Brightside vs. BetterHelp

Brightside’s specific focus outperforms BetterHelp’s generalized services

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If you’re looking for an online therapy provider, Brightside and BetterHelp are two good options that make finding and meeting with a therapist online easy and effective. While Brightside specializes in treating depression and anxiety with both medication and a specific course of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), BetterHelp spreads a wider net, offering therapy for many common mental health issues, but no medication. 

Both services match you with a therapist after a brief intake survey. Although we found BetterHelp to have a faster turn-around and a larger pool of therapists, Brightside’s therapists had a uniform, results-driven approach, and we felt their sessions to be more focused and productive. 

Brightside vs. BetterHelp: How Do They Compare?

Why Trust Us
55
Companies reviewed
5,775
Total users surveyed
350
Data points analyzed
We surveyed 105 users from each online therapy company and asked the companies to complete questionnaires. Then, we tested the services ourselves, conducted comprehensive data collection research, and evaluated our results with the help of three licensed therapists.

: Brightside


  • Price: $95-$349
  • Is Insurance Accepted?: Yes
  • Type Of Therapy: Individual Therapy, Medication Management, Psychiatry

Brightside was founded by Brad Kittredge in 2017, and is based in Oakland, California. The company stands out in the online therapy field as being specifically geared toward depression and anxiety. It explicitly specifies what it doesn’t treat, which are conditions it deems serious enough to warrant in-person care: eating disorders, addiction issues, or serious mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder (BPD) or schizophrenia. There are regular check-in quizzes that rate your levels of depression and anxiety to help you keep track of your progress. Brightside prescriptions focus primarily on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which are standard medications used for treating depression. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • High quality of therapy

  • Responsible prescription practices

  • Highly tailored to depression and anxiety

Cons
  • Slow response time

  • No same or next-day appointments

  • Does not treat conditions beyond depression and anxiety

: BetterHelp


  • Price: $240 to $360+ per month
  • Is Insurance Accepted?: No
  • Type Of Therapy: Individual Therapy

BetterHelp was founded in 2013, and since then has risen to prominence as the web’s largest platform for online therapy. The site is top-notch in terms of navigation, has an incredibly quick turnaround from sign-up to first appointment, and includes unlimited messaging with your therapist. However, its large customer base isn’t built on performance alone. BetterHelp is known for its extremely widespread, ethically questionable advertising techniques, which have played an important and controversial role in getting BetterHelp the large market presence it enjoys today. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Rapid turnaround from sign-up to first session

  • You can message your therapist anytime

  • Highly functional platform

Cons
  • No medication available

  • Therapy quality can be inconsistent

  • Surge pricing can result in unexpected fee hikes

Compare the Brightside vs. BetterHelp: How Do They Compare?

Best For
Price
Is Insurance Accepted?
Does it Accept HSA/FSA?
Type Of Therapy
Communication Options
Reset All
Brightside N/A $95-$349 Yes Yes Individual Therapy, Medication Management, Psychiatry Messaging, Video Chat Learn More
Hide, not for me
BetterHelp N/A $240 to $360+ per month No Yes Individual Therapy Messaging, Phone, Video Chat Learn More
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Brightside vs. BetterHelp: Types of Therapy

Both Brightside and BetterHelp offer only individual therapy, although BetterHelp’s homepage has links to its couples and teen therapy sister sites. Brightside’s therapy sessions run just 30 minutes long, and all use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as the main therapeutic technique. BetterHelp’s sessions are 30 to 45 minutes, and therapists use whatever therapeutic techniques they prefer. 

Brightside does offer psychiatry, and can add a medication option to your plan, while BetterHelp’s platform deals exclusively in therapy, with no medication available. Both platforms are available in all 50 U.S. states. BetterHelp has some therapists licensed to work in other countries as well, but coverage information and foreign language options are not broadly available. 

Surprisingly, BetterHelp had more users looking for help with depression: 62%, compared to just 51% of Brightside users, despite Brightside’s more specific focus on the condition. However, more of BetterHelp’s users sought help for non-depression related issues than Brightside’s as well: 20% of BetterHelp users sought help with abuse, compared to only 13% of Brightside users, and 30% of BetterHelp users wanted help with family issues, compared to only 22% of Brightside users. 

Brightside vs. BetterHelp: Cost

At first glance, Brightside and BetterHelp’s price points are similar. Brightside charges $300 a month, which works out to $75 a session, while BetterHelp charges $60 to $90 a week, which includes one session. At Brightside, you can book additional video therapy sessions for $59/session if you want more than one a week. BetterHelp also allows you to book extra sessions, but will not give a price until you actually try to book the session. 

Only Brightside takes insurance, which 30% of its users listed as an important factor for choosing the company. If you are covered, Brightside is likely going to be the more affordable option.

It’s also important to consider what you want included with your plan, if you intend to supplement your sessions with additional support. Brightside’s plan includes a structured course of self-care video lessons on the basic tenets of CBT, while BetterHelp includes unlimited messaging with your therapist. Brightside also gives you the option of adding prescription medication to your plan for an extra $50 a month, while BetterHelp does not.

Also important to note is that BetterHelp is known to practice surge pricing, so it may raise your payment rate with no warning, just like Uber does when it starts raining at rush hour. The company does occasionally offer therapy below its $60 to $90 rate. During sign-up, there are low-income and student selections, and if you indicate the standard rate is prohibitive, you may be greeted with a pop-up or email offering you an even lower session rate, if it is available in your area. With Brightside, there are no surprises: you can rely on the advertised rate to remain consistent.

The importance of cost to users of each platform was similar: 29% of Brightside found cost to be important, compared to 31% of BetterHelp users. 

Insurance

Brightside accepts a wide range of insurance: Cigna, Aetna, Optum/UnitedHealthcare, Anthem CA, and Allegiance are all considered in-network, and it also accepts health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) card payments. Insurance covers both its therapy and psychiatry services. For medications, you'll be charged either your pharmacy copay or, if paying out of pocket, a flat rate of $15 per medication. 

BetterHelp does not take insurance. Neither the site nor its therapists will submit claims for you, and although its FAQ page says you are welcome to try to get reimbursed yourself, it notes that “services offered using this site are generally not covered by health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.” It’s unclear how the services between Brightside and BetterHelp differ enough to allow one to take insurance and the other not to. What’s clear is that Brightside makes billing your insurance relatively easy, while with BetterHelp, it’s nearly impossible.

Brightside vs. BetterHelp: Website & App

B1

Brightside and BetterHelp are both Silicon Valley startups, as their slick, well-designed, easy-to-use websites demonstrate. The sites and apps for both companies are relatively minimalist and feature similar setups: a scrollable homepage that offers easy-to-digest information about how the service works, with highly prominent links prompting you to sign up scattered throughout the page. Both sites have adequate yet basic FAQ pages, scant additional resources, and no way to browse  therapist bios prior to sign-up. 

BH1

Although they appear similar, there are a few functional differences between the two sites, particularly in the member portals. Brightside uses Zoom to host all therapy sessions, and sends a Zoom link to your portal. BetterHelp hosts sessions inside its portal (app or website), giving users more options as to the format of their session. Keep in mind, Brightside’s choice to mandate video connection for all sessions might be a quality issue rather than a lack of resources—many reputable therapists consider live chat or phone sessions to lack the level of connection necessary for a productive therapy session.

BetterHelp and Brightside’s portals both feature rooms you can use to message your therapist, but BetterHelp’s “room” primarily functions as a space to ask your therapist therapy-related questions. Brightside’s messaging feature goes to both your therapist and your “care coordinator,” and is intended more as a customer service helpline than for actual therapeutic exchanges. 

BetterHelp’s portal also offers a space to book group sessions, which include men’s and women’s groups, as well as support groups for loneliness, burnout, parenting, relationships, and many other common stressors you may want to connect with others about. 

Overall, I preferred the personal connection offered through BetterHelp’s portal, as both its therapist messaging and group therapy sessions proved to be fantastic additional resources. Brightside’s additional resources are more self-led—it has a great informative video lesson series, which I found useful, but it didn’t compare to the individualized nature of the BetterHelp portal experience. BetterHelp’s site was also more intuitive, while with Brightside, I was occasionally left wondering where to find resources I needed. 

Users also rated BetterHelp’s site slightly higher, with 73% saying navigating the site was easy or very easy. Not too far behind, 69% of Brightside users felt the same way. 

Brightside vs. BetterHelp: Account Setup 

Brightside and BetterHelp’s sign-up processes are similar, although Brightside’s is more thorough. Both begin with a short questionnaire about your background, your location, and why you are seeking therapy. Both platforms provide you with your own portal and do the therapist matching for you, and both companies have apps available for iOS or Android. In both companies, the personal portal in the app mirrors the one found on the website almost exactly. 

Brightside 

Brightside’s sign-up process is more in-depth than BetterHelp’s—it gives you a second, more detailed questionnaire that is just for matching purposes after you’ve already signed up, entered your portal, and chosen your plan. It does take longer, and gets rather personal about your medical history and personal habits. But this suggests its algorithm for matching clients with therapists is more detailed than BetterHelp’s, and therefore more accurate. 

BetterHelp

BetterHelp’s sign-up process is quicker all around. The actual click-through process takes less time, and the matching turnaround is also much faster. I got matched with a therapist within a couple of hours at BetterHelp, while with Brightside, it took over a day. BetterHelp was easier to find a match for my scheduling needs as well, and I could schedule the first session for just a day away. 

Still, whether it was a result of the matching algorithm, or just the overall quality of the therapists at Brightside, I did find my initial assigned therapist at Brightside to be a much better fit for me that the one given to me by BetterHelp: more professional, easier to talk to, and more understanding of what I hoped to accomplish. Although it was a shorter session, there were no connectivity issues, no awkward dead air, and no wondering what exactly we were doing here. She took the initiative to lead the session and outline what we should accomplish, both that day and in the course of our work together, while still giving me plenty of time to talk. 

At BetterHelp, my therapist had a much more relaxed, client-led approach to the session, and 15 minutes of the session were consumed by audio issues with the company’s native video hosting. My therapist complained to me that connectivity issues at BetterHelp were not that uncommon. 

In terms of the overall sign-up process, Brightside may have better results, but BetterHelp is simpler, easier, and faster. Our user survey demonstrates a similar opinion: 66% of BetterHelp users described the process of looking for a therapist to be easy or very easy, while only 57% of Brightside’s users felt the same way. 

Brightside vs. BetterHelp: How Therapy Sessions Work

Brightside stays fairly traditional with its session format, and requires video attendance via Zoom for all therapy sessions. While it's not the most convenient or flexible model, I can’t argue with this—many top-of-the-line therapists who primarily treat patients in-person refuse to treat patients over the phone or via live chat, on the grounds that it does not allow them enough of a connection with the client to do their job properly. 

BetterHelp, on the other hand, takes the opposite approach. Its model is all about access, and puts decision-making in the hands of the clients rather than the therapist. You can choose between video, phone, or live chat options for therapy sessions, all hosted right on the site or app. Combined with the unlimited messaging feature, it does make it much easier to contact your therapist, and gives you more options for scheduling when you’re busy—such as if you need to squeeze in a phone session while commuting or a live chat session during your child’s soccer practice. It may not be as effective as a video session, but it is a realistic option. 

Messaging Your Therapist

BetterHelp offers unlimited one-on-one messaging with your therapist, whereas Brightside's in-portal messaging is for scheduling and customer service issues only, not for therapy. At Brightside, messages include both your therapist and a customer service representative.

Video Sessions

At BetterHelp, video sessions are hosted from inside BetterHelp’s site or app; Brightside uses Zoom to host video sessions. 

Audio Sessions 

Brightside does not offer the option for audio sessions, but with BetterHelp, audio sessions can be hosted from inside the app or site.

Live Chat Sessions

BetterHelp's live chat sessions are hosted from inside the app or site; Brightside does not offer live chat sessions.

Group Therapy Sessions

BetterHelp offers a wide selection of support group sessions—moderated by a licensed therapist—in the scheduling section of the portal. Brightside, however, does not offer group therapy. 

Medication Management/Psychiatry

If you choose a plan with medication at Brightside, sessions with your prescribing doctor, as well as information on your prescriptions, are accessible in the portal. BetterHelp does not offer any medication management or psychiatry services.

Missed Sessions

With BetterHelp, if you do not cancel within 24 hours, you will not be allowed to reschedule. That missed session will count as your session for the week. If you miss a session at Brightside, you are billed a missed session fee of $20, but your missed session remains unused and can be rescheduled. 

Brightside vs. BetterHelp: Therapist Qualifications

Overall, both services provided high-quality therapists that fit my needs very well: both were women of color who were fully licensed, and both had over 10 years of experience. 

However, while browsing therapist bios, I did find the average years of experience to be higher at Brightside than at BetterHelp. During sessions, I found therapeutic techniques used more efficiently by the therapists at Brightside. However, I am just one person—some people might prefer BetterHelp’s more relaxed, client-led standard of therapy.

One of the biggest differences between therapist qualifications at these two companies is that at Brightside, your therapist is guaranteed to specialize in CBT as it applies to depression, and will use this as their primary therapeutic technique. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the gold standards of talk therapy and centers around changing unhelpful or faulty ways of thinking. 

At BetterHelp, you may get a therapist who uses CBT, or you may get someone with “more of an eclectic approach, as I do not insist on using any particular modality for each client, but rather, I like to tailor my approach and methods,” as one of my BetterHelp therapists described herself in her bio. Or, therapists may list a less well-known modality, such as client-centered therapy or psychodynamic therapy as their primary clinical approach. This may work well for you, or it may not. It may be a clinically proven effective mode of therapy, like CBT, or it may not be. With Brightside, you know what you are getting, while with BetterHelp, there is much larger variety in techniques and experience levels. 

Our surveyed users found, as I did, that therapists as both companies were dependable and competent. Unlike me, our users slightly preferred BetterHelp over Brightside: 87% of BetterHelp users rated the site’s therapist qualifications from good to excellent, while 86% of Brightside users did the same. 

Brightside vs. BetterHelp: Switching Therapists

Switching therapists is much easier at BetterHelp. Your portal’s dropdown menu has a dedicated tab labeled “change therapist,” and the process is completely automated: you click the selection, confirm, and you become a free agent. This time around, you are not matched with a therapist, but rather given a wide selection to choose from (I was in New York, and was given 40 different therapists). Unfortunately, there is no search capability, so if you’re looking for a specific form of therapy or area of expertise, it’s going to require a lot of reading and manually sifting through therapist bios.

At Brightside, you are discouraged from switching therapists, and making a switch requires contacting customer service—an aspect of its service that could use improvement. After reaching out via online message and not getting a response for three days (it was a weekend), I called the company on Monday, and had to wait on hold, and then go through a 10-minute process over the phone that eventually sent a link to my portal that allowed me to browse options for a new therapist. 

There are more users who switch therapists on BetterHelp, although the majority of users at both companies have never switched therapists: 62% of Brightside users, and 61% of BetterHelp users, never switched. BetterHelp had more users that had switched once—22% compared to Brightside’s 12%—yet Brightside actually had more users that had switched two or three times; 22% of Brightside users had done this, compared to only 11% of BetterHelp users.

Brightside vs. BetterHelp: Privacy Policies

The privacy policies at both Brightside and BetterHelp, as well as most online therapy companies, leave something to be desired. Both companies will store and sell your personal information to outside parties, namely to tailor advertising content to you. Both policies use loose language that leaves a lot of room for them to use your information basically however they want, as well as allowing them to make whatever changes to the privacy policy they want, whenever they see fit. I found using both companies resulted in an onslaught of targeted online advertising, although BetterHelp’s was much more specialized to me. 

BetterHelp is known to have unscrupulous advertising techniques, and is also currently in hot water for intentionally duping investors about its financial situation. Brightside, on the other hand, has managed to keep its company profile squeaky clean, which, warranted or not, makes me marginally more comfortable trusting them with my personal data. 

Brightside vs. BetterHelp: User Satisfaction

Overall, users were very satisfied with both platforms, and the companies received similar ratings in most categories: 90% of Brightside users rated it good to excellent overall, while 86% of BetterHelp users did the same. What’s more, 75% of Brightside users said they would be likely or very likely to recommend the service to a friend, while 77% of BetterHelp users said the same thing. 

Final Verdict

Overall, we preferred Brightside for its consistent, highly specific care from a team of well-qualified therapists. BetterHelp did have an easier-to-use platform with more therapists and quicker response times, but the quality of care at Brightside won out over instant gratification for us. Also, Brightside has a medication plan that is affordable and reputable, and specializes in depression meds. 

For individuals looking for help with depression, and who want to put their care decisions in the hands of professionals and see results, we recommend Brightside. Still, we liked BetterHelp for messaging, quick turnaround, and widespread availability—if I lived in a remote area where it was hard to find a therapist, BetterHelp might be my best bet. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Brightside and BetterHelp Prescribe Medication?

Only Brightside can prescribe medication. It claims to specialize in prescribing SSRIs and SNRIs for depression, although it is not limited to those. It does not prescribe any controlled substances such as Adderall or Xanax. You can enroll in its medication plan either with or without therapy.

How Often Can You Speak to Therapists on Brightside and BetterHelp?

At BetterHelp, you can message your therapist at any time through your private portal, and they will usually respond that same day. Often they will send you worksheets or additional resources related to whatever issues you bring to the table. 

With Brightside, you can also message your therapist, but the messaging platform is intended for scheduling and service issues rather than therapy itself. Therapeutic contact is limited to your weekly video sessions. 

How Long Are Brightside and BetterHelp Sessions?

Brightside sessions are 30 minutes. Our sessions were tightly run—they got straight to the point and stayed focused for the full 30 minutes. 

BetterHelp’s sessions are 45 minutes to an hour, and generally take a little more time settling in at the beginning and signing off at the end of the session.

Are Brightside and BetterHelp Covered by Insurance?

Brightside is covered by insurance, and is in-network with several large insurance companies. 

BetterHelp does not take insurance, and clients pay out of pocket.

Methodology

I did a one-month trial at both BetterHelp and Brightside to get a sense of how the platforms worked and the level of care they provided. We also reviewed results from a survey of 105 users across 55 online therapy companies, including BetterHelp and Brightside. 

We researched news about both companies, including any controversy around prescriptions or advertising, investor and performance news, and company history. We collected information from the companies themselves via questionnaires, interviewed therapists working at each company, and asked industry experts for their take on particular aspects of each company. 

We reached our decision by looking at the companies’ reputation among therapists and users, the ease of use of the platform, accessibility, additional resources offered, level of care, and professional and ethical integrity.

Professional Psychologist Listens To The Problems Of A Crying Modern Woman On A Visit In The Office

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By Mary X. Dennis
Mary X. Dennis is a Singapore-born, New York-raised, bilingual and biracial science reporter.

Edited by
Hannah Owens
Hannah Owens

Hannah Owens is the Mental Health/General Health Editor for performance marketing at Verywell. She is a licensed social worker with clinical experience in community mental health.

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and
Simone Scully
simone-scully-verywell

Simone is the health editorial director for performance marketing at Verywell. She has over a decade of experience as a professional journalist covering mental health, chronic conditions, medicine, and science.

Learn about our editorial process