Circles Online Therapy Review

Effective, targeted group support for grief, loss, separation, and divorce

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Circles

Circles is a strong supplement to one-on-one therapy or stand-alone support for difficult issues, such as grief, in a friendly, peer-supported online environment. Groups are led by licensed mental health professionals over 12+ weeks, which fosters consistency and rapport among group participants.

VERYWELL MIND's 2021 ONLINE THERAPY AWARDS
  • Best for Group Therapy
  • Pros & Cons
  • Key Facts
Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Focused, peer-based support for grief, loss, separation and divorce

  • Easy to use via desktop browser or mobile app

  • Licensed professionals lead all groups

  • Affordably priced

  • First week is free

  • Unlimited messaging with facilitator and group

  • 12 week group sessions foster consistency

  • You can message group members and facilitator outside of session

Cons
  • Limited topic areas

  • No one-on-one therapy offered

  • Does not accept insurance

  • No medication management available

  • Only for use adults 18 and older

  • Does not cover all mental health issues

Key Facts
Price
$79 per month
Is Insurance Accepted?
No
Type Of Therapy
Peer Support
Communication Options
Messaging, Video Chat
HIPAA Compliant?
N/A
Is There an App?
Yes
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.

If you’ve recently gone through a separation from your partner or experienced a loss, sometimes just connecting with other people who can relate to your experience can help you feel better. This is the benefit of group therapy: not only can you meet with a therapist, but you can also do so with other people that are experiencing the same kind of issue or personal challenge as you are. 

However, group therapy isn’t commonly offered online, at least not by the big online therapy companies that have sprung up in recent years. Circles, though, is a company that is trying to change that by offering affordable, accessible, virtual group-support for grief, loss, separation, and divorce. 

In order to assess the services Circles provides—and its benefits to users—we surveyed 105 users that had tried its services and sent the company a questionnaire. I also signed up for a monthly subscription in order to test it out. 

Coincidentally I did have a fresh loss when I signed up to test the company, and was surprised by how good I felt after just one group session (live, via zoom). In addition, 40% of the users we surveyed felt that the company met all of their needs, so it’s clearly doing something right.

What is Circles?

Circles is a group-support company that was founded in 2018 by Irad Eichler and Dan Landa. It was originally called "7 Chairs” but the company changed its name to Circles in 2020 and it has continued to grow in the years since. It raised over $8 million in startup funds in 2021.

The founders say they created the company after noting that many people were turning to Facebook groups for online support. These have limits—namely, no mental health professionals or facilitators present to guide them. So they made sure their company gave them a better alternative in order to make sure that “no one should have to go through life’s challenges alone.”

Additionally, it hopes to bridge the gap in cost and access to therapy by providing an affordable and easy way for people to seek helpful support. It states that research has shown that online support can be just as beneficial as in person therapy and positions itself as both stand-alone support or a complement to individual therapy.

What Services Does Circles Offer?

Circles only offers one type of therapy: peer-based group support. 

Each group is composed of no more than 10 participants who have been assigned to the group after answering the intake questions. Though you can message with the facilitator, a mental health professional who is assigned to your circle, through the app as much as you like, it doesn’t really feel like therapy: more like supportive coaching. 

In addition to the weekly group meeting, you have the ability to access the app-based chat 24/7, where you can chat with all the members of your circle plus your facilitator.You also have access to additional content, including self-help exercises, blogs, and webinars (at no extra cost).

Who is Circles for?

According to its website, Circles provides group support for “grief, relationship issues, parenting, anxiety, or other life challenges.” However, when you actually sign up, it asks what brings you to Circles and offers only two categories: Grief/loss or separation/divorce. While it’s likely that all manner of emotional issues come up under those topic areas, this did feel a bit limiting to me, as the kinds of issues I am dealing with, aside from the loss of a friend, do not fit neatly into these categories.

So, this company is ideal for someone who is struggling through a difficult issue around one of the four core topics, and who would prefer the support of like-minded peers going through the same or similar issues with professional guidance. 

It may not be effective for other issues beyond its core focus, and should not be considered a replacement for one-on-one therapy.

How Much Does Circles Cost?

Circles only offers one subscription plan, which costs $79 per month. This gives you access to your assigned group, the chat, and the additional content mentioned above.

Though it states that you can cancel anytime, each “Circle,” or group, is set up to offer 12 weeks of support—so users are encouraged to commit for three months. Unless you cancel or request to be moved to a different circle, you will remain in the same circle and continue to be billed monthly.

According to Verywell Mind, the average cost of therapy in the United States is between $60 and $200 for an hour-long, individual session. Four hour-long group sessions for $79 is pretty affordable, especially when you add in the additional 24/7 chat function with the group. Thirty-nine percent of respondents in our User Survey agreed that the price was reasonable, though 4% felt it was not affordable. While the latter is a small number of people, it is a good reminder of the barriers to therapy access that still exist for many people.

Does Circles Take Insurance?

No, Circles does not accept insurance, as Circles is not technically therapy.

Does Circles Offer Discounts?

Yes, Circles does offer financial assistance to those who need it. Users can reach out to the customer care team at support@circlesup.com to learn more.

Users can also sign up for a free trial that gives you your first week free, which means you won’t be billed until your second group session. 

It’s worth noting that the first time we reviewed Circles in 2021, this free trial was a month so there has been a considerable decrease in this benefit. Also, this change might be recent as some FAQs have not yet changed the verbiage and it still says one month free.

Navigating the Circles Website and App

The Circles Homepage is inviting and aesthetically pleasing, with its signature lavender and purple-hued accents, the words “Group support from the people who get you,” and a graphic of a mobile phone with six diverse people smiling at you. If you scroll down, you’ll get some marketing-speak about Circles, such as “unique matching” where they talk about their process for matching you to a circle, “weekly video meetings,” where they briefly describe how often the groups meet, and some member reviews.

Circles
The Circles Homepage.

Circles

What might be confusing, however, is that there are two different versions of Circles’ homepage. The home page I described above has a navigation bar and the option to scroll down for more information. The other landing page has no navigation bar. It still offers the “find your circle” option, and details some basic information about circles with categories like “unique matching,” “weekly video sessions,” and “support that’s always in reach,” as well as member stories, but the information is not as easy to find on this page.

On both pages, however, when you click “find your circle” which is prominently displayed, you will begin the sign-up process

Circles Blog
The Circles Blog.

Circles Blog

Circles also has a blog, which I found through a google search, as it is not directly linked to its website. It is a little busy, visually, though it does feature interviews with mental health professionals, which are genuinely interesting and helpful.

While the company doesn’t have a formally noted mission statement, the opening text on its About Us page reads like one. “Circles is designed to enable meaningful group interaction in a safe, secured environment for personal resilience and growth.” It emphasizes that Circles wants to make support “accessible and affordable to everyone” and promotes the belief that sharing and listening to others with similar issues can be therapeutic.  

Circles has a small social media presence and links to its social media accounts on one of its landing pages. While it has over 7600 followers on Facebook, its posts, mainly graphics sharing mental health tips and data, don’t appear to have a lot of engagement with users. It relies more on cutesy video clips on its Instagram account, which looks like it’s appealing to younger generations. And its LinkedIn account seems like little more than a marketing piece, advertising its services. It doesn't appear to have a Twitter presence

Does Circles Have an App?

Circles does have an app and encourages you to download and use it after signing up. After being assigned a circle, all group chats occur within the app. This is also the place where you can chat with your facilitator. There are pre-recorded video tips for managing different emotions or experiences, and a brand new function called “Voices” where you can log onto a group (other than your own circle), such as “coping with grief” or “coping with a narcissistic relationship,” and just listen in without group participation.

Signing up for Therapy at Circles

As noted above, to sign up, you’ll click the “find your circle” button. This will prompt you to answer a series of questions about what you’re looking for and how you’re feeling.

I answered the first question, “What brings you to Circles,” by clicking the “grief/loss” option. As a result, all the subsequent questions I answered were geared toward that: “Who did you lose?”, “How recently?”, and “Do you know others with a similar experience?” 

Once I answered these questions, it told me that it would be placing me within a Circle. Though the website says that “you’ll be offered a few options of Circles that you can join, and you’ll select the time and day that works best for you,” it only provided me with one Circle option and assigned me a facilitator. 

Then, it alerted me by email that my first meeting would take place within “a week or so,” but I signed up on August 22nd and our first Circle meeting was not scheduled until Sept. 6. 

You are also given the option to get to know your facilitator a little bit before your first meeting through a 15-minute, one-on-one introductory call. I took advantage of this and had a conversation with my facilitator. She was very nice, but I was a little put off by her telling me how tired she was from a number of these calls, which felt unprofessional to me and led me to feel guilty for taking up her time. That said, she turned out to be excellent as a facilitator in the actual group.

Though I did not receive a bio of my facilitator, she introduced herself and her credentials in the group chat. Additionally, in the FAQs, under the question, “Who are the Circles facilitators,” I found information assuring me that all Circles facilitators are “professionally trained social workers, psychologists, or therapists and are experts in their respective areas of specialization.”

Even though this is not one-on-one therapy, it’s interesting to note that forty percent of users in our user survey felt that their therapist/facilitator met all their needs, and 37% felt that most of their needs were met.

How Do Group Sessions Work at Circles?

Your “Circle” meets once a week on the same day and time for twelve weeks. Mine was Tuesdays at 4:30 p.m. PT. 

Users receive an email one day and one hour before the session begins, and it’s in the email one hour prior to your session in which you’ll find a link to log in to a zoom-like group video session. 

You are encouraged to keep your camera on for the entirety of the group sessions, though you can begin with your camera off at first. You don’t have to put your full name, but you are at least required to use a “nickname” on the screen.

Prior to my first group session, the facilitator had been encouraging those of us who were signed up for the circle to chat via the chat function in the app, which we did. There were 10 people assigned to the group but only about four or five people actually engaged in a chat. 

The facilitator would also put in quotes and links, and ask us questions (such as: What song represents your mood right now?) to generate conversation. While I personally didn’t find the chat very useful—it felt like another thing to add to my to-do list—I could see how it would be very effective if a user was feeling isolated or alone with their pain.

On the day of our session, I logged on at the appointed time and was greeted by our facilitator, who was lovely, welcoming, funny, and personable. I liked her much more in the group session than I did on our brief introductory phone call. Only three other users out of the 10 assigned to my circle logged on to the session. The facilitator guided us with leading questions, which she made sure we each had a chance to answer, though it soon evolved into a more natural group conversation. I felt very heard, supported, and emotionally buoyed by the 60-minute session. However, the session went by very fast.

This model of group therapy works particularly well when addressing concerns around grief and loss. “Establishing connection through community allows others to feel supported and provides a safe space for individuals to process their own thoughts and feelings,” psychotherapist Nicholas Hardy and one of the subject matter experts that helped us with this project, explains. “This can serve as validation, but also, can let others know they are not alone in the grieving process.” 

“A support group can be just as effective for separation and divorce as well,” Hannah Owens, LMSW, says. “It’s the same concept - speaking with others who have experienced the same thing can be bolstering when you’re going through an event that makes you feel so alone.” 

What Happens If I Miss a Session?

Since you are charged on a monthly basis, there is no additional fee for missed sessions but you also cannot make up for these missed sessions. Owens explains that “missing a session in group therapy affects the group dynamic. Committing to group therapy means creating a space where everyone in the group is relating to each other in a certain way,” she says, “and removing yourself even from one session creates a sense of ‘other’⁠—you were not there, so the remaining members in the group establish a different relationship with each other that does not include you.”

Switching Groups

If you don’t want to continue with your Circles subscription, canceling is quite simple. You just log into your account via the app, select “Payment and plans,” then “manage my subscription.” Here, you’ll be given the option to cancel or adjust your payment preference. 

Once I canceled, it was immediate, and I received an email confirming my cancellation within minutes. It said that I would not be billed for the next cycle.

Canceling Circles

Yes, you can cancel at any time—including at the end of your trial month—in your portal, in the app, or by contacting customer service. Just make sure you cancel before you’re billed each month for your group meeting. 

Quality of Care and User Satisfaction

Circles says that all of its group facilitators are professionally-trained social workers, psychologists, or therapists who are “experts in their respective areas of specialization.” However, it doesn’t appear to list all of its facilitators on the facilitators page. For instance, my facilitator isn’t listed there.

However, this didn’t seem to affect user satisfaction when we surveyed users: forty-two percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the therapist options provided.

Twenty-four percent of respondents to our User Survey found Circles to be “much better” than other similar services they’d used, and 38% felt it was “better.” Only 14% felt it was “about the same” and no users felt it was even “a little worse” or “much worse.” Overall 24% of respondents felt they were “very satisfied” with the facilitator they received, and 42% were “satisfied”. My experience of Circles is that it probably gets better over time as you get to know your cohort and your facilitator, so these survey results could change depending on how many sessions a user experienced before answering.

Where Circles really appears to shine, according to users, is in the training of their facilitators. Sixty-two percent of users felt that what Circles does better than other companies is “The therapists have better qualifications/experience/specialized training.” Additionally, 48% felt that the app/site is easier to use than other similar services.

 Privacy Policies

Circles states in its Privacy Notice that it has done everything it can from a technical and organizational standpoint to protect any information it collects from users, though it can’t promise 100% security. 

It notes that it does use cookies, but users can opt-out. Additionally, Circles uses Google Analytics, and users can opt-out of Google Analytics’ data collection processes as well.

Though Circles is not for users under the age of 18, if Circles becomes aware that it has collected information from someone under the age of 13, in accordance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, it will dispose of that information and inform the child’s parent or guardian.

Though Circles clearly states it will not sell, trade, or disclose users’ personal information, it does cite some exceptions when they are required to comply, including:

  • To obtain assistance in the administration of the Site or the Services;
  • If required to do so by law according to its understanding of such law (including, but not limited to, in cases of court orders or subpoenas);
  • To verify the information obtained by Circles;
  • To prevent or investigate suspected fraud, or any activity that Circles believes may be illegal or may expose Circles to legal liability;
  • If Circles believes that User's conduct on or in connection with the Services is inappropriate and inconsistent with generally accepted norms of behavior;
  • In addition, Circles may be required to disclose Personal Information to relevant national, state, and local law enforcement authorities, who may further disclose such Personal Information. 

If you do not like the group you are in, you can request a switch—but to do so, you have to call or email customer service so they can go over your options and find a new suitable group.  This means the switching process is a little slower than at other companies, which might be why only 74% of respondents said changing groups was very easy or easy. 

Circle vs. Its Competitors

The fact that Circles provides 12-week "courses" with the same participants and facilitator makes it stand out as a group therapy service, especially compared to other group-focused companies, notably Sesh.

“At Sesh, support groups do not require weekly participation and are facilitated in such a way as to encourage peer support rather than rely on a mental health professional's guidance,” notes Owens. “Circles' focused support with a facilitator whose expertise is in grief and loss or separation and divorce, as well as its reliable group of participants who together are building a safe space, differentiate it from Sesh and other support groups.”

However, it is worth noting that Sesh does offer peer-based group support with a licensed or board-certified mental health professional around 12 core mental health areas and a variety of sub-topics—meaning you might find support for more mental health concerns. 

However, at Circles, you’re part of one recurrent group, but at Sesh, you can “pick and choose” and attend as many groups as you want—meaning that you may never develop a rapport with your facilitator or other group members. 

Perhaps this is why 46% of respondents in our user survey said they were likely to recommend Circles to a friend and 24% said they were very likely, and only 41% of respondents said they were likely to recommend Sesh. Circles, which focuses specifically on grief, loss, and separation, feels more like a truly therapeutic model, designed to help its users get through difficult feelings. Sesh’s many options might get overwhelming or feel too disparate to effectively help with an issue. Though both offer group support sessions, I’d say that Circles is closer to a truly “therapeutic” model, even though Sesh has more options. 

Despite edging out over Sesh, Circles does not do as well when compared to companies that provide individual therapy. For example, 91% of Talkspace users found its therapy services to be good, very good, or excellent, compared to only 80% of Circles users. Even telehealth provider Teladoc, which provides individual therapy but does not just focus solely on mental health, beats out Circles with a 97% satisfaction rating of its services from users. This supports our opinion that Circles group therapy sessions are best used in conjunction with individual therapy, rather than as a substitute.

Eighty-six percent of users said Circles is better than other similar services they’d used in the past. That said, less than half said they’d recommend Circles to a friend, and only 30% said they still saw themselves using the service six months from now.

It’s important to remember, though, that while group therapy can be useful for a wide variety of mental health conditions—including depression, stress, anxiety, substance disorders, and more—and be very effective, it is different from individual talk therapy. Circles is very clear in its Terms of Use that its services are not meant to provide psychological advice; the groups, even if the group facilitator is a psychologist or clinical social worker, are meant to be more of a support platform. This means that the providers cannot give you psychological advice or offer you other therapy. So if you are looking for a diagnosis or psychological advice, you are best looking elsewhere. 

If you read the company’s Terms of Use, there are also a few groups led by “peer facilitators,” who are users who have requested to facilitate a group on the Circles Support Platform. While Circles might approve a user’s application to hold one of these, it’s important to note that the company makes it clear that it is not liable for the quality of those groups the way it is with groups held by a facilitator provided by the company. It also doesn’t mean that the peer facilitator has the same—or any—training. 

Final Verdict

Though Circles is not a replacement for one-on-one therapy, the fact that it provides 12 weeks of group support around a target topic area, with the same facilitator and a like-minded cohort, offers a positive, supportive experience for anyone struggling with a loss, grief, separation, or divorce. 

If a person is truly in crisis, however, it may not be effective, and Circles itself recommends people in those situations seek professional counseling or other treatment elsewhere. Additionally, people dealing with severe mental health conditions should seek one-to-one treatment elsewhere.

I found Circles to be supportive and potentially very effective for the issue of treating loss and related issues and would definitely recommend the service to anyone experiencing one of their four core issues: grief, loss, separation, and/or divorce.

Methodology

To fairly and accurately review the best online therapy programs, we sent questionnaires to 55 companies and surveyed 105 current users of each. This allowed us to directly compare services offered by gathering qualitative and quantitative data about each company and its users’ experiences.

Specifically, we evaluated each company on the following factors: website usability, the sign-up, and therapist matching processes, therapist qualifications, types of therapy offered, the service's quality of care, client-therapist communication options, session length, subscription offerings, client privacy protections, average cost and value for money, whether it accepts insurance, how easy it is to change therapists, overall user satisfaction, and the likelihood that clients would recommend them.

We also signed up for the companies in order to get a sense of how this process worked, how easy to use the platform is, and how therapy takes place at the company. Then, we worked with three subject matter experts to get their expert analysis on how suited this company is to provide quality care to therapy seekers.

By Jordan Rosenfeld
Jordan Rosenfeld is a freelance health and science writer.

Edited by
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
and
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.

Learn about our editorial process