New Mental Health Apps Reviewed: Wysa, Woebot, Joyable, and Talkspace

mental health app best for anxiety

A few months ago, I was asked by Healthline to review a handful of mental health apps for a story the team was working on. Well, that story is now live on the site. I thought that it might be interesting to share my original reviews for Wysa, Woebot, Joyable, and Talkspace, popular mental health apps on the market now. In addition to paying subscription fees, I was paid $150 to write these reviews (I like transparency around Beautiful Voyager money matters). So take a look at these 4 mental health app reviews and see if you agree with what I found.

Wysa

Cost: Free with In-App Purchases

At first, the differences between Wysa and Woebot were hard to spot. Both are chatbots with a cognitive behavioral focus. Both have daily check-ins. Both offer pre-filled answers to make the check-ins easier (which I appreciated).

 I like that the app has small moments of interactivity threaded through the experience.

I like that the app has small moments of interactivity threaded through the experience.

I also liked some of the interactions. To tell Wysa how you’re feeling every day, you slide the big yellow emoji face up and down. That felt fun and easy.

My interest in Wysa waned pretty quickly though. The app never seemed to know what time of day it was, and the constant presence of the little moon in the upper righthand corner of the screen became a small reminder of how rudimentary the bot really is.

I found Wysa’s requests for more information tiring. It kept pestering me to tell it more about how I was feeling without any examples of what it meant or why that would help me.

Gifs kept popping in at the wrong times and loaded slowly instead of automatically, the way gifs normally do, interrupting  any momentum that I may have been building during the check-in. I found the app’s humor cloying. It wasn’t able to read my signs...or my terse responses, which were a sign of annoyance.

How would you rate the apps user friendliness? Consider a person who is having a bad day (would they be likely to stick with it or are there aspects of it that would be too frustrating?)

I’d find Wysa too frustrating to stick with on a bad day. I’m not a big fan of being asked what I’m feeling constantly, especially without guidance about the scope of response desired. Open-ended questions stress me out. I felt like Wysa didn’t understand the mind of an anxious person. It sometimes created more stress in me to figure out how to chat with it.

  How does Wysa compare to in-person therapy? Better? Worse? How and why?  Definitely worse. The missteps were clear signs that I was chatting with a very imperfect chatbot. It made me lose interest quickly.

How does Wysa compare to in-person therapy? Better? Worse? How and why? Definitely worse. The missteps were clear signs that I was chatting with a very imperfect chatbot. It made me lose interest quickly.

If it needed to learn from me in order to improve, it didn’t make it clear what I needed to provide it to get to that improvement. It felt like I was throwing effort down into a well, and nothing new was coming out.

 What the easy toolkit access looks like.

What the easy toolkit access looks like.

What are the best features of Wysa (3 max)? Why are these features so helpful? Where do you feel it could use improvement (2 max)? Why do you feel this needs improvement?

Best

  1. Easy toolkit access to guided meditation and mindfulness activities helps offer a way to guide the chats in useful directions.

  2. Ability to “activate coach” (for a price) and chat anonymously with a coach who will guide you to the right tools.

  3. Pre-filled responses and fun little interactions to make chatting more fun.  

Worst

  1. Constant requests for more information without understanding why or how that helps me.

  2. Humor was a little cloying.

Woebot

Cost: Free

woebot review

Woebot’s a well-written chatbot. With pre-filled answers (see how the word “interesting” is right there for you to hit and keep going?) and guided journeys, it feels more like an interactive quiz or game than a chat.

 Woebot’s daily check-ins start with a question about where you are and what you’re doing, but unlike Wysa, it doesn’t push with open-ended prods. Instead, it asks you to choose a quick emoji that describes what you’re feeling. That’s simple enough.

 Over time, Woebot charts those emoji responses to help visualize trends, then shares that chart with you, allowing you to understand why you should bother checking in daily.

 I often used Woebot on my morning commute, and I found it easy to use in any environment—an advantage of any chatbot. The loud sounds on the train didn’t affect my morning check-in, and I could whip it out between meetings to have something positive to focus on.

How does Woebot compare to in-person therapy? Better? Worse? How and why?

Let’s look at the factors that make therapy difficult for some people: time and price. Both of those issues are removed when it comes to Woebot. Does that make Woebot better? No, but it certainly makes it easier.

On the advice of others,  I went to numerous therapists for varying periods of time over the course of my 20s and 30s. They were caring people, but they weren’t able to diagnose my true problem: Generalized Anxiety Disorder. (I was diagnosed by a neurologist in 2015.) It was the insight that anxiety was causing physical pain that helped me the most of all.

This is where the comparison between a chatbot like Woebot or Wysa and in-person therapy breaks down. If you’ve downloaded an app that describes itself as an: “emotionally intelligent chatbot who reacts to the emotions you express unlock tools to help with anxiety, stress, low mood, anger or sleep issues” (Wysa on the App Store) or a “choose-your-own-adventure mental health manual that gets more specific to your needs over time” (Woebot), you are likely already in the ballpark of knowing what is happening with you. Since that is more than half the battle, the bots can build on that understanding. In-person therapists, however, aren’t necessarily meeting people with that level of awareness, and as a result, they can cause accidental confusing digressions on the road to self awareness.  

 A trend chart can help me with a wider perspective on my moods.

A trend chart can help me with a wider perspective on my moods.

In other words: self-knowledge is the most important part of mental health growth, regardless of the format of the treatment. People at different stages of the journey, or with different needs, might find a chatbot more helpful than in-person treatment. I, however, preferred Joyable and Talkspace to Wysa and Woebot.

How would you rate Woebot’s user friendliness? Consider a person who is having a bad day (would they be likely to stick with it or are there aspects of it that would be too frustrating?)

I found Woebot friendlier than Wysa. To kickstart a habit change, chatbots feel more approachable than interacting with human beings: There is more control in starting and stopping a conversation. Ultimately, that same advantage is their downfall since being in control at all times makes truly shifting your mindshift a little harder.  

What are the best features of Woebot (3 max)? Why are these features so helpful? Where do you feel it could use improvement (2 max)? Why do you feel this needs improvement?

Best

  1. It shares well-timed information and doesn’t drag.

  2. Simple and clear. Woebot is easy to use. It would be easy to get into a morning routine of checking in, then seeing the trends could help me with a wider perspective on my moods.

  3. Woebot provides background around why sharing information with it can improve the experience. The why is important.

Worst

  1. It’s easy to lose interest when you’re using a chatbot. Just a few missteps in terms of responses, and you lose sight of why this is a good thing to be doing.

  2. Hard to remember the correct prompts to take you to the toolbox, etc. I found that I lost track of where my charts, etc were stored, and I forgot which word I was supposed to used to get me back to that home base.

Joyable

Cost: $99/month with a 7-day free trial

 Little example stories help illustrate the point at hand.

Little example stories help illustrate the point at hand.

I’ve been a fan of cognitive behavioral therapy since I found out when I was first diagnosed with generalized anxiety in 2015. I loved the idea of an affordable approach to  CBT and looked forward to giving this structured 2-month course a try (In fact, I ever created a poll for my Facebook followers back in 2016 to see if any of them had ever given it a try).

I liked the clarity of the approach: it’s intended to be just 8 weeks, so there’s no pressure to continue after it ends (The anxious people pleaser in me likes knowing how much time I’m signing up for, and how easy it is to cancel.)  And each week, a new themed course is “unlocked,” allowing me the chance to tackle a new set of cognitive-behavior related challenges.

In Joyable, check-ins are over the phone, lasting anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes once a week with a coach (coaches are not therapists, as you’re reminded numerous times in the app). I was assigned a very nice young female coach who explained the entire process to me—again, this was appreciated—and led me through what was expected of me. Her name, phone number, and email address were all easily accessible from the coach tab. I was even able to look her up on LinkedIn and confirm that she was who she said she was, which helped me quickly get over any misgivings I had about talking with a stranger on the phone.

 The basics of cognitive behavioral therapy, packaged in app form.

The basics of cognitive behavioral therapy, packaged in app form.

joyable review

How does Joyable compare to in-person therapy? Better? Worse? How and why?

I think that in-person cognitive behavioral therapy can be incredibly helpful for someone with generalized anxiety disorder, but it can also be stressful to dedicate the time and money without having a clear sense of progression, a challenge I’ve had with therapy in the past.

In this way, Joyable’s 8-week program is a great compromise for people who want to work on daily challenges without the heavier commitment of in-person therapy. At the same time, a 15-minute phone check-in with a coach won’t likely see the same results that an hour with an experienced cognitive behavioral therapist might.

How would you rate Joyable’s user friendliness? Consider a person who is having a bad day (would they be likely to stick with it or are there aspects of it that would be too frustrating?)

This is an area where Joyable really shines. The program itself feels very easy to navigate, yet polished in a way that puts very little pressure on the person using it. The app isn’t needy, nor are the coaches you check in with. It is straightforward in a soothing way. To me, that is the ideal kind of friendliness.

 Clear structure that helps orient you about where you are in the process.

Clear structure that helps orient you about where you are in the process.

What are the best features of Joyable (3 max)? Why are these features so helpful? Where do you feel it could use improvement (2 max)? Why do you feel this needs improvement?

Best

  1. Very clear structure which helps you understand what is expected of you and how to progress.

  2. Nice coaches who are also thoughtful people.

  3. The courses themselves are well-illustrated, and the design of the app is nice and clean.

Worst

  1. If you’re like me, and you already know the basics of CBT,  the app probably won’t help you tackle problems in a new way. It is great for beginners, though.

  2. If you don’t like talking on the phone, this app probably isn’t the one for you.

Talkspace

Cost: from $49 to $79 a week, depending on the plan

Talkspace has a longer sign-up process than the other apps I reviewed involving an initial intake process that lasts about a week and involves chatting with an “intake” therapist who asks basics questions about your past and needs.

talkspace review

Once your case has been handed over, you are presented with your therapist matches in the form of photos and bios. It’s up to you to choose a fit — it’s like a dating app, but for therapists.   

I always love to see what types of people I’m paired with in a situation like this. In this case, I was given all women in their 40s in my initial pass. I asked for “more options” just to see what that looked like, and was given a wider array of ages, as well as one man. I chose the man, and received my first voice text within a couple of days.

I liked the asynchronous approach of Talkspace. It allowed me to leave messages at times that worked for me, then check my therapist’s responses at my convenience. There were some technical issues with the app that caused some confusions and delays, but they were short-lived. The biggest issue is that my therapist seemed to have a cold for weeks on end. For one reason or another, I didn’t really get to connect with him much in the two weeks I used the app.

 Very clear onboarding is a big plus in my book.

Very clear onboarding is a big plus in my book.

How does Talkspace compare to in-person therapy? Better? Worse? How and why?

review of talkspace app

Talkspace has a lot of potential. Just like in-person therapy, much of its efficacy comes from the chemistry you have with the person you’re paired with. The asynchronous voice message / texting approach will work better for some people than others: I have enjoyed using other “voice memo” apps like Anchor in the past, so it worked well for me. I didn’t get a strong sense of the kind of impact the therapy might have on my anxiety since my therapist and I didn’t really get a chance to delve into that.

How would you rate the apps user friendliness? Consider a person who is having a bad day (would they be likely to stick with it or are there aspects of it that would be too frustrating?)

Talkspace doesn’t really have much scaffolding around it: It is just you talking to—or leaving messages for— a therapist. So the friendliness comes down to the person you’re paired with. My therapist had a friendly voice, and the control I had over how to engage with his messages felt friendly to me as well.

What are the best features of the app (3 max)? Why are these features so helpful? Where do you feel it could use improvement (2 max)? Why do you feel this needs improvement?

Best

  1. Real licensed therapists.

  2. The price isn’t bad!

  3. I liked hearing human voices, but being able to listen when I wanted to.

Worst

  1. As with in-person therapy, it can be hard to find the right therapist fit.

  2. Pesky technical difficulties can get in the way of exchanging messages.

All in all, I really appreciated the opportunity (and motivation) to try out these mental health apps and deepen my understanding of the new trends in this space. What about you?

Have you ever tried a mental health app and if so what did you think? Share your thoughts below.