Circles Online Therapy Review

Excellent group support available for a multitude of mental-health issues

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Circles
Verywell's Rating
3.8

Interested in online group therapy? Consider Circles, the winner of our Best for Group Therapy award. Its sessions let you connect with people going through similar situations, and are led by therapists and life coaches.

VERYWELL MIND's 2021 ONLINE THERAPY AWARDS
  • Best for Group Therapy
  • Pros & Cons
  • Key Facts
Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Convenient access to online group therapy

  • Different groups dedicated to specific issues

  • Bios of all therapists and group facilitators posted on the website

  • You can choose what group you want to join

  • Groups are led by licensed therapists and certified life coaches

  • Informative, helpful blog and free online resources available

  • Unlimited messaging available

  • Free trial available

Cons
  • Only offers group therapy

  • No medication management services

  • Does not accept health insurance

  • FAQ section on the website isn’t that thorough

  • Website does not display emergency resources

Key Facts
Price
$79 per month
Is Insurance Accepted?
No
Communication Options
Messaging, Video Chat
HIPPA Compliant?
N/A
Is There an App?
Yes
Does it Accept HSA/FSA?
No
Why Trust Us
33
Companies reviewed
3,497
Total users surveyed
300
Data points analyzed
We surveyed 100 users from each online therapy company and asked the companies to complete questionnaires. Then, we conducted comprehensive research with a psychotherapist.

When you think of online therapy, chances are you think of individual talk therapy—but if the idea of talking one-on-one with a therapist isn’t what you want to do, you have another option: group therapy. Every week, you can meet with a therapist and a group of people who relate to your experience because they’re going through something similar. And now, you can do that online, thanks to platforms like Circles. 

Originally founded as "7 Chairs" in 2018 by Irad Eichler and Dan Landa, Circles changed its name in 2020. But its mission has remained largely the same: to offer people emotional group support for whatever mental health issue they’re dealing with—whether that’s grief, relationship issues, parenting issues, stress, depression, anxiety, or something else—all from the comfort of their own home.

And on this front, the company stands out from many of the others we reviewed because it offers a different form of psychotherapy, all for much less than the cost of a traditional in-office therapy visit. 

Here’s how Circles stacks up against its online therapy competition.

First Impressions and Sign-up Process

When you land on the Circles homepage, you’re greeted by the encouraging words, “Share with those who can truly support you,” and an illustration of five people with their arms around each others’ backs. Below that, you’ll find a short description of how Circles’ groups work and a blue button inviting you to join a Circle (what it calls its groups).

Circles
The Circles Homepage.

Circles

Scrolling down, you’ll find an illustrated flowchart showing why a Circle is helpful, an explanation of why its prices are more affordable than traditional therapy, and an explanation of the sign-up process. Towards the bottom of the page, you’ll find testimonials, bios of some of the group facilitators, the company’s promises to their clients, links to where to download the app, and some FAQs. You’ll also find a menu at the top with key info, such as the company’s “About Us” page, pricing, blog, contact info, as well as the login and sign-up buttons. 

Overall, the website has a clean, slightly animated, feel that’s easy to read and navigate—except for the privacy policy page, which features a light gray background and slightly darker gray lettering so you have to strain your eyes a little to keep reading. It’s hard to say that this wasn’t intentional to make users avoid going through the fine print. 

Circles Blog
The Circles Blog.

Circles Blog

The company blog is well-maintained, insightful, and helpful for individuals looking for extra mental health content. It appears that the team posts multiple times per week and, sometimes, even daily. Posts range in topics from LGBTQIA+ specific content and work burnout to grief and relationships. Some posts also feature interviews with online emotional support specialists. 

The website does feature a page of therapist bios, but since the focus of this company is on group therapy, the bios appear under the group they facilitate. This allows you to browse through the type of group you want first, then pick a facilitator and/or time that works for you. 

Seventy-seven percent of the users surveyed reported that they either had a very good or excellent experience signing up for Circles. 

This number makes sense—the sign-up process is pretty straightforward. You begin the process with a short questionnaire about your mental health goals, your age, your living circumstances, and what you’re looking for from group therapy. This allows the company to make suggestions for appropriate Circles you can join. As mentioned before, this is where you’ll see your therapist’s bio, too. If you don’t like the groups recommended, you can start the questionnaire over again or call customer service for assistance. 

Once you have chosen your group, you’ll pay and create your account. Should you be accepted into your chosen group, you will receive an email with instructions on how to download the app and sign in to your Circle account for the first time. In responding to our questionnaire, the company told us that you should hear from your group facilitator within 24 hours—but only 30% said that was true for them. Thirty-six percent said it took a couple of days, while 24% said it took a week. Ten percent said they heard from their facilitator within two weeks.

Cost 

On Circles’ homepage, the company proudly declares that it “gives you a whole month of support for less than the cost of a single private therapy session”—and in this regard, it is correct. Circles is one of the most affordable online therapy options available, and 70% of the users we polled said the cost was very good or excellent. 

Circles' Prices Compared to Other Therapy Options

What Subscription Plans Does It Offer?

You cannot join more than one group at Circles unless your request is approved by the company. Regardless of what Circle group you join, your cost is the same because Circles only offers one subscription plan.

For $79 per month, you’ll get:

  • Access to one professionally led therapy group that meets weekly for about 60 minutes
  • Unlimited messaging with other group members and facilitator

Is There a Free Trial?

Yes. Circles offer the first month free. Your credit card won’t be billed until the end of this trial. 

Does Circles Accept Insurance?

No. Circles does not accept insurance. 

Depending on your out-of-network health care benefits, you might still be able to receive at least partial reimbursement, though. Just ask the company for a superbill, which you can use to file a claim with your insurance provider. 

Can You Cancel Your Subscription?

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. 

Are There Discounts Available?

In responding to our questionnaire, Circles told us that it does offer financial assistance to those who cannot afford its services. It did not provide any details, though, on how you apply or how you qualify for this aid. 

Ease of Use

Once you’re signed up, Circles is a very easy platform to use because you will do almost everything from the Circles app. Each week, you need to log in to the app (or your web portal if you’re on a desktop) at your designated meeting time to attend the group session, which is held via video conference—78% of survey respondents said the video quality of these sessions was either very good or excellent. 

As noted above, you also can message your fellow group members and facilitator anytime during the week—this, too, is done directly in the app.

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. 

Therapists' Qualifications and Quality of Care

All Circles group therapy sessions are led by a professional, which is a real draw for users—79 percent of the users we surveyed said it played an important role in why they chose this company over the competition.

Eighty-one percent of respondents said their group facilitator’s qualifications were either very good or excellent. 

Most group facilitators at Circles are licensed therapists, with—it tells us—1,500 to 2,000 hours of field experience. However, not all are. Some are certified life coaches, while others specialize in business development. 

As a newer company, it’s difficult to judge whether therapist turnover is an issue. Circles did inform us that if for any reason a group facilitator leaves the company, the group they were leading will be notified in advance and there will be a formal handover process to a new facilitator.  

An impressive 90% of survey respondents said they were satisfied with the therapist options provided.

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. 

Types of Therapy Offered

As mentioned above, Circles is a group therapy company—which sets them apart from most companies we reviewed. The company’s goal is to connect you with others who are going through a similar life struggle, mental health issue, or situation and provide you with a safe, secure environment for you to share and work on your personal growth. 

There are Circles devoted to such topics as:

  • Managing emotions
  • Trauma recovery
  • Coping with separation or divorce
  • Managing grief
  • Dealing with stress and anxiety
  • Living with chronic illness
  • Parenting issues
  • Overcoming burnout

The techniques and approaches used in each group will vary depending on your group facilitator but could include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), motivational interviewing, supportive psychoanalysis, and stress management. You can also find additional resources on the website or in the app, such as informative videos and worksheets. 

Circles does not offer individual therapy, couples counseling, psychiatry, or medication management. You can attend Circles for support or in conjunction with individual therapy services—but it should not replace other mental health services if you need them. 

Privacy Policies

Circles says that it takes great care to protect your personal information, but its "Privacy Notice” does not go into the detail that many of its competitors do, which is disappointing. In responding to our questionnaire, it provided little additional information besides stating that it uses encryption to protect any identifying information stored in its app or website. The privacy notice does describe what and how the company uses information collected about you, though.

Even though Circles states that it tries to protect your identity, data, and privacy from others, the services are not anonymous. The company knows who you are and makes efforts to verify your identity before you can use its services. You are required to give your name, email address, phone number, and intake information to participate in services. 

If during your treatment, your therapist decides you need more help than they can offer, a different type of therapy, or medications, the company will refer you to a local resource that is a better fit. As is required by law, they will also file a formal report if they believe you are a threat to yourself or others. 

Overall Client Satisfaction

Eighty percent of the users we surveyed rated the services they received through Circles as either very good or excellent, and 73% said its value was very good or excellent for the money spent.

Ninety percent of respondents said they were either likely or very likely to recommend someone like them to Circles. 

It appears that Circles has some pretty loyal users, especially for being a newer company. While 40% of respondents had been with the company less than six months, 24% had been clients six months to a year, and 36% had been with it longer than a year. Plus, 86% told us they were likely or very likely to still be attending a group with a Circles therapist a year from now. 

Seventy-seven percent of the users who had used another online therapy service said that Circles was either better or much better than their previous online service.

Is Circles Right For You?

Circles is a company that will work for you if you are primarily looking for emotional support for your mental health issues or because you’re going through a tough time. If you have recently experienced a death, for example, or if you’re in the process of getting a divorce, you will find a Circle to join where you can talk to other people who understand what you’re going through. 

In general, group therapy and support groups will be most beneficial if you are looking for ways to feel less alone and want to learn from others about how to cope with what you’re going through. If you’re someone who likes to talk to others or you’re an extrovert, you’ll likely find group therapy helpful. 

Plus, unlike some support groups that are led by facilitators with little to no training, most of the ones Circles offers are led by a licensed therapist or mental health coach. This can give you some peace of mind that you’re truly joining a safe place. These groups are also ideal if you don’t have the time to travel to an in-person group or if there are simply no support groups near you. Some groups meet as late as 9 p.m., which might work well for you if you live with young children or work long hours. 

Circles is also more affordable than most online therapy and traditional in-office therapy, so if you’re on a budget, this company might be a fit for you.

However, Circles is not meant to replace traditional psychotherapy or psychiatry, so if you live with a more severe mental health disorder, its services will not be enough to treat you, since group facilitators cannot give psychology advice, diagnose, or prescribe medication. You will need to look elsewhere if you want individual talk therapy, couples therapy, psychiatry, help for substance abuse, or medication management. However, some Circles groups can be a supplement to other forms of therapy.

Circles is not an emergency service, so if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, are in crisis, need inpatient care, or have a history of psychosis, this is not the company for you. Circles is also only meant for adults—if you are under the age of 18, you’ll need to seek therapy elsewhere. 

Circles vs Sesh

Circles and Sesh stand out from the other companies we reviewed because they focus exclusively on group therapy and peer support over individual talk therapy, psychiatry, or medication management. Both employ licensed therapists and certified life coaches to facilitate most of their online group sessions and offer groups dedicated to specific topics. Group sessions are 60 minutes at both companies.

Both companies have lower prices than the companies that offer individual therapy and neither company accepts insurance

  • Sesh costs $60 per month
  • Circles costs $79 a month
Website Comparison: Circles vs Sesh


While Sesh might cost a little less, Sesh's groups are larger. As many as 14 people might be in a therapy group with you, while at Circles, most groups are capped at six people. This might mean you have less time to share during a Sesh group therapy session. Both companies allow you to try a group before paying for a subscription. 

Sesh and Circles both have modern, informative, and easy-to-navigate websites. Sesh has a more thorough FAQ page, but we weren’t able to find the company’s terms of use or privacy policies on the website prior to sign-up as we could with Circles. They both have an app you use to attend group sessions and communicate with your group facilitator or other group members. 

When it came to user satisfaction, 80% at Circles said the group therapy they received was very good or excellent, but only 71% said the same at Sesh. Still, 90% of Circles users and 94% of Sesh users said they were either likely or very likely to refer someone to the company; while 86% of Circles respondents and 89% of Sesh respondents said they were either likely or very likely to still be seeing a therapist within the company a year from now.

Of the polled users who had tried more than one therapy service, 77% of Circles users reported that services were either better or much better than the services at the companies they used before. This number was slightly higher—82%—at Sesh. 

Final Verdict

Group therapy isn’t the same as individual talk therapy and it’s not for everyone. If you live with a serious mental health condition, need psychiatric help, or medication management, Circles isn’t the service you need. But if you’re looking for professionally led support groups that you can attend from home, Circles might work well for you. The cost to join is pretty affordable and you can try any group for free before signing up to make sure you “click” with the group before you’ve joined.  

Methodology

Our methodology for evaluating online therapy companies is comprehensive and data-driven. To fairly and accurately review the best online therapy programs, we sent questionnaires to 33 companies and surveyed 100 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 website usability, sign-up process, subscription offerings, client privacy protections, and how easy it is to change therapists. We then looked at therapist qualifications, the types of therapy offered, quality of care, client-therapist communication options, session length, and the therapist assignment process. Finally, we looked at cost, value for money, whether the companies take insurance, overall user satisfaction, and the likelihood clients would recommend them.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. "Power in Numbers."

  2. Coco GL, Melchiori F, Oieni V, et al. "Group treatment for substance use disorder in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized-controlled trials." Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 2019;99:104-116.

  3. APA PsycNet. "The efficacy of group psychotherapy for depression: A meta-analysis and review of the empirical research."

By Mary K. Tatum, MS, LMHC
Mary is a licensed mental health counselor and psychotherapist with 15 years of experience working in the psychology field. She earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Bluefield College and a Master of Science in Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She began in social work and then moved to drug rehab settings, working as a therapist, group facilitator, and clinical director. She specializes in family dynamic systems, trauma recovery, improving resilience, addiction recovery, and the psychology of successful business management.

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.

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