Written by Hafsa Saleemi,
9 Minute Read
Medically reviewed by:
Erin O'Callaghan, PHD
Director of Therapy
10 Minute Read
Starting therapy takes courage. For many people, discussing personal experiences with a professional might feel challenging at first, but it’s often a helpful, worthwhile step in getting mental health support.
When we built Brightside’s therapy program, we didn’t simply replicate traditional therapy in a virtual environment. We improved upon the member-provider encounters and treatment delivery to help people get more effective, higher quality care from compassionate licensed therapists. We took a similar approach when building our psychiatry plan. As a result, Brightside members can access medication or therapy; when engaged in both, individuals can experience up to 60% higher recovery rates than through one treatment alone.
Brightside therapy consists of four main elements: strong adherence to evidence-based approaches; measured, goal-oriented treatment plans; care that is both structured and personalized; and a supportive, sustainable environment for both therapists and members.
“Effective therapy/treatment your way is the best way! 10/10 would recommend Brightside.” – Joe D., Brightside member
Open-ended talk therapy can be ineffective, tiring, and expensive. To help people feel better faster, and stay that way longer, we knew Brightside therapy needed to adhere to evidence-based approaches, while remaining engaging and cost-effective.
To achieve that, we designed a therapy program based on the Unified Protocol (UP), a modern enhancement of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and trained our thoroughly vetted, licensed therapists on its delivery to ensure high-quality care.
Created by Dr. David Barlow and a team of researchers at Boston University, the UP combines elements of mindfulness, cognitive therapy, and behavioral therapy to achieve superior results: people are more likely to complete treatment with the UP. While CBT often focuses on replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, our therapy program follows a realistic, time-bound approach centered around having emotional awareness, practicing flexibility, preventing avoidance, and taking action. Ongoing sessions are personalized to members’ needs and accompanied by a 10 lesson program that teaches key skills—all supported by caring licensed therapists with a master’s level degree or higher.
As Dr. Steven Lucero, associate director of therapy at Brightside, explains, “The Unified Protocol breaks down how we’re practicing evidence-based services and therapy into manageable, engaging steps for members. First, we start with goal setting, then we learn about emotions and thoughts and all the different pieces of the lens through which we can view the member’s concerns.”
This helps members understand how their thoughts and emotions are impacting them. Then, therapists support members in making small, effective changes. Dr. Lucero says:
We can learn to take small achievable steps to pick up some wins along the way. Initially, a concern like depression can feel so big and overwhelming, clouding everything. Over time, we can learn to take some reasonable actions. For example, you could exercise with a friend or take your dog for a walk at a nearby park. Instead of feeling like you’re not making any progress with this depression, this anxiety, or whatever the concern is, you can see that you’re making manageable progress on this much larger goal of getting a handle on it.
Besides being effective and engaging, multiple studies suggest the UP also has more clinical, practical, and cost-effective advantages. The UP is transdiagnostic, meaning it works across various conditions, making it an ideal fit for many people who experience co-occurring mental health conditions. The skills they learn apply across anxiety, depression, and a myriad of related disorders. At Brightside, we took this a step further by standardizing the key skills in videos: this reduces cost, ensures everyone is receiving comprehensive education and allows members to go back and review their lessons.
“I love how attentive my therapist and provider are to my needs for medication changes and also for my feelings. When I fill out my assessments they are both always there to check in on me, whether I’m feeling better or worse with my mental health. I will definitely be continuing using them and will also recommend them to anyone needing someone to talk to or help with their mental health.” – Jay J., Brightside member
Therapy at Brightside isn’t forever. To help ensure timely progression, we’re committed to measurement-based care. This enables therapists to track member progress and outcomes, and it allows for prompt intervention—when used with technology like automated provider alerts, it ensures people are getting the care they need faster. Measuring also improves efficiency and reduces cost over time: a member can be directed to higher clinical care like psychiatry if the need arises or, as symptom levels decrease, therapists and members can discuss a plan for applying their new skills even after treatment ends.
When a member starts therapy, our licensed therapists work with them to understand their unique needs and set realistic aims. Throughout the program, members track their progress with check-ins and receive guidance as they practice skills to reduce their symptoms and achieve their goals. Sometimes, members aren’t sure what their goals for therapy are, and that’s okay. Our therapists help by asking questions to understand their challenges and how they are impacting relationships, work, and well-being. By learning what is important to the member, they can work together to define their values and objectives. Dr. Lucero explains the next steps:
Now, we can understand your values are here, but your life is currently right here. There may be a discrepancy. Our goal as therapists is to try to alleviate that discrepancy so that you can feel that you are living a more value-driven life, that those values are at the forefront of your decisions.
I can then bring my expertise in evidence-based practice like the Unified Protocol to bear in terms of alleviating that discrepancy. So, we can get closer and closer to aligning how you’re currently living your life and your personal values.
Throughout treatment, Brightside uses online check-ins which consist of two clinical assessments, the PHQ-9 and GAD-7, to measure present depression and anxiety levels. The results are surfaced to the member and provider so they both can stay informed and track treatment progress, with the objective of achieving remission—scores lower than 10 on both scales.
Our data shows that within 12 weeks, 86% of Brightside members experience clinically significant improvement (a score decrease of 5 or more on PHQ-9, 4 or more on GAD-7) and 71% achieve remission of symptoms altogether. We continuously monitor these outcomes to ensure high-quality mental health care for every member.
Structured and personalized
“Brightside has been an incredible experience. My psychiatrist is attentive and aims to pinpoint the best treatment for my circumstances, and my therapist is a genuine, non-judgmental sounding board. Her insights are invaluable. I’m so glad I chose to do this.” – Hannah C., Brightside member
Brightside therapy is both structured and personalized. We train our licensed therapists on our unique program and have each member follow standardized video lessons that impart key skills, with opportunities to practice and apply those techniques in their daily life.
An important part of any therapeutic relationship is the connection between provider and member. Our national network of licensed therapists is carefully selected to provide empathetic care and treat every individual as a person, not a patient. Dr. Lucero explains why it’s important to take into account the whole person:
Most people’s lived experiences aren’t clear-cut—just experiencing depression and nothing else. They’re co-occurring. We personalize therapy by trying to better understand the person within the context of their environment. Each of us brings a whole host of intersectional identities. All of us are these very complicated people that bring 10 or 20, and probably unlimited identities, to bear in our work in therapy.
The therapist’s role is to try to understand what happens at the intersection of each one of these identities and how that influences our approach to treating depression or anxiety with evidence-based practice like the Unified Protocol: understanding how we can best help apply effective treatment to who you are and the history of how you’ve related to this depression, anxiety, or another concern previously.
Members meet with their therapist in 30-minute virtual sessions to discuss how they’re feeling, as well as any challenges they’re facing. As members advance and make progress, their therapist releases supplemental interactive video lessons that provide opportunities for practice and reflection. Between sessions, members refer back, complete practice activities, and message their therapist with any questions. The skills, responses, and check-in results are then discussed and reviewed by their therapist in subsequent sessions, creating an ongoing collaborative partnership between the therapist and member.
The Brightside therapy program is generally designed to be completed in 12 to 16 weeks, though the timeline may change depending on the member’s personal progress and guidance of their therapist. Once complete, Brightside members apply their newly-honed skills to live independent, value-driven lives.
“The combination of medication and therapy in a convenient online format is beneficial for my busy life. For the first time in years, I think everything will be alright.
– Ilazabeth S., Brightside member
In order to improve access to high-quality therapy, our care must remain sustainable. We’ve developed a top-tier provider network by selecting expert therapists and ensuring they have the support, supervision, and tools they need to be successful. Our community empowers providers in a supportive environment with balanced caseloads, training, resources, and opportunities for case consultations and connections with peers. As Dr. Lucero puts it:
I think what makes Brightside such a great environment is the flexibility and independence that we have in approaching our schedules. The benefit is for both therapists and members alike—members are able to choose their therapist based on their availability, with the peace of mind of knowing that they’re going to be working with somebody whose schedule matches what they want from therapy.
Additionally, some members started therapy with Brightside because they were unwilling to do therapy in person and felt like that was too much for them. This has been such a great transition for them to be able to explore therapy and access effective treatment from a place where they feel most comfortable.
Brightside members can access care from anywhere that works for them, and therapists can provide care from a confidential, private office.
To make our care more sustainable for members, we’re also committed to partnering with health insurance plans to help lower individual costs. Currently, Cigna and Aetna health plans cover Brightside, and we’re in active discussions with other large national and state-level payers. Members can also always access our care directly.
If you would like to learn more about Brightside therapy, visit here for more information about our plan or here to meet some of our licensed therapists. Have a question? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.