For every consumer with a smartphone and internet access, mobile apps are a part of daily life. From fitness software to productivity calendars, there’s a digital solution for almost everything.
But does that mean we can also get mental healthcare online? And if so, is it worth considering?
In this article, we’ll take a look at exactly that – the rise of online therapy. We’ll consider what it aims to deliver, whether it does what it promises, and how it works in practice.
5 Best Online Therapy Apps
Online therapy apps are just what they sound like – downloadable, mobile-compatible technology that’s designed to deliver a therapeutic experience straight to your smartphone. In other words – mental health applications.
But, before we consider them a little more in-depth, what better way to explore the world of online therapy than with a few examples?
In the table below, we’ve listed a few of the best-known online therapy apps that you can download straight from your app store of choice.
|MoodKit uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy principles to bring you exercises and lessons in an easily-digestible format. Work through these iCBT modules at your own pace if you’re looking for new ways to enhance self-awareness, deal with automatic negative thoughts, and boost your mood and well-being.|
With over 200 different activities to choose from, it’s based on scientific theory and designed by professional psychologists. Available for Android and iOS devices.
|Good For||CBT, Depression, Anxiety, Stress|
|Like MoodKit, What’s Up uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) along with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) frameworks to deliver accessible, affordable mobile therapy.|
Features include habit tracking features to help you set goals and break habits, along with quizzes, checklists, and more therapeutic resources to help you manage stress, anxiety, and other sub-clinical mental health concerns.
Find it both in the AppStore and on Google Play.
|Good For||CBT, ACT, Depression, Anxiety, Stress|
|If you’re looking for an app that’s covered by many insurance providers, Sanvello is frequently reviewed by mental health professionals.|
Features include scales and measures for different mental health issues, along with lessons, exercises, and a mood tracker.
Among other things, Sanvello uses CBT and mindfulness techniques to help users learn more about and better manage issues such as confidence, stress, and emotional well-being.
|Good For||CBT, Mindfulness, Depression, Anxiety, Stress|
|If guided user journeys don’t interest you, a chat with a licensed counselor may be more up your alley. With TalkSpace, users sign up and are connected to someone who is trained to listen while you talk.|
On registering, you can opt to be paired with a credentialed therapist for one-off or ongoing online therapy through the dedicated interface.
With both free and paid options available, TalkSpace is one of the most popular online mental health apps available on the market today – widely available on both iOS and Android.
|Good For||Talk Therapy, Anxiety, Depression, Stress|
|BetterHelp offers free plans and monthly paid memberships that allow you to talk with a professional online therapist through private VOIP or video conference calls.|
Like TalkSpace, BetterHelp’s main focus is talk therapy, however, it also offers educational webinars dealing with common issues like anxiety, coping, and more.
Book appointments in advance, then meet your therapist in a private chat room where you’re also able to drop messages to your counselor around the clock, so you can receive personalized advice when your practitioner responds.
|Good For||Talk Therapy, Anxiety, Depression, Stress|
Tools For Your Online Practice
In this section, we’ll look at some tools for practitioners who are looking to enhance their current mental health practice.
How Online Therapy Tools Help Practitioners
In general, there are two main ways that therapy tools can benefit helping professionals. Roughly, these are:
- By performing or streamlining back-end tasks, such as practice management, marketing, billing, administration, and more, or
- As platforms for online therapy – by allowing client and therapist to meet online, or by creating a space and resources that patients can use as part of their treatment.
These two broad functions cover a whole digital universe of solutions that can easily be customized to meet your requirements as a therapist.
It’s often possible to find integrated systems that offer both functionalities, allowing you to run your practice more efficiently, while looking for new clients and reaching existing ones through one dedicated platform.
Examples of Online Therapy Tools in Practice
Some good examples of the best-known online therapy tools include:
- Video conferencing tools. While essentially these are video conferencing platforms, operating like Skype and Facetime, video therapy tools for therapists often come with an added layer of privacy to protect patient confidentiality. This means that many video conferencing solutions are designed to adhere to industry regulations such as HIPAA and HITECH.
- Instant messaging tools. Online therapy can also be delivered in real-time without video or audio equipment through live chat rooms. Often, specialized solutions offer private chat rooms where a user can leave messages 24/7 for their therapist.
- Patient portals. A common “back-end” feature of most larger systems, patient portals give users a place where they can manage their sessions more proactively. By digitally booking sessions, filling out therapy intake forms, and more, both clients and practitioners can enjoy a more convenient treatment experience – and often, more quality time on the therapy itself.
Read on for our reviews of the top online therapy platforms and software which offer these capabilities and more.
Top Online Therapy Platforms and Softwares
Whether you’re looking to grow your clientele, streamline your practice management, or deliver live sessions straight away, there’s a little of something for different types of online therapists among the following solutions.
Practice Management Solutions
If practice management software that can help you optimize your admin is what you’re searching for, these software solutions are designed to help you run your practice more efficiently.
|SimplePractice is packed with practice management and client communication functionalities. Appointment scheduling, Electronic Health Record (EHR), Electronic Medical Record (EMR), Compliance Tracking, and Billing capabilities are all supported.|
It’s also a way to simplify online treatment plan creation with templates and a patient portal – although Simple Practice does not support e-Prescribing.
It’s designed for mental health, speech therapists, and more, and offers a free trial.
|Good For||Practice Management, Scheduling, Billing, Client Communications, EHR|
|TheraNest includes a whole suite of services designed to make practice management more efficient and less stressful. These include EHR, calendar and scheduling, billing, payroll, and staff management capabilities.|
It also comes with a mobile app for remote access, and client communication essentials for online therapy, such as a patient portal, inbuilt DSM and ICD codes for note-taking, and reminders to help reduce no-shows and last-minute cancellations.
Available for iOS, Android, as well as in SaaS, web-, and Cloud-based versions.
|Good For||Practice Management, Scheduling, Billing, Client Communications, EHR|
|AdvancedMD aims to help practitioners simplify everything from reporting and analytics to scheduling, payment processing, billing, and claims management.|
A full practice management solution, it also comes with different optional add-ons so that you can customize your experience based on your professional requirements.
With regard to online therapy in particular, however, it lacks some of the client communication essentials offered by other platforms – to interface with your patients, you’ll need to rely solely on text or email channels. In other words, there is no instant or video messaging channel built into AdvancedMD.
|Price||Available on request|
|Good For||Practice Management, EHR, Billing, Scheduling|
Online Therapy and Counseling Platforms
Are you an existing mental health professional hoping to offer blended or virtual care services right away?
If so, the following platforms, as well as the two already mentioned in previous sections, are potential places to offer your services, so that you can increase your reach and help more people.
|If you’re a solo practitioner or looking to deliver your services through an existing platform, MDLive is one option worth considering. Here, licensed counselors and psychiatrists can communicate with clients through the MDLive smartphone app, or deliver video or phone call sessions through the software.|
Being designed primarily for telemedicine, this platform supports e-Prescriptions, but isn’t well-established as a way to offer long-term or ongoing online therapy.
With scheduling functionalities and plenty of existing users, however, it may be a good way to help telepsychiatrists and online counselors to grow their practices.
|Price||$99+ weekly (for clients)|
|Good For||Telepsychiatry, Client Communications, Video Therapy|
|Regain is an existing platform that partners with credentialed counselors and mental health professionals.|
Designed primarily for couples counseling, it offers good video therapy capabilities that allow you to interface with your clients in real-time, remotely.
Clients pay a weekly fee and are matched with you automatically as a provider, using the site’s algorithms. There are different plans available, so clients can request an unlimited number of meetings, schedule private sessions, or simply leave messages for you to respond to as part of your online therapy.
|Price||$40+ weekly (for clients)|
|Good For||Couples Therapy|
|Choosing a HIPAA-compliant provider is one way to ensure that you’re adhering to the APA’s teletherapy best practices. Amwell offers this privacy and security, making it a good platform for interfacing with psychotherapy, counseling, and telepsychiatry clients online.|
To register, practitioners must hold a valid license and be board-certified to provide online therapy for the issues they’ll be dealing with. Common topics include depression, stress, addiction, anxiety, and psychiatric issues.
Patients can pay per session, schedule sessions in advance, or go through their insurance providers.
|Price||$99+ (for clients, for online therapy)|
|Good For||Telepsychiatry, Telehealth, Client Communications|
Is It Effective? A Look At The Research
With so many options at consumers’ fingertips, the most salient question remains. Is online therapy effective?
In not so many words, academic studies provide a good amount of support for online therapy as an effective way to treat common mental health issues.
Several studies of Internet‐delivered cognitive behavior therapy (ICBT) treatments, for example, suggest that when online therapy is properly guided by a professional, it can be as effective as in-person CBT.
Many others also indicate its positive effects in comparison to receiving no treatment at all.
Researchers have found that therapist-guided iCBT, in particular, can have a sustained positive impact over time, delivering longer-term patient benefits.
How Is Online Therapy Used?
Looking at online therapy and particularly mental health issues, there is evidence suggesting that it can be effective as a way of treating:
- Depression: Helping patients reduce the severity of mild to moderate symptoms through self-management 
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Again, helping to reduce symptoms through iCBT while also effectively benefiting patients with co-morbid depression symptoms, and
- Social Anxiety Disorder: In this case, with one randomized controlled trial showing iCBT benefits matching those of in-person group CBT.
Given its relative convenience and affordability, online therapy may also have sustained effects. Following up participants over time, researchers have found that therapist-guided iCBT, in particular, can have a sustained positive impact over time, delivering longer-term patient benefits.
Online Therapy vs Face-To-Face Treatment
Online therapy varies in several key ways from in-person treatment, as we’ve already mentioned.
But to make your basic comparison simpler, we’ve summarized some of these differences in a table.
Check out the similarities and differences below to help you distinguish between the two – in later sections, we’ll consider the research into the efficacy of each a little more closely.
5 Benefits of Online Therapy
Having looked at its goals and how it works, this table recaps the benefits of online therapy so you can make a more informed decision about whether it’s suitable for you.
|E-Therapy Is Cost-Effective|
|Accessibility and Consumer Choice|
Looking At Online CBT
As you might have noticed, a large proportion of internet-delivered therapies are based on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) theories and frameworks.
But what is iCBT? And how does it differ from conventional CBT?
What is iCBT?
Quite simply, iCBT stands for internet-delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
The fundamental principles remain the same, except that with apps or platforms, users can learn CBT skills for treating depression, anxiety, and other conditions.
Given its popularity with online therapists and platforms, there is a decent amount of research into its efficacy. In many instances, a properly-implemented iCBT program is considered just as effective as conventional CBT in the treatment of certain sub-clinical mental health conditions.
A goal-oriented, problem-focused framework, CBT uses techniques such as cognitive restructuring to tackle problematic relationships between:
- Feelings, and
Patients working with iCBT thus learn to self-manage symptoms, cope better with problematic behaviors and thoughts, and generally, work toward better mental health at their own pace.
In many instances, a properly-implemented iCBT program is considered just as effective as conventional CBT in the treatment of certain sub-clinical mental health conditions.
Examples of iCBT
iCBT has been useful in helping users manage, and improve, their mental health through:
- Interactive games, activities, and exercises, e.g. daily tasks, challenges, and goals
- Thought and mood journals, e.g. apps using the Experience Sampling Method
- Educational lessons, which range from daily ‘bites’, up to full-sized courses and programs
- Live sessions with online therapists.
CBT lends itself well to online therapy, as it can be delivered asynchronously as on-the-go techniques and tools in app format.
At the same time, therapists can also create courses and give live instruction in specific techniques through virtual sessions, where they can receive feedback from a specialist.
Online Therapy For Kids: Does It Work?
Online therapy isn’t just for adults, either.
When designed and delivered appropriately, scientific evidence shows good support for using virtual therapies to treat children and help adolescents, too, particularly when it comes to mental health.
Online Kid Therapy Features
Online therapy games are arguably the largest and most widely available form of online therapy available to kids.
Often with age-appropriate tailored content and interfaces, there is a vast range of therapeutic games now available, designed to meet different developmental needs.
Several features to look out for include:
- Human support required. Online kids therapy can range anywhere between fully self-guided programs, and those where the child receives support from a caregiver. Where adults are more involved, children may receive more motivation and encouragement to continue, as well as to apply any concepts learned.
- Delivery method. As with adult online therapy, kids’ apps and platforms can be played on many different devices. Choose one that works for your child, based on their developmental phase and lifestyle.
- Application. The way online therapy is administered – as a standalone treatment, or as part of a blended care therapy – can also vary. Some programs have even been administered on a large scale, as part of school mental health programs.
In short, online therapy can be a great way to deliver a more engaging treatment experience through interactive games, activities, and learning tasks.
With research backing up its efficacy, the question of whether it works will come down to finding the right app for your child. Many apps and programs offer free trial versions, so why not try them out?
4 Online Therapeutic Games
One of the great advantages of blended care technology lies in its fast development times.
New software is constantly being developed to meet changing consumer needs, and with greater demand for child therapy, there is an abundance of online therapeutic games available that work beautifully within a blended care model.
If you’re curious to try some baby steps into the world of online therapy – or if you’re looking for a game to supplement your existing program, check out the following games.
|Designed by researcher Jane McGonigal, SuperBetter offers users a way to tackle depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues through a user-friendly gamified app.|
The goal of SuperBetter is to strengthen personal resilience and develop better coping skills, helping users to manage mental health symptoms more adaptively.
By recruiting friends, completing daily tasks, and unlocking new challenges, users work through a resilience-building framework that has been clinically tested with positive results.
|Good For||Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Pain Management, Other Mental Health|
|With evidence-based games designed for stress reduction, Happify gives users an engaging way to experience CBT, mindfulness, and other therapies.|
Downloadable on both iOS and Android, it also aims to increase resilience while helping users combat negative thought patterns and cognitive distortions.
It’s broken into digestible daily ‘tracks’ that include mini-games, activities, quizzes, and more that can be played easily on the go.
|Good For||Stress, Mindset, Anxiety, Depression, Other Mental Health|
|Designed by UK-based clinical specialists, the Thrive app gamifies scientific tools such as CBT and thought techniques to boost mental wellness.|
With a range of daily activities to choose from – including meditations, sleep tracking, and goal-setting – it’s NHS-approved and continuously being reviewed by experts.
Thrive also offers preventative screening questionnaires and optional extras such as personal coaching, to help users improve their mental health.
|Name||Thrive Mental Wellbeing|
|Good For||Stress, Mindset, Anxiety, Depression, Other Mental Health|
|MindShift primarily targets anxiety symptoms, helping users with popular CBT techniques in an easy-to-digest format.|
Colorful ‘coping cards’ and belief experiments make this app great for all ages, and users can set goals for themselves and track their progress.
Available for iOS and Android devices, MindShift is evidence-based and especially good for teenagers and young adults.
|Good For||Depression, Panic, Phobias, Anxiety, Mindset, Stress|
Yoga Online Therapy
Just as many medical and psychological frameworks have found their way into blended care programs, alternative therapies are also becoming more popular.
Online yoga therapy is another way users are incorporating third wave practices such as mindfulness to treatment plans, while combining fitness and therapeutic goals into a more comprehensive treatment.
With many paid plans and free trial versions available, yoga online therapy can be delivered as online courses, virtual fitness classes, or with live instruction from a personal health coach.
3 Training Courses and Certification Programs
Are you a practitioner thinking about adding online therapy to your professional portfolio?
To become a practicing digital therapist, you’ll need to become qualified through all the same pathways as if you were practicing offline.
Some platforms accept Masters-level therapists, while the full pathway to a Doctorate can be much longer.
Generally, you’ll need to consider:
- Acquiring your license, as governed by the relevant agencies and regulatory bodies for your area
- Completing a certain number of hours of supervised clinical education
- Successfully completing specialty-specific certification assessments, such as exit exams for your state, and
- Adhering to the legal framework around online therapy for your region.
Additionally, you’ll need to know where you’re allowed to deliver e-therapy. As there’s no current federal framework governing teletherapy, this often comes down to state and regional laws.
With this in mind, here are 3 training courses and certification programs that you can look into for the skills and theory you’ll need to get started.
Online Therapy Program
|Led by Dr. Judith Beck of The Beck Institute, this digital course covers the essentials of delivering effective CBT to clients.|
It’s designed to be interactive, with videos of therapy sessions, class discussions, and theory, as well as student forums and academics to support your learning.
This will count toward your CE hours, with 8 credits available. You’ll also learn how to plan a session, impart CBT skills to your clients, and conceptualize cases.
|Name||Essentials of CBT: The Beck Approach|
|Good For||CBT, iCBT|
Online Therapy Program
|The University of Pennsylvania offers different pathways into a professional counseling career.|
With online and on-campus options available, classes cover mental health counseling, educational counseling, professional applied psychology training, and further research and learning opportunities.
This is a good, albeit very general place to start from scratch if you’re unsure what you’d like to specialize in.
|Name||Master of Philosophy in Education: Professional Counseling|
|Good For||Therapy, Counseling, General Psychology Masters|
Online Therapy Program
|To help you help others online, this course looks into how you can best provide clinical services from a practical standpoint.|
This workshop emphasizes three foundational strategies for developing your own business:
It’s designed for independent practitioners as well as groups, and is delivered as a webinar.
|Name||Essential Strategies for Running a Psychology Practice|
|Price||$65 for APA members, $80 for others|
|Good For||Practice Management|
We live in an age where almost everything is digital, where convenience, cost-effectiveness, and mobile-compatibility are truly transforming our healthcare systems.
With a good understanding of what’s out there, you’ll be in a much better position to make an informed choice about whether online therapy is right for you or not. Why not let us know about your experiences with online therapy so far, in the comments below?
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