Verify a Therapist’s License
- What Different Kinds of Therapists Are There?
- The 5 Steps to Background Check Your Therapist
Understanding what goes into getting and keeping a license can help you appreciate how meaningful it is to confirm that your therapist has one.
We strongly recommend taking the time to verify your BetterHelp therapist’s license before you start therapy with them. That license proves that your therapist is a real therapist who has spent years studying and training so they can help people like you meet your therapy goals.
It's a subscription service.
Another important thing to know about BetterHelp is that you don’t pay for individual therapy sessions as you go. Instead, you pay for a monthly subscription that includes live sessions and messaging.
You can choose how and how often you have live sessions on BetterHelp. To get the most value out of your BetterHelp subscription, we recommend getting weekly live video sessions.
We recommend video sessions because they’re the closest you can get to in-person therapy without seeing a therapist in person.
Voice or live messaging sessions can be useful options in certain circumstances, but you lose the important nonverbal communication you have with a therapist when you can’t see each other.
We recommend weekly sessions because that’s the industry standard and because that’s what most therapists initially offer or recommend to their clients. It’s also the best way to maximize the value of your BetterHelp subscription.
Weekly live sessions are included in your subscription cost by default. You pay a little more to see your therapist more often than that, but you pay the same price if you see them less often. So, you get more out of your subscription by seeing your therapist weekly.
If you want to see your therapist less often—such as monthly or biweekly—you’ll want to consider whether BetterHelp’s subscription model still works for your needs and your budget.
A missed session doesn’t have to mean lost money—BetterHelp can accommodate occasional schedule changes. If you or your therapist are sick or go on vacation, you can request to pause or extend your subscription to cover the week(s) you don’t have a session.
The easiest way to do this is to ask BetterHelp to extend your subscription period so it covers five instead of four weeks that billing period. The customer service team is happy to do this every now and then.
It’s also important to understand that with BetterHelp, you pay for a month at a time. This means you should consider whether having to pay for a month’s worth of therapy at once works for your budget before you choose BetterHelp.
Ultimately, whether BetterHelp is worth it for you depends on whether its platform and subscription model fit the way you’d use it.
It's online only.
BetterHelp’s business model is based on offering access to online therapy in a way that’s streamlined and convenient for its users.
However, there’s more than one way to get online therapy these days, and BetterHelp isn’t your only option. Which option should you choose?
The pros of getting online therapy through BetterHelp include how easy it is to sign up and get started with therapy and how easy it is to change therapists. Its rates can also often be more affordable than other out-of-pocket options, especially if you qualify for financial aid.
Getting therapy online means you’re not limited to therapists in your local area—you can see anyone licensed to practice in your state. (The way therapy licensing laws work, you have to see a therapist licensed to practice in your state or a state that has a compact agreement with your state.)
This can help if you’re looking for a therapist with a particular specialty or expertise because it allows you to significantly expand your search radius.
On the other hand, there are pros to finding a local therapist who offers online sessions through their own private practice. You may be able to use your insurance, for example (BetterHelp doesn’t accept insurance).
And some therapists now offer both online and in-person sessions. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of in-person sessions while still having the convenience of online sessions when and as you need them.
This isn’t an option on BetterHelp. On BetterHelp, all sessions are online only. This means it can be a good option if that’s what you want or need. But if you want to be able to see your therapist in person, BetterHelp isn’t the right option for you.
You can choose your own therapist.
One of the coolest hacks we know for BetterHelp is how to choose your therapist for yourself instead of letting the algorithm choose for you.
In our personal testing of BetterHelp, we weren’t that impressed with their algorithm or our initial therapist “matches.” We had much better results when we did our own research and chose for ourselves.
That said, many people who use BetterHelp are happy with the first therapist the site matches them with. Most therapists are well-equipped to address a range of therapy needs. Whether you need someone more specialized than the average therapist depends on how niche your needs are.
It’s important to note that there’s more to finding the right therapist than finding one with the right expertise. It’s also about finding a therapist who’s a personal match—someone whose personality, approach, and style click with you.
This can be the trickiest part of looking for a therapist, because it’s more about intuition and feeling than logic or matching items on a list. Looking for this personal match can be worth the extra research, time, and testing even if you don’t need a therapist with specialized areas of expertise.
You may need to read several listings before you find a therapist who feels right. If you start to get overwhelmed, don’t give up—you can just pick one of the therapists in your shortlist, or just let the algorithm match you, and change therapists later if the first one doesn’t work out.
Don't worry if you get the wrong therapist the first time.
There’s nothing as important in therapy as finding the right therapist. This is why we encourage you to take the extra time to research and compare therapists before you choose one.
That said, one of BetterHelp’s best features makes it less of a big deal if your first therapist isn’t a great match. Their “Change Therapists” button allows you to change therapists with just a single click.
Of course, you can always change therapists, including if you’re seeing someone local for in-person sessions. You can simply let them know you’re leaving and schedule an appointment with a new therapist.
But when it comes to convenience, nothing beats online. You don’t have to drive across town to another therapist’s office or make another wave of phone calls just to set up a new interview with someone you might not like. You don’t have to call therapist after therapist just to find one who has any availability.
All you have to do if your first therapist isn’t right on BetterHelp is click “Change Therapists.” You can then let the site’s algorithm match you with a new therapist or you can choose your next therapist manually (see the previous section for a step-by-step guide on how to do this).
There’s no easier or more convenient way to try out and compare different therapists, so we encourage you to take advantage of it and try as many times as you need to find the right one.
That said, we recommend going for “good enough” to avoid getting too stressed out or bogged down in the research phase. You’ll know you can work with a therapist when you feel like you can trust them enough to tell them what’s really on your mind and when you look forward to seeing them again.
BetterHelp works best if you know whether its online-only, subscription-based model works with the way you’d use it.
Understanding BetterHelp’s limitations—it doesn’t accept insurance, it’s online-only, and it’s a subscription model, meaning you can’t pay for sessions as you go—can help you rule it out if any of these are deal-breakers for you.
On the other hand, understanding BetterHelp’s strengths—you can choose from many different therapists, it’s easy to change therapists if the first one doesn’t work out, and its rates can be more affordable than other out-of-pocket therapy options—can help you rule it in.
We want to empower you to get the most out of BetterHelp if you decide that it’s right for you (or at least decide that it’s worth trying). This is why we advise getting weekly video sessions so you can get the most out of your subscription and why we want to make sure you know how to choose your own therapist.
We hope this article has helped you decide if BetterHelp might be the right option for you. If you think it might be, you can click here to sign up using our exclusive promo code and get 20 percent off your first month.
Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As a clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments.