Cerebral Online Therapy Review

Medication and digital therapy options are remote and affordable but pricey.

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Cerebral Review

Cerebral

Cerebral offers users weekly online therapy sessions via phone or video calls, as well as easy access to their provider through email or messaging through its patient portal. We found providers to be high-quality and easy to talk to, but were disappointed by our experience with customer care and management. Additionally, multiple allegations against Cerebral and its legal troubles in the last year have left us questioning the company’s practices and ethics.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Quick and easy connection to therapists with bios and photos
  • Variety of therapists with varied specialties
  • Culturally diverse therapists
  • Therapy sessions are affordable
  • Option to access medication assistance 
  • Remote-accessible therapy
  • New users get a one-month trial at a reduced rate
  • Patients can use an optional pay-as-you-go service for pep talks and motivational material

Cons

  • Lack of professionalism among coordinating teams when needing assistance
  • Few board-certified psychiatrists on the platform to assist with prescribing medications
  • List of insurance partners is limited and varies by state
  • Medicare, MediCal, and Medicaid are not accepted
  • Widespread company issues with ethics 
  • Even if the service is not used, medication cancellations will not be completed until the end of the billing cycle
  • Service costs double after the initial reduced trial period
  • Monthly $30 platform access fee is not covered by accepted insurance partners

In America, mental illness is among the most common health conditions, with one in five people experiencing some type of mental illness in a given year. In fact, more than 50% of the population will experience some form of mental illness at some point in their lifetime. With this kind of prevalence, access to mental health services is critical, but too often people face barriers to treatment, such as limited care options, financial barriers, and the social stigma surrounding mental illness.

Cerebral, an online mental health service, aims to make access to medication and/or therapy easier with remote treatment options. The company’s care team includes a wide variety of therapists and prescribers who can assist with medication management and/or talk therapy online or over the phone. To learn more about the platform, which is accessible through an app or the web, and to compare it to 54 of its competitors, we surveyed 105 users on their experience. We then took the research a step further by having Jennifer Stavros, one of the writers on this review, personally try out the service. We also spoke with a therapist about their experience working on the site. Here are the results. 

What Is Cerebral?

Cerebral is a mental health subscription company founded by Ho Anh, MD, and Kyle Robertson in 2020. They launched the telemedicine company with a mission to make fast, affordable, and quality mental healthcare services available to anyone in need. 

Despite the company’s honorable intentions to deliver easy access to mental healthcare providers and medication management, numerous lawsuits and allegations have been brought against it recently. Cerebral’s medication management service has been riddled with issues and accusations including overdiagnosing and prescribing ADHD and opioid medication treatments, allegations of contributing to medication abuses, and a lack of board-certified psychiatrists on the platform taking part in their prescription and medication process. It was also reported that a 17-year-old child who was treated on the platform without parental consent tragically died by suicide in September 2022. 

In May 2022, Cerebral’s CEO, Kyle Robertson, was replaced by David Mou, MD. Under his leadership, the company has laid off around 20% of its employees.

What Services Does Cerebral Offer?

Cerebral offers talk therapy for individuals, psychiatry, and medication management. Users can opt for therapy sessions only or pair them with medication management services as well. 

Talk therapy sessions are held via Doxy, which is accessible through the web or an app. However, Doxy isn’t always reliable, so some therapists have resorted to using Zoom to provide therapy, including the provider I worked with for this review. Therapy sessions last between 45 minutes to an hour, but appointment lengths are not clearly listed on the website.

Outside of therapy sessions, patients can communicate with their care team, which consists of a care coordinator and their therapist, via an in-app message center. This is where your therapist can send you resources, you can ask your provider a question, or you can discuss different therapy options or medication.

Additionally, clients have access to a separate portal where there are a variety of free online tests. These assessments are in the form of multiple-choice questionnaires and provide insight into basic mental health topics that patients might find of interest. 

Who Is Cerebral For?

Cerebral is for anyone 18 years and older who is seeking long-term care treatment for common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Subscribers must reside in the state where their chosen Cerebral therapist is licensed (currently, there are licensed providers available in every state and Washington D.C.).

According to the company’s website, Cerebral therapists can treat the following conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Postpartum depression
  • Menopausal depression
  • ADHD (in certain states, though it is worth noting that a lot of the controversies around Cerebral involve its use of medication to treat ADHD)
  • Trauma and PTSD
  • Bipolar disorder (in certain states)
  • Alcohol dependence (in certain states)
  • Opioid use disorder (in certain states)

Subscribers can also access help for:

  • Relationship issues and divorce
  • Stress management
  • Anger management
  • LGBTQI+ concerns
  • Grief and loss
  • Traumatic life events
  • Confidence and self-esteem
  • Phobias
  • Coping with illness

How Much Does Cerebral Cost?

The cost of care through Cerebral ranges from $99 to $325 per month, depending on the services you need. 

These plans include:

  • The Medication + Care Management plan, which does not include talk therapy, costs $99 per month. With this plan, you get an evaluation, diagnosis, and medication prescriptions from a licensed provider, regular check-in appointments, and monthly medication delivery (though the medication itself is a separate cost). 
  • The Therapy Plan costs $99 for the first month (trial period) and then increases to $259 per month after. With this plan, you get weekly video or phone therapy sessions (up to four per month), unlimited messaging with your therapist, and regular progress tracking by your therapist. There is no medication prescription or management with this plan. 
  • The Medication + Therapy Plan is $139 for the first month then goes up to $325 per month after. This plan combines all of the features of the other two plans, offering patients comprehensive treatment (again, medication costs are separate from the monthly fee). 
  • The Medication-Assisted Treatment + Counseling Plan for Opioid Use is available to users in Colorado, Florida, and Washington and starts at $195 per month. This program is tailored to patients in recovery from opioid addiction and is focused on harm reduction. The plan includes regular appointments with a provider, a prescribed medication to help manage cravings and avoid relapse, and monthly counseling sessions. Patients are required to take randomized drug tests in order to participate in this plan. 

For subscribers who are covered by one of Cerebral’s insurance partner networks, the cost for these plans is lower, possibly even as low as $30 per month.

In our survey, 49% of users said that the cost of therapy was affordable or very affordable and 74% said Cerebral's value for the money was good to excellent. For perspective, 54% of the users surveyed made an annual income between $25,000 to $74,999. 

 Does Cerebral Take Insurance?

Cerebral is currently in-network with the following insurance companies in these locations: 

  • Anthem: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, New Hampshire
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield: Arkansas, California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming
  • Cigna: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington
  • Magellan Health: California, Texas
  • UnitedHealthcare/Optum: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington

Some plans can reduce monthly costs dramatically to just $30 per month. Out-of-pocket costs for medications can be as low as  $10 per month. State medical insurance plans such as Medicare or Medicaid do not offer coverage.

Does Cerebral Offer Discounts?

Cerebral’s Therapy plan and Medication + Therapy plan are offered at a discounted rate for the first month, but then the monthly cost more than doubles. 

Navigating the Cerebral Website and App

Cerebral’s homepage is a calming periwinkle blue color, and boldly displays the words “Expert help for your emotional health” next to photos of diverse people smiling. A “Start Today” button in green invites you to start the sign-up process. 

Homepage

As you scroll down the page, you’ll learn more about how Cerebral works, including the various plans available, and “proven results” of the therapy offered. 

How it works

The information on the website is presented in a visually pleasing way. There are six navigation options at the top of the page as well as several listed at the bottom. Users can easily find links to pages such as FAQ, Resources, and Referrals. The lower navigation menu offers quick access to more administrative pages, such as Legal, Popular Links, and About. 

Cerebral2

While the site’s general navigation is user-friendly, its accessibility options need improvement. Users with vision loss will need a separate program or extension for screen reading, and there doesn’t appear to be any other language option besides English.

Overall, we found the website to be really easy to use, and it offered a lot of information about the company and its services. 

Cerebral

The therapist bios, for example, were numerous and the care team includes diverse providers, beyond primarily cis white. That being said, I did notice there was a limited number of Asian therapists available to users, but overall, provider representation appeared good. 

Does Cerebral Have an App?

Yes, Cerebral does have an app. This is where the bulk of communication with your therapist  happens. You can download it via the Google Play store or the Apple store on your iOS or Android device. Once installed, you will be asked to create a username and password to access your patient portal.

Signing Up for Therapy at Cerebral

We found signing up for therapy on Cerebral easy and user-friendly, as did 74% of user survey respondents. 

After completing payment for your chosen plan, you are asked to answer a brief series of questions, including inquiries about any medications you have previously been prescribed, and any mental health concerns you’d like help with, such as anxiety or trouble sleeping. These questions are designed to help identify what kinds of therapists might be best suited to your needs. This process takes a matter of minutes to get underway. 

Cer signup

Once you’ve created your account, you’re asked to fill out a survey to see if medication management might be useful. Regardless of your response, you’ll come to a screen with all plan options laid out with pricing. 

plans

Afterward, you will be able to select your therapist through the patient portal.

Choosing a Therapist at Cerebral

Choosing a therapist through Cerebral’s patient portal (on the website or app) is incredibly easy. After completing the questionnaire, you’ll be presented with a list of therapists to choose from. The list we received included a variety of provider options, complete with bios, full names, and photos. 

After selecting a therapist, users can schedule appointments using a calendar in the app. The calendar will display the days and times that your therapist is available to book a session, and you can book multiple appointments at a time (if you’d like). After booking a session, you will receive an email confirming the session date and time, and you will also get reminder emails as the appointment approaches.

While Jennifer was recommended several providers who could have been a good match, she chose a therapist with a creative background and trauma experience because those qualifications spoke to Jennifer’s therapy needs. Jennifer particularly appreciated having so many options because she was searching for a therapist who would be able to relate to Jennifer’s multicultural background. 

However, while Jennifer’s therapist-matching experience was positive, the majority of our survey participants were not as happy with Cerebral’s provider recommendations. Only 13% of users said they were able to find a therapist who matched their cultural background, 7% said they were able to find a provider who was identity-affirming, and only 6% said they could find someone who spoke their language. 

Cerebral’s algorithm for matching patients and therapists isn’t entirely clear, even to providers. Carissa Lataillade, a therapist who worked with Cerebral in 2021, mentioned that she was once matched with a client specifically based on being a woman of color. She had no idea how clients otherwise chose their therapists.

How Do Therapy Sessions Work at Cerebral?

Messaging Your Therapist

To get in touch with your therapist outside scheduled appointments, you can either message them through your patient portal or email them directly. Jennifer opted to use direct email to reach her therapist after her session dropped due to technical issues, but the in-app messaging feature would have worked just as well. You can also use the message center to correspondent with your care team; Jennifer found this to be a very helpful feature. 

Video Sessions

When it’s time to see your therapist, simply log into your portal, either from Cerebral’s app or on the website, and start your session. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be directed to Doxy, a secure platform many providers use for telehealth. 

You’ll enter a virtual “waiting room” that will notify your provider that you’ve checked in and you’ll begin streaming your appointment video session. If your therapist is running behind, they will be able to send you a chat message through the waiting room to give you a heads' up. When your provider is ready to start the session, their video will appear on the screen and the two of you can begin. 

Although Doxy is helpful, it can also be a bit clunky. For instance, there is no countdown clock or timer to let you know how long you’ve been in session. Additionally, Jennifer often found reception to be spotty even when she had a strong wifi connection. Once, she also had a call drop entirely, resulting in her therapist having to move her session over to Zoom, which is not through the app. 

Fifty-three percent of users surveyed access their sessions via their mobile device, and 21% said having multiple virtual session types was important to them.  

Medication Management Sessions

Typically, therapy and medication management are entirely separate from each other, but Cerebral gives users the option to combine them all under one practice (the appointments will still be separate) and your therapist and prescriber can work together as part of your overall care team.

You’ll schedule your medication management appointment in the same way you schedule your therapy appointments in the patient portal—and you can communicate with your prescriber through the messaging center between sessions as well. 

Medication management sessions are generally 15 to 30 minutes to start, but will be shorter for follow-ups. You’ll also likely start with monthly check-in, though some of our users told us their check-in sessions got scheduled every three months after a treatment plan was established.

It’s important to note that not all prescribers are board-certified psychiatrists at Cerebral. In an investigative review of 1,500 providers listed on the platform, CBS said only five of them were board-certified psychiatrists—the majority are nurse practitioners without a mental health background.

Seventy-eight percent of users rate the psychiatry and medication management services as Cerebral as good to excellent. Sixty-five percent of users sought medication for depression, and 40% for anxiety—the most of all the mental health conditions Cerebral treat. Eight-five percent of users rated their psychiatric providers qualifications as good to excellent, but 33% said they no longer work with their provider because they left the company.

What Happens If I Miss a Session at Cerebral?

If you need to miss a scheduled session, it’s quick and easy to reschedule it through the portal’s  calendar and scheduling system. 

You can also message your provider directly through the message center to let them know you need to reschedule. Providers prefer patients give as much advance notice as possible before canceling or rescheduling an appointment, but Cerebral requires a minimum of three hours notice of appointment changes, otherwise the missed appointment will count as one of your allotted sessions and you will be billed for it. 

However, according to Cerebral’s FAQ page, patients paying with insurance will not be charged for no-show appointments. 

How Do I Switch Therapists at Cerebral?

To change therapists, you will have to submit a request through the message center in the patient portal or contact a customer service representative over the phone. 

If you go through the app, the message thread will include both a care coordinator and your therapist, who will help you through the transition. While switching therapists can be done, the process isn’t quick, it can take several days or even a week before a patient can get a new therapist.

Pausing or Canceling Therapy at Cerebral

Canceling therapy through Cerebral can also be done through the portal or by calling a representative. 

For users who signed up for and underwent an initial consultation for medication management services, you will still be charged the full monthly price no matter when you cancel. Cerebral will not refund you the difference in cost for unused service. 

Canceling services doesn’t happen overnight, either. The company may be unresponsive for days, weeks, or even months. Lataillade, the former Cerebral therapist, told us that “some users have gone several months trying to get services canceled.” 

Lataillade also notes that clients would come to her about no longer wanting services and she found herself powerless to help them because even when she tried to help, the process still took a very long time.

“I would talk to my manager. I would talk to the IT manager and say, ‘Please help my client,’” explains Lataillade. “‘We're no longer working with each other and they no longer want to receive services. You haven't taken them off.’ It was just the hardest thing for them to take people off service. I don't even know why. lt was just the biggest headache and I felt really upset that they were treating my clients that way.” 

Quality of Care and User Satisfaction

Jennifer says she was horrified by Cerebral’s medication management services. Beyond a first name and last initial, she was given no information on the prescribers who worked for the company—neither through the platform’s interface nor during direct interactions with providers. While she was quickly contacted by the medication prescriber she selected, she was not given empathetic or kind assistance and care. Instead, when Jennifer requested to know who she was talking to, prescriber Jane stated that she “was qualified to work with the platform or she wouldn’t be working with [her].”

Jennifer was not alone in her experience, either. Regarding medications, only 38% of user respondents felt that Cerebral was responsive to their questions and medication needs, and 23% felt the company respected their wants and needs regarding the medication they were taking. 

“This is, unfortunately, not uncommon for psychiatry practices, especially online psychiatry services,” explains Hannah Owens, LMSW and subject matter expert. “Many online medication management appointments last only fifteen minutes, which is not enough time to establish rapport, delve into issues you might be having, or feel like your provider is really paying enough attention to all your needs.”

What’s more, both of the therapists Jennifer worked with, as well as the former therapist for Cerebral, reported experiencing problematic behaviors with the company’s administrative teams. Lataillade said she noticed changes and issues connected to paying providers during her time at Cerebral. 

“They got rid of salary [positions] and moved [salaried employees] to hourly,” resulting in them losing their benefits. She further explained that when this happened, a lot of employees resigned from the company. 

“Fewer providers means higher caseloads, and higher caseloads means therapist burnout,” notes Owens. “A burned-out therapist often cannot provide the quality of care their clients need; the therapist might have trouble remembering everything their clients tell them when they are managing an overwhelming number of clients, and their bandwidth for things like administrative tasks related to insurance might be shorter, as more clients creates more work.”

Then, when Jennifer requested to switch talk therapists, her assigned care coordinator was not particularly helpful. A process that should have been quick and easy turned out to be frustrating.

Survey respondents seemed to have similarly experiences. Only 19% of respondents found the process of switching therapists to be easy and 23% had to contact customer service in order to successfully transition to a new provider. When users requested to switch therapists. 19% said it took less than a day to complete the process, 50% it took a few days, 21% said it took a week, and 10% reported the process lasting a few weeks. 

Still, when it comes to talk therapy, our user survey respondents seemed to have a mostly favorable impression. Eighty-one percent of users we surveyed thought the qualifications of their therapist were good to excellent, 79% said most or all of their needs were met by their therapist, and 79% rated the service good to excellent overall. Jennifer also truly enjoyed the therapists she met with at Cerebral, as they were engaging and seemed happy to assist clients. 

Despite that, we’re not sure if the well-rated talk therapy outweighs the questionable therapist treatment, poor medication management services, and difficult switching providers.

Privacy Policies at Cerebral

Patient privacy at Cerebral is a bit concerning. The privacy policy states, “Cerebral does not provide medical services via the Platform. Cerebral operates the technology platform through which you can connect with providers.” 

Essentially, this means that it does not claim to be a healthcare organization, but rather a technology company (much like Uber claims to be a technology service, not a transportation service). Because of this, Cerebral is not a “covered entity” under HIPAA laws, so it can legally collect any information that is not considered “protected health information” and share it with or sell it to third parties. (Note: providers do still have to adhere to HIPAA laws, which does give users some protection.) 

Additionally, as with most platforms, Cerebral has the right to update its privacy policy at any time, which means how and where it shares or sells your information can change without your knowledge. The Verge reported that user data from Cerebral "was used in ways that help companies make money (and don't help [users]."

Cerebral vs. Its Competitors

Cerebral, Talkspace, and Brightside are similar online therapy companies that all offer therapy and medication management services. While the range of plans and features at Talkspace and Brightside differ somewhat from Cerebral, there are several areas of crossover among the three. 

When asked about their overall experience with these platforms, 58% of survey respondents categorized Cerebral as excellent or very good, narrowly beating out Brightside, where 57% reported the same. Talkspace was the overall winner here, though, with nearly 61% categorizing their experience as either excellent or very good. 

Where Cerebral falls behind its competitors, however, is meeting patient needs. When asked how they felt each platform met their needs, just under 65% said Brightside met all or most of their needs; 68% said the same of Talkspace, compared to 55% for Cerebral. 

Looking at psychiatry or medication management services, specifically, Cerebral came in last again with only 64% of respondents calling the experience excellent or very good, compared to 71% for Brightside and 70% for Talkspace. 

In terms of how each service stacked up against similar services used in the past, 81% of Cerebral users said it was a little bit to much better; 78% of Brightside users said the same, but Talkspace beat them all with 97% of users saying it was better to much better. 

Final Verdict

Overall, our experience with and opinion of Cerebral was very mixed. Jennifer did connect with her providers and felt her needs were met in terms of therapy and  80% of our surveyed users felt the same. It seems clear that the therapists at Cerebral appear to genuinely care about their clients. 

Unfortunately, Jennifer’s experience with customer service and medication management at Cerebral was not nearly as positive. She found the care team to be rude and the medication management services to have a lot of very serious issues (namely, no information about the providers, including qualifications, was provided). Additionally, given the treatment of its therapists, and the many pending lawsuits and numerous investigations into the company—and the company’s concerning privacy policy—we would not recommend this platform to someone seeking mental health services. 

Methodology

To fairly and accurately review the best online therapy programs, we sent questionnaires to 55 companies and surveyed 105 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 the following factors: website usability, the sign-up and therapist matching processes, therapist qualifications, types of therapy offered, the service's quality of care, client-therapist communication options, session length, subscription offerings, client privacy protections, average cost and value for money, whether it accepts insurance, how easy it is to change therapists, overall user satisfaction, and the likelihood that clients would recommend them.

We also signed up for the companies in order to get a sense of how this process worked, how easy to use the platform is, and how therapy takes place at the company. Then, we interviewed one therapist (in addition to the therapist I worked with directly) we found who either currently work or worked for this company in the past and worked with three subject matter experts to get their expert analysis on how suited this company is to provide quality care to therapy seekers.

Key Specs

  • Price: $99 to $139 to start and $259 to $325 afterwards
  • Is Insurance Accepted? Yes. Insurance is accepted by 5 different carriers, although not in all states. State-issued medical insurance such as MediCal and Medicaid are not accepted.
  • Types of Therapy Offered: Individual, Medication management, psychiatry, substance use treatment, eating disorder treatment
  • Communication Options: Text-based therapy, email, live messaging, live audio/phone/video
  • HIPAA Compliant? It’s supposed to be but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.
  • Is There an App? Yes
  • Accepts HSA or FSA? No
  • Prescriptions Available? Yes
  • Billing Cadence: Monthly subscription
Edited by
Ally Hirschlag
Ally is a senior editor for Verywell, who covers topics in the health, wellness, and lifestyle spaces. She has written for The Washington Post, The Guardian, BBC Future, and more.
Was this page helpful?
Sources
Health.com 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. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About mental health.

Related Articles