I Tried LifeStance’s Online Therapy Services To Get Help For My Anxiety—Here's What Happened (2024)

Recently, I’ve been looking for a therapist to offer me an outside perspective on where I may be limiting myself or impeding my personal growth due to anxiety or self-doubt. I wanted to move forward without self-sabotaging my goals of more self-discipline, forgiveness, and a steady pace. I was tired of feeling like I was sometimes swimming against a current I myself was creating.

So I decided to test out LifeStance’s online therapy services as a way to check in with my mental health and hopefully gain some tools to support more self-awareness. The website says LifeStance’s goal is to offer therapy in a way that de-stigmatizes the sometimes negative connotations that can accompany seeking care for mental health, and that resonated with me. I don’t feel that seeking help for mental health should be any bigger of a deal than going for an annual check-up with your general practitioner.

I am pretty old-fashioned though—I prefer sitting down in person over coffee to chat as opposed to anything online. Plus, tech tends to stress me out, so I was hoping the LifeStance experience would be warm, personable, smooth, and straightforward. I was looking to simplify my life, and the last thing I wanted was to have to deal with confusing or stressful logistics. My overall experience with the company, though, left a lot to be desired. Figuring out how much my therapy would even cost was a grand mystery, and despite trying two therapists, didn't click with either.

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Looking for a Therapist at LifeStance

I knew going in that LifeStance employs 5,200 psychiatrists, advanced practice nurses, psychologists, and therapists, so I figured it would be easy to find my ideal provider. What I hadn’t realized is that not all of those providers offer telehealth options, so the pool of therapists I could actually choose (since I was looking for telehealth support) was much smaller.

I Tried LifeStance’s Online Therapy Services To Get Help For My Anxiety—Here's What Happened (1)

When I went to browse the directory of providers, I was first prompted to enter my ZIP code and told that, in my area (the second largest city in Michigan), there were only five providers for me to choose from.

When I backed out of that page, though, I saw that underneath the ZIP code prompt, there was a list of states, so I clicked on mine there were 200 to choose from. Had I followed the first prompt and not explored more on my own, I would have been left thinking I had to choose between those initial five.

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As I perused the list of providers for my state, I noticed some providers hadn’t uploaded profile photos or had multiple typos in their bios. This was off-putting to me as it showed a lack of attention to detail.

If they can’t put effort into their professional profile, how can they expect me to believe they would put any effort into working with me?

Within the 200 providers available in my state, I could filter by languages spoken, if they accepted insurance (not an issue, as I am self-pay), therapists' gender identity, services provided (couples counseling, Christian counseling, and mindfulness, for example), conditions treated (such as anxiety, ADHD, and PTSD), and types of communities they serve (such as LGBTQ+, people with autism, or veterans).

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I put in a basic search—I wanted a female therapist who could work with anxiety by using mindfulness and was within driving distance in case I ever wanted to do an in-person appointment in the future. This left me with only two options.

Scheduling a Session

I chose my provider because she looked warm and friendly in her profile photo. I hit “book an appointment” easily enough, which took me to a page where I could “view all availability.” I wish there had been a filter option on the provider search for who worked weekends or nights, but instead, I had to check each provider’s schedule individually.

I booked the first available appointment a few days out and saw that she does video or in-office visits. When scheduling, the icon for a video appointment is easy enough to recognize (it’s a camera), but the in-person appointments came with an icon of what might be a calendar and I was left wondering what kind of appointment that was. My first guess was perhaps a live messaging appointment until I tried to schedule it and it clarified it was for in-person meetings.

It then sent me to a pop-up screen where I had to enter my ZIP code, date of birth, and how I wanted to pay, to make sure I was an acceptable fit for the provider.

It was not communicated anywhere how long my appointment would be.

Only by searching on Google was I able to figure out that sessions are 45 minutes long—however, my appointment ended up being an hour.

Something that stuck out to me was that, even after scheduling my first session, I still had zero idea how much it would cost me.

LifeStance Health does not disclose costs upfront. It says that the cost depends on your provider, but the provider pages do not list their fees. LifeStance Health does accept most commercial insurance plans from each of the 34 states in which it offers services. It states what insurance plans each therapist works within their bios.

I Tried LifeStance’s Online Therapy Services To Get Help For My Anxiety—Here's What Happened (4)

Since I didn’t have insurance, I had to pay out of pocket. Bills are found within your patient portal but can only be accessed through an email once a session is already booked, which isn’t very helpful if you’re trying to plan your budget. In addition, there is no way to contact your therapist before or in between sessions, so I could not ask about the price that way either.

Price

The website states that “out-of-pocket rates can range from $75 to $300 per session”—but there is no way to know how to find the $75 sessions, and mine came in much closer to the $300 end.

I ended up paying $114 and $284; the first cost I assumed was for my initial evaluation and the second for a session. The latter I felt was quite pricey, especially when I was not given notice anywhere upfront as to what my session would cost.

I was expecting the bill for my second session to come in around the $114 range again. I was unpleasantly surprised and quite a bit angry to then receive a bill for $505 two weeks later. The bill itself was very confusing, as it said I owed $260 for a psych evaluation and $245 for a session. I'm honestly not sure why I received the bill for $505, as I did not take part in any psychiatric services. Even after reaching out to customer service, this was not explained to me.

The patient portal itself is difficult to find (you have to scroll to the very bottom of the website). I also couldn’t find a customer service phone number anywhere on the website. I emailed the company asking about these charges and still had not heard back after five days.

My First Session With a LifeStance Provider

Joining my first session was easy enough. I could sign into my patient portal or search my provider’s profile on the LifeStance website and enter her virtual waiting room with a click of a button.

I felt that my therapist was pretty cold during my first assessment (an intake appointment that has to happen before a therapy session can take place). She basically just fired off a bunch of multiple-choice questions regarding my moods, the substances I may partake in and how often, my relationship with my parents or siblings, and the support systems I have in place.

She seemed to just robotically rush through the questions, with no follow-up on any of my short answers and showed no genuine interest in me as a person.

Since she seemed like she was not going to offer me a space where I actually felt heard or cared about, I had a difficult time offering her intimate details about my personal life. I did not feel very well assessed and was doubtful I’d be able to open up to her in the future.

My Second Therapist

After that not-so-great first experience with a therapist, I decided to try out a second therapist. I ended up switching to the second one that had been an option in my initial filtered search.

Switching Therapists

It was super easy to switch—I simply didn’t continue booking with my initial therapist and found a new one, however, that setup did mean I’d have to do an initial assessment all over again. I wish the information I’d provided in my first assessment session could’ve just been handed over to the new provider.

My second session did not go much better than my first. Right off the bat, I ran into a technical issue where I could see my therapist but she could not see me. We spent the first 10 minutes of the session trying to figure out how to fix the tech issue with no luck in the end. I followed the site's instructions, everything had been confirmed and I appeared to have been connected correctly, but it was still unsuccessful.

I found zero help or guidance from my therapist on the technical end.

I think the therapists could definitely benefit from some brief training on how to manage technical issues when they come up to help instill trust in their capabilities.

She took no initiative and placed it all on me to figure out, even though this is the site she works on every day and is the equivalent of her office. It was my first time using the site and it was stressful and frustrating—not what I came to therapy to experience.

Once the tech issue was finally resolved, there were some noises on her end that were honestly very distracting, such as her pets playing with very loud squeaky toys. While I was answering the same intake questions I’d answered for the other therapist the week prior. I felt this new therapist was not at all engaged and her focus was pulled toward her pets. It would’ve been one thing if she’d apologized, quickly gotten up to address the situation, and returned to being fully present. It would've shown more consideration and I wouldn’t have minded waiting a minute or two for her to adjust her environment. But the noise just continued on in the background.

During my second video call with this therapist (so my first actual therapy appointment with LifeStance), I became disappointed and frustrated by some very limiting beliefs she’d expressed about herself.

For example, at one point she told me, “I could never even begin to dream of doing the things you’ve done.” I want to be guided by someone who can believe in themselves and what they are capable of. I’m not trying to say that a therapist must be a perfect human, as we’re all learning and growing. But in this particular setting, I felt there she could’ve had way more awareness about how she was coming across. It caused me to lack confidence in whether or not she actually applies her mindfulness teachings to her own life or if she just has a lot of theoretical knowledge of the field.

Another thing I felt was lacking was a healthy push. I wanted my therapist to ask me questions that challenged me and the way I was self-sabotaging my future, give me tools to actively problem solve, and give me some tough love. I feel like she just validated everything I was saying, coddling me instead of giving me sharp guidance on the personal work I was asking for.

Our Other Testers' Experiences with LifeStance

We tested LifeStance five other times in Illinois, New York, Florida, Oregon, and Ohio, and our experiences were just as mixed. We had great luck with couples and family therapy, while our individual adult therapy left much to be desired.

We tried couples therapy twice, and both times we were pleased with the care we received. Our first sessions were thorough, with our providers asking detailed questions about our histories and backgrounds to make sure they had all the information they needed in order to move forward with us and our partners.

We were able to establish a rapport with our therapists immediately, as they were warm and welcoming, and right away we developed therapy goals together. This gave us a good idea of what was to come and made us feel secure that our providers were invested in our care.

In our couples sessions, we were able to paint a picture of how our marriages worked, responding to open-ended questions that allowed us to really delve into our relationships. We gained meaningful insight into things like our communication and our appreciation for each other, and were able to discuss our parenting and issues with our children. Our therapists were attentive to both us and our partners, and were open to hearing about the concerns we particularly wanted to address.

Our family therapy sessions were equally as successful. Although we had some issues initially finding a family therapist (there weren’t many located in our area), once we found someone, we felt great about their approach. The detailed forms we filled out about ourselves and our child gave our therapist a great deal of background information, so she was well-informed going into our first session.

Our therapist really took charge of the session, which we appreciated, and she was both warm and professional, and clearly experienced.

Our 60-minute intake session was extremely thorough, and made us feel as though we were in good hands—especially when our daughter wandered into the room and it was clear that our therapist was skilled at dealing with children. By the end of this session, we were walking away with actionable advice about the specific issues we’d brought up (including our daughter’s picky eating).

Our second family session was a continuation of the great care we received. This one involved our daughter for more one-on-one time with our therapist as well as time together as a family unit, and our provider helped our daughter feel comfortable and really open up. Our therapist was empathetic and competent, and gave us practical solutions for our problems.


However, our attempts at individual therapy through LifeStance were not nearly as positive.

In fact, in one case, despite trying for weeks to get an appointment with a therapist, we never actually succeeded in meeting with a provider—even after contacting the company directly telling them we were writing a review. And although we did have a great experience with one time we tested LifeStance’s individual therapy—we were delighted with our therapist, who was compassionate and attentive—this other ordeal left a sour taste in our mouth.

In addition, we experienced technical difficulties in some of our sessions. The audio wasn’t very clear, sometimes even cutting out completely, and some of our therapists experienced connection issues with their video. We also weren’t pleased with the fact that we could not access pricing information easily—it would have been much better to know ahead of time what we were going to be charged.

Pros and Cons

While I love the idea of online therapy, I wanted it to make my life more clear and easy, not less. Considering the out-of-pocket costs are so much higher when you self-pay, I was expecting the quality of the services to be better. If I’d had insurance to cover some of my sessions I think I could’ve been slightly more accepting of certain issues, but since that was not the case, I was a little less forgiving of technical issues or what I felt was a lack of professionalism. With all that in mind, here are my pros and cons for LifeStance.

Pros

  • Appointments available within a few days

  • Accepts many insurance plans

  • Easy to filter therapists within the directory

  • Option of video or in-person appointments or a mix

  • Easy to switch providers

  • No questions asked when canceling services or changing providers

Cons

  • Technical difficulties on calls

  • Pricing of sessions not clear on website

  • Not many providers available once you start using a few filters

Another con is that in late 2022, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP filed a class action lawsuit against the company on behalf of investors who had purchased stock and were claiming securities fraud. The case is still ongoing. There have also been claims that the healthcare company has installed tracking tools on their site to secretly monitor users and send their data to Facebook and Google without consent.

Final Thoughts

I think the best thing about Lifestance is that it does work with a lot of insurance plans. I definitely did not like not knowing the cost of a session upfront beyond a large range and was taken aback by what I was actually charged. I was also disappointed in both of my therapists for different reasons. I felt the first was unprofessional and unengaged and my second just wasn’t the best fit for the strong guidance I was looking for.

LifeStance User Survey Results

We also surveyed 101 users of LifeStance about their experience with the company:

  • 57% said the fact that it accepted insurance was important to them
  • 52% said that accepting insurance was the most important factor when deciding to book a session
  • 95% rated LifeStance as good, very good, or excellent overall
  • 95% were able to find a provider who met most or all of their needs
  • 96% rated the qualifications of LifeStance's therapists as good, very good, or excellent
  • 89% said they were likely or very likely to recommend LifeStance to a friend or someone like them


I can’t find anything on the LifeStance website that was blatantly misleading—it did offer the services advertised and the pages were easy enough to navigate. The services just did not happen to meet my expectations. I ended up not continuing with my second therapist and will probably look elsewhere for a therapist via adifferent therapy company that is more straightforward about its pricing.

I Tried LifeStance’s Online Therapy Services To Get Help For My Anxiety—Here's What Happened (2024)
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