Platform for online therapy and psychiatry
Offers support for medication management, talk therapy, and crisis care
Accepts insurance and out-of-pocket pay
7.9 79%
Data privacy
7.3 73%
5.1 51%
7.8 78%

Deciding to get help from a professional can be a big step in your mental health journey—one that you should be proud of making. It can be difficult to find the right help for your needs, especially if you live in an area with few mental health care options nearby or need to see an in-network provider through insurance to afford care. Online therapy sites like Brightside can make therapy and psychiatry services accessible to more people.

To see what Brightside has to offer, we took a deep dive into how the platform works and analyzed data from testers who used the platform for four weeks. In our 2024 review of the best online therapy that takes insurance, we rated Brightside as the best option for psychiatry and medication management. Learn what stood out about this platform in our Brightside review.

What’s the difference between psychiatry and therapy?

Psychiatry is mental health care delivered by a provider such as a board-certified, licensed psychiatrist or a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Psychiatry providers have a different scope of treatment options for their patients than therapists.

Unlike therapists, psychiatry providers can assess and diagnose mental illnesses and prescribe psychiatric medications. However, both therapists and psychiatry providers can treat patients using modalities like psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, though not all psychiatrists provide therapy.

In a mental health emergency:

Online therapists may not be the most appropriate resource to help in a mental health crisis. If you or someone you know is a danger to themselves or others around them, it is an emergency, and cannot wait for an online therapist’s response.

Don’t wait. You can find help immediately by:

All the above options will connect you with trained professionals who can provide crisis support. You can find even more resources, including international options, on our helpline directory page.

Key takeaways

If you learn five things about Brightside from our review, here’s what you need to know:

  • The Handbook team recommends Brightside as the best overall online platform for psychiatry. 
  • Brightside offers therapy, psychiatry, and medication management.
  • Brightside accepts insurance, including Aetna, Cigna, and Medicare. 
  • Without insurance, Brightside plans start at $95 per month. 
  • Most Brightside users can meet with a therapist in two weeks or less. 

Our testing experience

of research
7,500+   hours
of research
70   platforms
14   platforms
1,200   people
20   people
60+   experts

Collectively, the Handbook Team has put in more than 7,500 hours of research, testing, and evaluation to review different online therapy and psychiatry platforms, down to the fine print. We wrote this review to guide you in finding a provider who can best fit your mental health care needs.

Our Handbook Team has consulted with more than 60 mental health experts in total. For platforms that offer online psychiatry, we interview psychiatrists who offer virtual psychiatry to learn more about their experience. It should be noted that these may be providers who offer telehealth sessions through their private practice, not clinicians on online platforms.

We ask for details on when online psychiatry can be beneficial, and when online mental health care is not appropriate. For example, we learned that in the case of someone suffering from agoraphobia, experts told us that  in-person sessions are more meaningful to the individual’s progress compared to avoiding exposure therapy by exclusively attending online appointments. We also learned that, for certain conditions, a prescription for a controlled substance is considered a first-line treatment, and can be an important part of care. For example, stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin are often prescribed to help manage ADHD and are often considered the most effective treatment. But these are controlled substances, and not all online psychiatry platforms can prescribe them. 

We look for online psychiatry platforms that accept insurance and offer transparent pricing and other valuable features on the platform, such as symptom trackers and worksheets.

For someone starting a new medication, medication management can be difficult to add to your daily routine without proper support. That’s why we look for platforms that offer patients continued access to prescribers who can answer questions about their care and medication. For example, platforms may have messaging portals where patients can message their clinician to ask follow-up questions.

How we tested Brightside

Our Online Therapy Testing Process
Fill out the intake assessment. Fill out the intake assessment.
Subscribe as a new user. Subscribe as a new user.
Get matched with a therapist. Get matched with a therapist.
Schedule and attend sessions on the platform for one month. Schedule and attend sessions on the platform for one month.
Go through the steps to switch therapists. Go through the steps to switch therapists.
Contact customer support with questions. Contact customer support with questions.
Explore platform features such as journals, worksheets, and group sessions. Explore platform features such as journals, worksheets, and group sessions.
Cancel subscription. Cancel subscription.

Our tester explored the Brightside platform and attended online therapy sessions for four weeks. They used both the desktop platform and the mobile app. Our tester was instructed to try the platform through the lens of a real user, paying attention to how easy or difficult it was to find a therapist they could talk to. They logged their experience in a diary and shared their findings when testing concluded. We used these findings, and our research into online psychiatry, to write this Brightside Health review.

Pros and cons of Brightside online therapy and psychiatry

Takes insurance, including Medicare Part B.
Offers therapy, psychiatry, and medication management.
Unlimited messaging with your provider included in all plans.
No audio or live chat sessions.
Have to create an account before seeing your coverage options.
Can’t schedule multiple sessions at once.

What we liked about Brightside

Therapy and psychiatry in one platform

We liked that Brightside offers both virtual therapy and online psychiatry services through the same platform. This could make it easier for you to navigate and keep track of both elements of your mental health care.

Accepts insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid

Brightside is one of the few online therapy providers that accepts insurance, including Medicare Part B, certain Medicare Advantage plans, and certain Medicaid plans. This can make it easier for people with these plans to access and afford mental health services. 

Interactive lessons

Brightside users can take interactive lessons in the Brightside mobile app on topics like self-care and emotion-driven behaviors. 

The Brightside app

Our tester noted the Brightside app was much easier to use than the desktop experience, making it simple to join sessions and take assessments. 

What we didn’t like about Brightside

Must create an account to see insurance acceptance

Before finding out if Brightside takes your insurance, you need to create an account. We prefer the more transparent approach taken by Talkspace, which vets your insurance right away.  

Brightside matches you with your provider

Brightside chooses your provider for you. People with a strong preference for certain characteristics in a provider, such as languages spoken or racial identity, may prefer a platform like Zocdoc, which allows you to choose your provider from a large directory.

Must contact customer service to switch providers

If you wish to switch providers on Brightside, you have to contact customer service to do this. Other platforms, like BetterHelp, let you switch therapists yourself. Our tester found Brightside customer service helpful and prompt in their responses, but this still felt like an added step in the process.

Brightside review

7.9 79%
Data privacy
7.3 73%
5.1 51%
7.8 78%

Key highlights

  • Our Rating: 9/10
  • Best for: Psychiatry and medication management.
  • Cost
    • If you pay out-of-pocket, plans start at $95 per month:
        • Therapy: $299 per month.
        • Psychiatry: $95 per month.
        • Psychiatry + therapy: $349 per month.
        • Crisis care + psychiatry: Insurance only.
      • Brightside also takes insurance, including Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, Medicare, Optum/United Healthcare, and more.
    • Session types: Live video, messaging.
  • Types of Services Offered: Talk therapy, psychiatry, medication management, crisis care for people with an elevated risk of suicide.

Our final verdict

One key benefit of the Brightside platform is its integration of talk therapy, psychiatry, and medication management. For many people, effective mental health care can include a combination of these approaches. But psychiatric services can be difficult to access due to cost, months-long wait times, or a combination of factors. Antidepressants and anxiety medications are often prescribed by primary care physicians, but some people may need or prefer to work with a mental health specialist to address their specific needs. This is where Brightside shines. The site offers both online therapy and psychiatric services through a single platform.

“You may recommend a psychiatrist instead of a primary care physician the way you would recommend someone see a cardiologist if they’re having heart issues. Psychiatrists have years of training, specifically in psycho-pharmaceuticals, and they are better equipped to handle mental health diagnoses and complex interactions with medication.”

Nirmala Bijraj, licensed mental health counselor and clinical director of Aligned Self

Brightside’s Crisis Care option offers a virtual therapy option for people with an elevated risk of suicide, including those who need follow-up care after a hospitalization. It utilizes the Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS) framework to identify patients experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors and connects them with a CAMS-trained clinician within 48 hours. While Brightside Crisis Care could be a potential solution for those who need more help than general therapy, it should not be seen as a replacement for emergency mental health care. If you feel suicidal, get help now by calling the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or by calling 911.

What other users are saying

In our 2023 survey of 600 online therapy users, 43 percent of Brightside users chose online therapy over in-person therapy because it was more affordable. A study in Minnesota showed that an initial diagnostic evaluation with a psychiatrist was $346, if paying out of pocket. This number is consistent with our research on the median average cost of an in-person psychiatry visit. With the Brightside psychiatry plan, you pay $95 for a comprehensive video evaluation, a personalized treatment plan, unlimited messaging with your provider throughout the month, and unlimited video follow-ups as needed (though the length of these visits will depend on provider availability). With insurance, this cost could be even lower.

If you do use Brightside for medication management, it’s important to know that Brightside does not prescribe controlled substances like Xanax (which is sometimes prescribed for anxiety) or Adderall (an ADHD medication).

Survey respondents who used Brightside reported the following wait times for connecting with a mental health care provider:

  • Less than a day: 25.5 percent
  • Less than a week: 29.4 percent
  • One to two weeks: 31.4 percent
  • Two to four weeks: 11.8 percent
  • More than a month: 1.2 percent

While wait times were short for being matched with a provider, our testers found that they had to switch therapists at least once to find someone they felt comfortable with. While it was helpful to choose from a list of providers when making the switch, switching providers still required contacting customer service, which extended the time it took to start developing a relationship with a trusted provider.

From our focus group

“The first person they chose was a female who was a drug and alcohol counselor. (…) I didn't feel that was going to be a good fit. I didn't have a drug and alcohol problem, and I didn't understand why they were going in that direction. (…) That person is probably excellent at what they do. I just didn't feel that related to me at all.” —Male Brightside user

Nirmala Bijraj, a licensed mental health counselor, emphasizes the importance of the therapeutic relationship. “The biggest influence on how effective therapy is,” she says, “is the relationship you have with your therapist. If you have a good relationship and it’s supportive and effective, then online therapy can be just as effective as in person.”

Pros and cons

Pros Accepts several large insurance carriers Accepts Medicare Part B, certain Medicaid Advantage plans, and some Medicaid plans. Medication management available through psychiatry plan. Unlimited messaging with providers. Cons No audio sessions (video or text only). No services for children, teens, or couples.

Compare Brightside with other online therapy platforms

PlatformOut-of-pocket costsInsurance optionsCan prescribe controlled substances?
BrightsideTherapy plans: $299/mo
Psychiatry plans: $95/mo
Therapy + psychiatry: $349/mo

All plans include messaging.
Aetna, Allegiance, Anthem CA, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Cigna/Evernorth, Optum/United Healthcare, PEHP, Medicare, and more.No
BetterHelpTherapy plans: $260–$360/moBetterHelp does not take insurance.No
TalkspaceMessaging therapy: $276/mo 
Video + messaging therapy: $396/mo
Video + messaging + workshops: $436/mo
Psychiatry: $299 initial evaluation + $175 for follow-up sessions
Aetna, BlueCross BlueShield, Cigna, Gatorcare, Optum, Premera, and more.No
TalkiatryMost Talkiatry patients have a per-session co-pay of $30 or less. 
You must have in-network insurance to see a Talkiatry provider.
Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Humana, Medicare, Oscar, United Healthcare, Optum, Compsych, and more.Yes
ZocdocCost and copays vary by provider.Aetna, Ambetter, Anthem BlueCross BlueShield, Cigna, Humana, Medicare, and more.Varies by provider

How does Brightside work?

Like many other online therapy platforms, Brightside asks you to complete an assessment during the sign up process. It asks what you are looking for help with from a range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and more. You can select as many of the conditions that apply to you.

It then asks about the symptoms you are experiencing and if you have undergone any past treatment for your mental health. To complete the assessment, you will have to submit your email address and create an account. Brightside then informs you of the first available appointment in your area. Our tester completed the assessment on a Friday morning and found a therapy appointment available that weekend on Sunday morning.

You can then select your plan—either therapy, psychiatry, or both—and will be matched with a provider. If you choose the therapy plan, you will have one 30-minute video session each week, but your first appointment will last 45 minutes. In between sessions, you can message your therapist at any time. You will also have access to audio lessons and practice exercises you can complete at your own pace, and you can track your progress to see how therapy is impacting your mental health.

If you select the psychiatry plan, you will be matched with a psychiatry provider, which could be either a psychiatrist or a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and you will schedule an initial 15-minute video consultation. If the provider determines that medication is appropriate, they will write you a prescription that you can have sent to your local pharmacy. You will then complete weekly check-in questionnaires to monitor your progress and any side effects. Your provider will review your responses and can schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss your medication and any needed adjustments as needed.

What medications can Brightside prescribe?

Brightside providers can prescribe a number of antidepressant and anxiety medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). You can view a list of medications available through Brightside on their website.

Brightside providers do not prescribe controlled substances, including benzodiazepines like Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan for anxiety, or stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin for ADHD. If you and a provider determine that these types of medications should be part of your treatment plan, it may be best to see a psychiatrist in person for a full evaluation as some of these require lab work and ongoing monitoring.

Brightside cost and payment options

If you’re paying out of pocket, the cost of mental health care can add up quickly, especially when you’re scheduling weekly visits. Brightside has tiered payment options based on the type of care you need.

Here’s how each Brightside payment plan works: 

  • Therapy: $299 per month for four video sessions per month; unlimited messaging with your therapist, with responses each weekday; interactive therapy lessons; progress tracking in the Brightside app.
Brightside Therapy Lessons Tester Images
Brightside In-App Therapy Lessons Tester Images
  • Psychiatry: $95 per month for a comprehensive video evaluation with a psychiatrist; a personalized treatment plan, with medication if needed; unlimited messaging with your provider; and unlimited video follow-ups as needed (length of video follow-ups will vary by provider availability).
  • Psychiatry + therapy: $349 per month for everything included in the therapy and psychiatry plans, as detailed above. 
  • Crisis care + psychiatry: The Brightside Crisis Care plan is for people with an elevated risk of suicide. The plan can only be paid for through insurance and includes specialized treatments that last between four to 12 weeks. 

At $95 per month, Brightside’s psychiatry plan is its most affordable virtual counseling option. The name of the plan is slightly misleading, as the $95 fee includes only an initial consultation with a psychiatrist, plus follow-up via messaging. Still, this plan is a great option for anyone who needs a medication consultation with a psychiatrist but doesn’t want to wait months to see an in-network provider. 

Insurance options

One of our Handbook team’s favorite things about Brightside is that they take insurance. To find out if they can find you an in-network provider, you’ll need to set up an account and then enter your insurance information.

Brightside accepts the following insurance providers: 

  • Aetna
  • Allegiance 
  • Anthem CA
  • BlueCross BlueShield of Montana and Texas 
  • Cigna/Evernorth
  • Medicare and Medicaid in some locations, according to an October 2023 press release 
  • Optum/United Healthcare
  • PEHP

How to use the Brightside app

The Brightside Health app is available to download for free on the App Store and Google Play. When you download the app and start the signup process, you will be asked to complete an initial assessment questionnaire. The assessment asks questions about how you’re feeling, specifically if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. It also asks about your insurance coverage and payment information.

Once you submit the assessment, you are matched with a Brightside provider and can schedule your first appointment based on their availability. If you want to work with a different provider, you must contact customer service to request a change. They will send you a list of seven providers to choose from.

Our tester had very positive feedback about the Brightside app, saying that it made managing and attending appointments easy. They also liked the symptom tracker included in the app. The tracker asks you to score your anxiety and depression symptoms every two weeks, which helps you and your provider track long-term progress. 

From our tester

“The app is such a great feature [of Brightside]. It has charts that help you track your anxiety and stress levels and offers easy access to book appointments and join appointments.”

Our final verdict

Brightside integrates talk therapy, psychiatry, and medication management all wrapped in one platform. We appreciate Brightside’s accessibility—it provides care in all 50 states, accepts insurance, and offers psychiatry services that can be affordable even without insurance. 

Due to its accessibility, offerings, and qualified providers, Brightside is our top choice for online psychiatry and medication management. Online psychiatry is still not right for everyone, and if you are seeking psychiatric care for the first time or are dealing with more severe mental health symptoms, it might be best to see a psychiatrist in person first for a full evaluation.

Frequently asked questions

Brightside, also called Brightside Health, is an online therapy and psychiatry site that provides talk therapy, psychiatry, and medication management services to adults 18 and over.

Based on your responses to a short questionnaire, Brightside will match you with a mental health care provider.

For users paying without insurance, Brightside offers monthly plans with upfront pricing. They also take insurance from some major carriers, including Aetna and Cigna.

If you are seeking talk therapy or psychiatry care and are frustrated with the cost and wait times for mental health care in your area, it might be worth giving Brightside a try.

Yes. Through Brightside, you can make an appointment with a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists are trained to evaluate, diagnose, and prescribe medications for mental health conditions.

Our testers had a good experience using the Brightside app for scheduling sessions with their therapist and taking interactive therapy lessons. The Brightside app is only compatible with iOS phones.

Yes. You can schedule a medication consultation with a Brightside psychiatrist. After the initial evaluation, the psychiatrist can prescribe medications appropriate for your needs. Brightside psychiatrists cannot prescribe controlled substances like Xanax or Adderall.

No. Brightside does not prescribe controlled substances used to treat anxiety or ADHD, including Xanax or Adderall.

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