I'm a Therapist and the Best Online Therapy I’ve Tried Is Peer Collective

Peer Collective provides quality and reliable peer counseling

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The group of peers listen proudly as their friend talks about a difficult time in his life

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I’m a psychotherapist and while I know there is power in receiving support from licensed clinicians, there is also a magic that can brew when engaging in peer support. I’ve facilitated therapy groups, participated in support groups, and am familiar with 12-step programs that are rooted in peer support. From my clinical work to my personal healing, I’ve found peer support to be a unique and accessible form of mental health care. Don’t just take my word for it; research has found that peer support can be instrumental in mental health recovery, bringing about increased self-esteem, empowerment, hope, and a sense of belonging. It has even shown to decrease psychotic symptoms, depression, and substance use. 

Despite the documented benefits, there can be risks involved in receiving peer support. Without adequate training, peer counselors can provide lackluster care and even end up doing some harm. Those who seek out counseling may be struggling with anything from a fight with their spouse to an active crisis situation, so if a counselor isn’t trained in how to appropriately respond to emergency situations, the client’s well-being is at risk. 

With this in mind, I tested Peer Collective, an online peer support service, to experience its quality of care for myself. I was eager to see if I’d learn about any mental health tools from the counselors and, at the very least, I expected to receive care, connection, and support from a stranger. 

And I’m happy to say that Peer Collective over-delivered on all fronts. It’s accessible by way of low fees, offers a flexible cancellation policy, and has plenty of appointment availability times. Plus, there’s great diversity across providers. Here’s how I felt about my overall experience with Peer Collective.

What I Knew About Peer Collective Before Signing Up

I’d read about Peer Collective’s services while researching past articles I’ve written and was aware that its peer counselors receive rigorous vetting and training that includes an extensive screening process, passing multiple exams, and ongoing supervision. Aside from that, I knew very little about Peer Collective before signing up.

So I did a little research and learned that Peer Collective was founded by Tim Desmond, LMFT, a psychotherapist, best-selling author, and distinguished faculty scholar at Antioch University. The platform was created in response to research that found the most healing part of working with a counselor is receiving attention from an empathic and emotionally attuned human being.

The peer counselors at this company are not the same as licensed mental health professionals. Instead, they are individuals with lived experience (such as living with a mental health condition) who can provide emotional support but are not required to have mental health degrees or licenses. 

However, the company does vet the peer counselors thoroughly. It developed a peer counselor screening tool that allows it to sort through applicants and see which are the most empathetic. Plus, all peer counselors on the platform must pass a range of tests before being able to begin working on the platform.

  • The process begins with a video assessment that is designed to assess applicants’ levels of warmth and empathy, plus their ability to develop alliances with potential clients. 
  • Only those who score in the top 2% to 3% on this assessment are allowed to move forward in the application process. 
  • From there, the counselors are tasked with passing tests that cover ethics, client privacy, crisis protocol, and counseling techniques. 
  • Once accepted to the platform, counselors are still subject to ongoing tests (similar to pop quizzes) to ensure their skills are up to par. 

Counselors do receive ongoing supervision at Peer Collective, which is noteworthy. In reviewing various therapy platforms, I haven’t heard of many providing ongoing supervision, so this is a detail I loved. 

Signing Up at Peer Collective

Once I visited the Peer Collective website, I noticed how simple the process was. I could get started working with a counselor by answering six questions about how I’m feeling and browsing various counselor profiles and availabilities. From there, I’d be able to book my first appointment.

The intake questions asked me to describe the challenge I was facing. I had multiple options to choose from, ranging from “normal life stuff” to “I’m in a crisis.” 

From there, I was asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how motivated I felt to get support right now. Then, I was asked what style of support would be most helpful and was offered options, including someone to listen to me, a new perspective, and focused help with problem-solving. I was also asked about my preferences for gender identity, race, and age of my counselor. 

While the simplicity of the sign-up process made getting started very easy, I was concerned about the lack of crisis resources.

For example, I indicated I was in a crisis when signing up to see if the intake process would shift at all. It didn’t. This means that those who are experiencing severe suicidal ideation and are in need of immediate mental health support could end up using the platform. While peer counselors can be supportive, they are not a replacement for therapy and are not qualified to help those in crisis. 

Peer Collective Is Much Cheaper Than Regular Therapy

A big perk of receiving peer counseling is that it can be significantly less expensive than regular therapy. 

Consider this: A monthly therapy subscription to a service that provides weekly sessions can range from $300 to over $400. My first session at Peer Collective was offered on a “pay-what-you-can” model. It advertises its first session as costing just 50 cents. When it was time to pay, which I did as soon as I completed the intake process, I was shown the option to pay 50 cents, $11, or $22; it costs $11 to provide a session and paying $22 pays for your session and a session for someone else. I opted to pay $11.

After the first session, 30-minute appointments cost $22 and 60-minute appointments cost $32. There is also an option to subscribe and save:

  • Weekly 30-minute sessions for $72 a month
  • Weekly 60-minute sessions for $112 a month
  • Weekly 90-minute sessions for $160 a month

Remember, though: Since peer counseling isn’t therapy, it isn’t covered by insurance. 

Picking My Peer Collective Counselor 

After completing the intake questions, I was shown eight different counselor options. Each option included the counselor’s bio, gender identity, racial identity, age range, and availability. There was no shortage of appointment availability amongst the counselors—I had plenty of options for same-day and next-day appointments.

I appreciated the wide range of appointment times because it allowed me to make my selection primarily based on the counselor’s bio and identity, instead of having to compromise just for the sake of getting an appointment time that worked for my schedule.

Each counselor’s bio was quite personal and they all varied. For example, one disclosed details of the counselor’s healing journey, including experiences of grief and navigating single motherhood. Another indicated modalities the counselor had used in their own healing, like mindfulness and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). 

I appreciated how intimate each bio was. I may have felt differently if these were therapists and would have preferred to see more emphasis on specialized training. But since these are peer counselors, I was focused on finding someone I could relate to.

Though the intake process wasn’t very detailed—after all, it was only six questions—I was satisfied with the range of counselors available to me. It is worth noting that outside of being matched with counselor options, I could not view various provider profiles or search for a counselor with a particular niche. This may be a drawback for those who aren’t thrilled about the counselors they match with.

Once I made my counselor selection, I was invited to share a few words about what I’d like to focus on in the session. I indicated I wanted to chat through general stressors that came up in my family life.

My First Peer Counseling Session at Peer Collective

My first session was a 30-minute video session. It began right on time, which I appreciated. My peer counselor was situated on a comfy sofa chair with a cup of tea and a nondescript background. She looked professional and ready to fully engage in the session. 

However, getting the session started was a little bit awkward. My counselor had read my intake note and asked about the stressors I’d like to focus on. I explained a bit about what was going on and how I was feeling. This is when things felt momentarily off. She emphatically nodded and stated she could relate, but didn’t have much of a response beyond that. 

I felt uncomfortable—while I appreciated being heard, I was hoping to have more of a back-and-forth conversation. Then, I remembered I was working with a peer counselor and felt empowered to speak to this person freely rather than waiting for them to deliver a clinically sound therapeutic intervention. With this in mind, I asked her if she was willing to share how she navigated similar situations.

This is when I was reminded of just how powerful peer counseling can be.

All awkwardness was shed and she shared candidly about podcasts and books that helped shift her thinking. She didn’t divulge the details of what she experienced and instead focused on sharing solutions she thought may help me. This delicate balance of navigating self-disclosure and keeping the focus on the client isn’t easy and I was impressed with her skill.

By the end of our session, I left with podcast titles, the name of an additional support group that may be helpful, and the feeling of unburdening that comes with having a heartfelt connection with another human being.

Switching Counselors

You can work with as many different counselors at Peer Collective as you like. After you complete a session, your account will have a section that will invite you to rebook with the same counselor. However, there is no pressure and you can book with anyone you like. I appreciated how casual this was; there was no emphasis on staying with just one peer counselor and there was no extra work to be done if you wanted to see someone new. I wanted to experience working with another counselor to get a feel for the company's quality of care across providers. It was easy to pick a different counselor for my second session—I simply reviewed the various bios and availabilities of each provider and picked the one that resonated with me.

My Second Session

My second session was a 30-minute phone call. I received a reminder text 24 hours beforehand and another one 30 minutes before the session began. In the second reminder text, it let me know what number my counselor would be calling from and provided a number I could use if I had any issues. This already was fantastic quality of care. 

With other platforms I’d tried in the past, I’d waited over five minutes for therapists to join the session and my only option to get in touch was by sending them a direct message. The issue with this is that if a therapist isn’t on the platform when the session is scheduled, they won’t see my message. This has led to me anxiously waiting and wondering if a therapist was going to ghost me. It gave me peace of mind to know what number my counselor would call from and that I had a way to get in touch with them quickly if needed. 

My session began right on time. I initially worried that a phone call with a new counselor would feel too impersonal, but all my concerns melted away within the first few minutes. My counselor simply asked me what I’d like to talk about. I told her about an ongoing issue with a family member’s health that was concerning. She was skilled at gathering context, asking me questions that made me dig deeper into my feelings, and sharing a bit about how she’s navigated similar challenges. 

I was surprised at how much I got out of the session. I was tearful and felt validated by what I was experiencing.

I didn’t realize how lonely I’d felt in the situation I was navigating and my counselor’s empathetic presence felt deeply healing. Before the call ended, she also shared podcast and book recommendations. She invited me to book another session with her at any time. While I have my own personal therapist and care team, I am strongly considering working with her again in the future if I just need a quick check-in.

Pros & Cons

If you’re considering signing up for Peer Collective, you’ll want to keep these pros and cons in mind.

  • Affordable fees

  • First session costs 50 cents

  • Can change counselors anytime

  • Excellent standard of professionalism

  • Isn’t suitable for more severe mental health stressors

  • Doesn’t accept insurance

  • Cannot browse counselor profiles

Final Thoughts: Is It Worth It?

I loved my experience with Peer Collective and would recommend it to those who are struggling with financial challenges, feel lonely, or want support with general coping tools. Peer Collective is clear that it wants to connect those who need emotional support with those who provide it. It makes good on this mission by way of its ease of scheduling, availability, affordable fees, and candid counselor bios.

 I’ve tested six different online therapy platforms, and Peer Collective is by far my favorite.

I found the peer counselors I worked with to be more professional than the licensed therapists I worked with on other therapy platforms. It was exciting to walk away from both sessions with tools and new perspectives. The counselors I spoke to were empathetic, attuned, and present. They asked questions that helped me form new perspectives and were talented at sharing just enough personal information that I felt comfortable being vulnerable with them. 

If you’re experiencing severe mental health stressors, I wouldn’t deter you from using Peer Collective altogether—I would recommend you work with a licensed therapist and use peer counseling as an extra line of support. Need help finding a licensed therapist? We’ve got you. Check out our roundup of the best online therapy services of 2023

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. Fortuna KL, Solomon P, Rivera J. An update of peer support/peer provided services underlying processes, benefits, and critical ingredients. Psychiatr Q. 2022;93(2):571-586. doi:10.1007/s11126-022-09971-w

  2. Understanding Voices. Benefits and drawbacks of peer support.

  3. Kallergis G. [The contribution of the relationship between therapist-patient and the context of the professional relationship]. Psychiatriki. 2019;30(2):165-174. doi:10.22365/jpsych.2019.302.165

By Julia Childs Heyl, MSW
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.

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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Simone Scully

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