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Brightside hit the scene in January 2019 as an online psychiatry service allowing medical professionals to prescribe medication to treat anxiety and depression. Founded by a psychiatrist, it sought to use a mix of technology, science, and human interaction to help clients cope with their negative symptoms.
Since it first launched, Brightside has added psychotherapeutic services, creating a comprehensive virtual platform to improve clients’ mental health. Although teletherapy has been gaining in popularity for the last several years, online services that allow for both therapy and the prescription of psychotropic medication are relatively novel. Its treatment, convenience, and safety make Brightside an attractive option for addressing depression and anxiety in the age of COVID-19.
Who Should use Brightside?
Brightside is intended for individuals with non-threatening depression and anxiety issues. Severe depression involving self-harm is not appropriate for this platform. Additionally, Brightside is not designed to treat other common problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or substance abuse. In general, if your problems are causing serious impairment, online mental health services are not recommended. Brightside does not provide services for couples or children.
Plans and Pricing
Brightside offers two main packages:
Brightside provides psychotherapeutic services for $199 for the first month and $249 per month after that. Additional 30 minute video sessions are $59/session.
All treatment components begin with a 25 question assessment focused on anxiety and depression symptoms. This screening measure asks you to rate criteria related to depression and anxiety diagnoses. After you complete it, you are assigned an appropriate therapist, who is licensed in your state. The psychotherapy package includes one monthly 30-minute video session and unlimited texting. This may be a bit deceptive, however, because it is not guaranteed that therapists will get back to you right away. The website notes that providers will respond within 24-48 hours. If a therapist does not get back to you for two days, however, you will only be able to text them a few times a week and expect a response. How quickly your therapist responds depends on the individual therapist. Your overall happiness with Brightside psychotherapy may depend on your desire to have live virtual sessions. As anyone who has ever been in therapy will tell you, one 30 minute session a month is not much. Extra sessions can be scheduled but they cost additional money.
Brightside also uses Your Path™, a symptom tracker that gives you and your therapist feedback as to how you are doing. Because you may not have extensive interaction with your therapist, this is a critical measure to let your therapist know the symptoms you are experiencing.
Brightside began as a psychiatric prescription service and continues to acknowledge that not everyone wants therapy. They offer psychiatric prescription services for $45 the first month and $95 for each month after that. In addition, clients will have to pay an insurance copay or a flat $15 fee for the medication.
Similar to its therapy service, you must take their 25 question assessment and are then assigned to meet with a psychiatric provider. This professional might be a medical doctor but they also may be a nurse-practitioner. You will then meet with the provider live online for a short (e.g., 15 minute) initial consultation. After that meeting, you will be prescribed medication if it is determined that you need it, which is not guaranteed. In addition to the intuition of the provider, Brightside promotes its use of Brightfinder, which is a science-based algorithm used to match people with the appropriate medication. If it is determined you need medication, it will be delivered to your door through the mail.
Brightside promises only the initial consultation as part of its medication subscription costs. Reaching your psychiatric provider after that appears to be a bit unpredictable. You can text at any time but they are given up to 72 hours to respond. Another live video consultation will only be provided at the determination of the provider. As with the therapy-only option, Your Path™ is used to help the psychiatric provider track your progress. Since you are likely to have limited personal interaction with your provider, medication adjustments will largely be informed by Your Path™ weekly monitoring.
Brightside focuses on treating depression and anxiety and the majority of the medications they prescribe are used to treat those disorders (e.g, SSRIs, SNRIs). They explicitly state that they will not prescribe controlled substances, such as benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax and Valium) and stimulant medications (e.g., Adderall and Concerta). Medication services are currently available in 36 states.
Who is Providing the Therapy?
Unlike some other online providers, Brightside does not give you a choice of therapists. Brightside uses licensed professionals and says they perform extensive background checks on their providers. Because Brightside specializes in anxiety and depression, their therapists are noted to specialize in these types of disorders. However, almost all therapists regularly treat depression and anxiety so it is unlikely there is any significant therapist advantage in using Brightside.
Therapists on Brightside are said to use evidence-based approaches. Although not stated explicitly, this is likely some form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Again, this is not specific to Brightside as the large majority of therapists in America are trained to practice CBT and related therapies.
Giving an example of their therapists, Brightside lists four psychologists and two professionals with master’s degrees. This may be a bit disingenuous in that most people that provide therapy in the United States have master’s degrees and are not usually psychologists or psychiatrists. As a result, you should probably expect that your therapist on Brightside will be a master’s level clinician. At present, psychotherapy is only currently available in 22 states. This is likely because the service is relatively new and they need to gather more therapists that are licensed in different states.
Therapy and Medication
Brightside notes that clients have a 60 percent better chance of recovery when using both medication and therapy. This plan will cost $199 for the first month and $299 per month after that. Under this combined package, clients will receive both therapy and medication services and have a separate provider for each. A session with a psychiatrist is usually considerably more expensive than meeting with a therapist so spending only $50 more per month for medication services appears to be a pretty good deal.
Brightside’s biggest strength is its convenience and ease of use. It makes it simple to access both therapy and psychiatric services. There are now many online therapy platforms, but not too many that offer both therapy and prescription medication services. All you have to do is pay the fee, fill out the assessment, and you are on the way toward receiving help. It even chooses your provider for you. For comparison, you could wait months for an initial in-person psychiatric appointment. With Brightside, you can receive therapy and have medication at your door in a few weeks. A significant downside to Brightside is the nonexistence of a mobile app, an almost unbelievable omission for an internet-based provider.
Confidentiality and Privacy
Confidentiality is a critical issue for any online platform. Indeed, nothing on the internet is immune to hackers. Brightside appears to try its best to ensure its clients’ privacy. They state that they are HIPAA compliant and use encryption to keep their client’s information private.
It is currently not certified by the American Telemedicine Association which ensures appropriate telemedicine standards.
Brightside does not list a phone number on its website. All contact occurs online or through a customer support e-mail. Although this is increasingly common with internet platforms, it can be frustrating to not talk to a real person or have to wait an indeterminate amount of time for a response.
The Bottom Line
Brightside’s biggest advantage is providing both medication and psychotherapy services in one easy-to-use platform. Its concentration on depression and anxiety keeps it focused but does not mean you are going to receive a better quality of service than if you go to a competitor that treats more diverse problems. Brightside appears to want to automate the treatment experience.
While that is good for convenience, it may not serve all peoples’ needs. If you value live virtual sessions, for example, you are likely to find their basic subscription packages unsatisfying. Because an individual 30-minute therapy session is about $60, it is fair to wonder why you are paying $250 a month for one live session, unlimited but possibly inconsistent texting, and some self-help resources.
The lack of a mobile app and the limited service area currently place it behind certain other platforms. These are shortcomings that they will need to address in the future to stay competitive in the marketplace. Having said that, if you have problems with anxiety and depression but don’t require a lot of personal interaction, then Brightside may be right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if you are in crisis?
Brightside does not have its own crisis services. You can try to contact your therapist or psychiatric provider but they may not be able to respond immediately. Brightside directs you to call 911, text the national crisis text line, or call the national suicide prevention helpline.
Does Brightside take insurance?
Brightside, like most online platforms, does not accept insurance. The only aspect that uses insurance is the medication itself. If your insurance plan won’t cover the medication, however, you will have to pay an additional $15 flat fee. A lack of coverage makes Brightside more costly than psychiatry and therapy services that are covered in-network. It is worth noting that due to the growing popularity of online therapy and psychiatry, insurance companies are beginning to cover more virtual mental health services. For now, Brightside does accept Health Savings and Flexible Savings Account payments.
What if I you miss an appointment?
Brightside has a considerate missed appointment policy. If you missed your scheduled appointment, your provider will send you a new request to book with them over the next 24 hours. That is a vast improvement over a missed appointment fee.
Can you change providers?
You might wish to change providers especially since you did not get to choose one in the first place. Brightside handles therapist changes on a case-by-case basis. You must e-mail their customer support and hope for a good outcome.
Can I receive therapy from my psychiatry provider?
Although certain psychiatrists may be technically able to provide psychotherapy, Brightside splits the medication and therapy components into separate providers. Neither provider will perform the tasks of the other even if they have the ability to do so.
What is the cancellation policy?
You can cancel subscriptions conveniently any time online. You don’t need to go through the hassle of talking to someone who is going to try to convince you that you want to keep their service.
Can you get a refund on Brightside?
Although you can cancel subscriptions online at any time, subscription payments are non-refundable once the monthly bill is paid. If you purchase and cancel an extra live session and would like a refund, you need to contact customer support at email@example.com. Once your initial consultation is scheduled with your psychiatric provider you cannot get a refund even if you never actually have the video consultation. Medication refund requests are taken on a case-by-case basis by e-mailing Brightside’s customer support.
Is there a free trial or consultation?
Brightside does not currently offer any contact with their team prior to subscribing to their services.
Pros & Cons
- Access to Psychiatrists
- Option for Medicinal Therapy
- Expertise in Anxiety and Depression
- Does not accept insurance
- No mobile app