Cerebral Online Therapy Review 2022: What We Know

Cerebral has been in the news for how it delivers its mental health services. We explored the platform to find out what users can expect.
This content is researched and written based on extensive testing by an external reviews team and does not reflect the views or opinions of Everyday Health’s editorial team. Everyday Health may earn a commission from purchases of products featured in this article.

Cerebral is a mental health platform that offers subscriptions for online therapy and medication management. Online therapy platforms like Cerebral can help users access mental health care in a way that’s more convenient than in-person services. But the company has recently been under investigation for its prescribing and marketing practices. We mystery-shopped the platform extensively to research its plan options, find out what a user might experience when subscribing, and provide an unbiased review of Cerebral for online therapy.

Pros and Cons of Cerebral Online Therapy

Pros

  • Option to combine online psychiatry and therapy
  • Free monthly medication delivery for eligible plans
  • Medication management available in all 50 states
  • Accepts insurance

Cons

  • Therapy not available in every state
  • Cannot directly message providers, only care coordinators
  • No financial aid available
  • Inconsistent information on its website and from customer service
  • Under investigation for its prescribing and billing practices

How Does Cerebral Work?

Cerebral has subscription-based plans offering therapy and medication management for mental health concerns. Each plan includes live sessions with mental health care providers and unlimited messaging with care coordinators, who serve as the liaison between the patient and the provider since prescribing providers typically lack the time for regular check-ins.

Here’s what a user signing up for Cerebral can expect:

  1. After creating an account, users answer a questionnaire that assesses the symptoms and severity of mental health concerns, like anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
  2. Users select the plan they want and enter their payment information to start their monthly subscription.
  3. Users can browse providers to book an appointment as soon as the same day.
  4. Between sessions, users can message their care coordinator for support.
Screenshot of Cerebral sign-up
Cerebral suggests a subscription plan based on the results of the user’s emotional assessment.

Depending on the plan they select, a user’s care team may consist of:

  • Care coordinators who can help with account management, provider matching, and monitoring messages to get responses to user questions from providers as necessary
  • Prescribers, such as psychiatrists, physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners who assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions
  • Licensed therapists who provide therapy through the platform
  • Care counselors who hold a master’s or bachelor’s degree in social work, psychology, or counseling and serve as a point of contact for patients; care counselors are not licensed therapists and cannot diagnose or treat mental health conditions

Users can change their prescribers or therapists at any time by contacting their care coordinator. Although the website states that users can chat with their prescribers and therapists through the platform, users don’t communicate with them directly, according to a Cerebral customer service call on October 5, 2022. Care coordinators monitor the patient portal chat and can pull in providers for responses as needed.

You can cancel your subscription through the app or account settings anytime, or by notifying your care coordinator.

Cerebral Plan Options

The Therapy and Medication Plus Therapy plans include four monthly live sessions and unlimited messaging with a care coordinator. Each live session is 45 minutes long, and all sessions with providers are conducted through video or phone on the Cerebral website or app.

The Medication Plus Care Management and Medication Plus Therapy plans include an initial evaluation and regular follow-ups with a prescriber, one monthly session with a care counselor, and unlimited messaging with your care coordinator. Initial sessions with prescribers are 30 minutes long, and follow-up visits last 15 minutes each, as per a customer service call with Cerebral on October 6, 2022. Sessions with care counselors are also 30 minutes long. Medication delivery is included in your plan if you choose to fill your prescription with Cerebral.

Cerebral has prescribers licensed in all 50 states and Washington, DC, but plans that include online therapy are available only in states with licensed therapists. As of this writing, those states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Cerebral offers a Medication-Assisted Treatment Plus Care Counseling plan for individuals managing opioid use disorder and living in Colorado, Florida, or Washington. This plan pairs you with a prescriber and a care counselor. The prescriber is a substance abuse specialist who meets with you as often as your treatment plan dictates. The care counselor meets with you monthly to support you and provide coping strategies to help manage your mental health symptoms. With this plan, medication delivery is not an option, and you will have to pick up prescriptions from your local pharmacy.

Compare Cerebral Plans

Therapy

Medication + Therapy

Medication + Care Management

Medication-Assisted Treatment + Care Counseling

Medication + Coaching*

Cost

$259 per month

$325 per month

$99 per month

$195 per month

$195 per month

Monthly sessions with a therapist

4

4

-

-

-

Monthly sessions with a care counselor

-

-

1

1

4

Talk therapy conducted by

Therapist

Therapist

Care counselor

Care counselor

Care counselor

Prescriber evaluation and regular follow-ups

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Unlimited messaging with care coordinator

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Monthly medication delivery

No

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

* Plan not mentioned on the Cerebral website

Although not mentioned on its website, a customer service call with Cerebral on October 5, 2022, informed us that the platform also offers a Medication Plus Coaching plan that is similar to the Medication Plus Therapy plan. The difference is that it includes four 30-minute monthly live sessions with a care counselor rather than a therapist.

Users can select only from the Therapy, Medication Plus Therapy, and Medication Plus Care Management plans when signing up for a plan. When asked about how to sign up for the other programs Cerebral offers, a Cerebral customer service representative advised on October 6, 2022, that users would have to call in to get their plan adjusted.

Cerebral Cost and Payment Options

Cerebral plans are billed monthly, starting from the day you create your account and enter your payment information. Although the Cerebral website indicates that the cost of the subscriptions can be higher than the prices published based on “location, conditions, or other variables,” a Cerebral customer service agent informed us on October 5, 2022, that subscribers can expect to be charged the following prices:

  • Therapy $259 per month
  • Medication Plus Therapy $325 per month
  • Medication Plus Care Management $99 per month
  • Medication-Assisted Therapy Plus Care Counseling $195 per month
  • Medication Plus Coaching $195 per month

If you prefer or need more than four sessions with your therapist or care counselor, you can pay $65 per session with a therapist and $30 per session with a care counselor, as per a conversation with a Cerebral customer service representative on October 5, 2022.

The Medication Plus Therapy plan includes the cost of delivery but not the cost of the medication itself. Cerebral can bill your insurance for any covered medications you’re prescribed, and you would be responsible for the copay. If you’re paying for medications out of pocket, most cost $10, but some can go up to $40, per a call with the company’s customer service representatives on October 5, 2022.

You can use your flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA) card as a payment method, but only if you are paying for your subscription out of pocket.

If your providers are in-network with your insurance, Cerebral can bill your insurance provider for your sessions. In this case, you will be responsible for a $30 monthly subscription fee, which is not covered by insurance, as well as your plan's copay amount. Cerebral can provide superbills or invoices for those using out-of-network insurance benefits.

When you’re signing up for the service, Cerebral warns via its terms and conditions that there are no refunds for partial subscriptions, even if users don’t end up seeing a provider.

Cerebral does not currently offer financial assistance for its subscription plans.

Compare Cerebral to Other Online Therapy Platforms

Platform

Cost for Medication Management*

Cost for Therapy*

Cost for Medication Management and Therapy*

Medication Delivery Option

Accepts Insurance

Cerebral

$99 per month

$259 per month

$325 per month

Yes

Yes

Brightside

$95 per month

$299 per month

$349 per month

Yes

Yes

BetterHelp

-

$240 to $360 per month?

-

No

No

Talkspace

$276 for initial psychiatry session;

$125 per follow-up visit

$276 to $516 per month?

-

No

Yes

MDLive

$284 per initial psychiatry session;

$108 per follow-up visit

$108 per session

-

No

Yes

* If paying out of pocket.

? Cost may be higher based on your preferences, location, and therapy availability.

Cerebral Reviews

User Reviews

As of this writing, Cerebral is rated 4 out of 5 stars with 4,479 reviews on Trustpilot. On the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website, Cerebral received 1.08 out of 5 stars from 197 customer reviews. The platform has a BBB rating of B from closing 533 complaints over the last three years. The business is not BBB-accredited.

Positive reviews were from users who had a good experience with the care they received and who enjoyed the convenience of receiving care from their homes.

Negative reviews mentioned unexpected charges and low provider availability. Users who used their insurance to pay noticed billing entries for more visits than they attended. Reviews also cited poor communication about changes to charges, such as when starting a new medication. Furthermore, reviewers described being charged even after they opted to cancel their accounts through the platform.

Cerebral in the News

In March 2022, articles from Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal featured testimonials from former employees and users who were concerned about the safety of prescribing practices at Cerebral. Clinical and nonclinical employees raised concerns about the brief, 30-minute virtual visits with prescribers and internal company communications that encouraged prescribers to overprescribe medication.

According to Jason Herrick, MD, the director of psychiatry for the Pediatric Behavioral Health Integration Program at Montefiore Medical Group in Bronx, New York, “Gathering all relevant information in a short period of time can be challenging. Less than 30 minutes for an initial assessment or making a diagnosis and treatment recommendations solely based on a questionnaire should raise concerns.” Psychiatric practice guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) advise that a provider can “use their clinical judgment to tailor their psychiatric evaluation” to the patient’s needs, but there are often barriers to properly assessing some conditions like substance use and suicidality in one visit.

Prescribing and filling prescriptions for medications considered controlled substances are regulated by the Controlled Substances Act. Controlled medications require more safety precautions from the prescriber, pharmacy, and patient because of the potential for abuse or forming addictions. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Drug Enforcement Administration (PDF) updated the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008, which required prescribers to evaluate patients in person at least once every 24 months before prescribing a controlled substance. The update removed the in-person evaluation requirement and allowed telepsychiatry providers like Cerebral to prescribe controlled substances through its platform at the time.

Definition of controlled substances on Cerebral platform
Cerebral defines controlled substances for users signing up for an account.

In May 2022, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York served Cerebral with a grand jury subpoena relating to an investigation into possible violations of the Controlled Substances Act, according to the American Bar Association. Shortly after, Cerebral stopped prescribing controlled substances, but the terms and conditions still outline the user’s agreement if they are prescribed a controlled substance.

Cerebral new user signup page with a notice stating it does not prescribe controlled substances
Cerebral reminds new users that it does not offer controlled substances.

In June 2022, a Wall Street Journal article stated that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had started investigating Cerebral for “deceptive or unfair practices related to advertising or marketing.” Similar to third-party reviews we’ve read, the article describes how users found it difficult to cancel their subscriptions. Documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal stated the FTC’s intention to investigate instances when Cerebral “continued to bill customers a subscription fee until the customer cancels.”

On a call with Cerebral on October 5, 2022, a customer service agent informed us that a subscription fee will be charged on the day new users sign up and monthly on that day going forward. The agent also informed us that the subscription will be charged regardless of whether users attended an appointment with a provider or not. On the checkout page and in the Cerebral terms and conditions, the platform warns that there will be no refunds issued to users regardless of any services rendered by Cerebral. But, on a following call with Cerebral customer service a day later, the agent informed us that a refund can be possible if a user decides to cancel their subscription before they utilize any of the services on the platform.

In September 2022, the Wall Street Journal published an article about Cerebral treating an underaged teen without parental consent and the subsequent death of the teen, which was ruled as a suicide. Unless they specifically offer teen therapy, most online therapy platforms, including Cerebral, do not treat individuals younger than 18. Treating teens and children who are younger than 18 online requires parental consent in most states.

According to the article, the teen had disclosed a previous suicide attempt to his Cerebral provider. The platform stated that it treats suicidal patients and has a “specialized crisis response team” for patients who are actively suicidal. Online therapy is not appropriate for certain cases of severe mental illness, such as suicidal ideation or severe depression; in-person evaluation and treatment is more appropriate.

We did not receive a response when we reached out to Cerebral to learn more about its prescribing and user-safety processes.

Our Experience With Cerebral

In our April 2022 survey of 1,000 online therapy users, 49 percent of Cerebral users indicated that they chose to use the platform because it had positive reviews online, and 42 percent of users indicated that they started using the platform because its plans were in their budget. Also, 67 percent of Cerebral users we surveyed agreed that they were satisfied with the care they received on the platform.

When mystery-shopping the platform, our reviews team often noticed inconsistencies between the information on the Cerebral website and what customer service representatives told them about the availability of services offered, the actual costs of plans, and the ins and outs of the refund policy. Much of the information we found about Cerebral came from its FAQ page and calls with its customer service line. The customer service phone agents we spoke with were responsive and courteous.

Why You Can Trust Us

We independently investigate and recommend products and services we believe will enrich the lives of our readers and meet their specific needs. You can read our full online therapy review methodology here. We’ve spent many hours carrying out in-depth research on the online therapy market. You can trust our review because we did the legwork for you in these specific ways:

  • Engaged in ongoing independent research
  • Mystery-shopped each of the brands
  • Contacted brands’ customer service teams to ask questions and gauge responsiveness
  • Consulted six leading psychologists and psychiatrists
  • Became customers of online therapy providers ourselves
  • Reviewed academic research about the efficacy of online therapy versus in-person therapy
  • Read hundreds of verified customer reviews from trusted third parties, such as the BBB and Trustpilot

The Bottom Line

Cerebral offers monthly subscription plans that connect its users to a care team that conveniently delivers mental health support online. Its services are more affordable than Brightside and Talkspace, which are similar platforms. But, we found the sign-up process confusing due to difficulty finding information about its services, availability, and refund policy.

Although some third-party reviews and Cerebral users we surveyed had positive experiences with their care on the platform, it has experienced scrutiny for unsafe prescribing and deceptive billing practices.

In Emergency Situations

If you are in crisis, waiting for an online therapy appointment may not be safe. In case of an emergency, call 911. That includes plans to harm yourself or others. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, you can call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. Help is available 24/7.

You can also reach out to the SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357). The SAMHSA help line is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-days-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals facing mental or substance abuse disorders.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Cerebral prescribe Xanax?

No, Cerebral does not prescribe controlled substances, including alprazolam (Xanax).

How much is Cerebral per month?

Plans on Cerebral range from $99 to $325 per month, depending on the type of care you’re looking for. Medication Plus Care Management costs $99 per month, Therapy costs $259 per month, and Medication Plus Therapy costs $325 per month.

What kind of medicine does Cerebral prescribe?

Cerebral prescribes noncontrolled medications for the treatment of mental health diagnoses.

Can Cerebral help with weight loss?

Cerebral is piloting a nutrition program with registered dietitians as part of the plan’s care team, but it is currently available to users only in Arizona, Indiana, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas. A customer service call to Cerebral on October 6, 2022, informed us that this was a program still in the pilot phase and did not give us any further details about the program.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Mosendz P, Melby C. ADHD Drugs Are Convenient to Get Online. Maybe Too Convenient. Bloomberg. March 11, 2022.
  • Winkler R, Walker J. Startups Make It Easier to Get ADHD Drugs. That Made Some Workers Anxious. The Wall Street Journal. March 26, 2022.
  • Interview with Jason Herrick. Bronx, New York. October 5, 2022.
  • The American Psychiatric Association. Practice Guidelines for the Psychiatric Evaluation of Adults Third Edition. 2016.
  • United States Drug Enforcement Administration. The Controlled Substances Act. July 25, 2018.
  • DEA SAMHSA Buprenorphine Telemedicine [PDF]. Drug Enforcement Administration. March 31, 2020.
  • H.R.6353 - Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008. 110th Congress. October 15, 2008.
  • Winkler R, Safdar K. Mental Health Startup Cerebral Investigated by FTC. The Wall Street Journal. June 14, 2022.
  • DOJ Subpoenas Telehealth Company for Potential Overprescribing of Stimulants. American Bar Association. May 13, 2022.
  • Safdar K. Cerebral Treated a 17-Year-Old Without His Parents’ Consent. They Found Out the Day He Died. The Wall Street Journal. September 29, 2022.
  • Online Therapy Survey. 1,000 respondents. Conducted using Pollfish. Launched April 11, 2022.
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