This article is brought to you by the online therapy platform, BetterHelp…Okay, you got me, it’s not affiliated with BetterHelp. Labeled the ’uber of therapy’, BetterHelp’s target audience is “anyone who struggles with life’s challenges”. As a skeptic and an avid supporter of therapy, I’m torn. Can one platform claim to cater to everyone?
Before we begin to scratch the surface of the controversy surrounding BetterHelp, let’s start with the (somewhat concrete) facts:
To clarify, BetterHelp is not a service; it’s a platform for therapists to deliver their services, i.e. therapy. The platform does not provide therapy; it gives you access to an extensive list of accredited psychologists, therapists, social workers, and counsellors. As stated on the website, BetterHelp’s “mission” is to make ‘professional therapy accessible, affordable, and convenient’. You can start therapy within 48 hours and in the comfort of your home. The platform is also a much cheaper alternative: $60 per week as opposed to a usual counselling session, which is around $150.
“Some kind of corporate therapy delivery service”
Before you sign up, BetterHelp provides you with a questionnaire. In the name of research, I completed it and was actually really impressed. Questions ranged from why you were seeking therapy to your daily habits to specific preferences for your therapist. This included if you required a therapist of colour, from the LGBTQ+ community, or a Christian-based approach.
So far, so good? I may have spoken too soon. Next question: How was I referred to BetterHelp?
Personally, I’ve come across the most advertising for BetterHelp on podcasts. Select option. Click next. Which podcast? The drop-down list went on for longer than a school assembly. In December 2020 alone, BetterHelp spent over $7 million on 556 podcasts. Even more concerning? In Magellan’s monthly update, they reported ”the Mental Health industry” to have grown by 430% in 2020.
Is it unethical to advertise therapy to the masses? Not necessarily. However, it’s important to consider the type of people BetterHelp wants, in simple terms, to profit from. If you’ve ever struggled with your mental health, you’ll understand the desperate panic to find a solution. BetterHelp is a cheaper, quicker, and easier solution to all your problems. Thousands, if not millions, of vulnerable people, sign up hoping they’ve finally found an answer. They make for an extremely profitable market…
PewDiePie vs Dr Grande
Let’s travel back to 2018. Leopard print has made a comeback, your jeans go up to your ribcage, suddenly all your friends are vegan, and the MeToo movement has gone global. The question is, will you say Thank U, Next to BetterHelp? A battle was taking place in a small corner of YouTube: PewDiePie in the red corner and Dr Todd Grande in the blue. PewDiePie’s narrative was vehemently against BetterHelp. He delivered his punches by analyzing the platform’s terms and conditions. They’ve since been changed, but at the time, alarm bells started ringing.
’We… do not guarantee the verification of, the skills, degrees, qualifications, licensure, certification, credentials, competence or background of any counsellor.’BetterHelp, Terms and Conditions (2018)
PieDiePew passionately stated that because BetterHelp ‘do not guarantee the verification’ of their counselors, they take no responsibility for their services. Dr Grande fought back in the reassurance that across all companies, terms and conditions stood to limit a company’s liability. After speaking to Alon Matas, CEO of BetterHelp, Grande assured his audience that BetterHelp intends to background check every counselor. However, there will inevitably be errors in this process, and BetterHelp would rather not be sued if and when this happens.
He Said, She Said.
Anecdotal evidence is often said to be biased, fabricated, and inaccurate. But what’s therapy if it’s not about how someone feels? There are some BetterHelp success stories. Take one look at their website, and you can trawl through pages of five-star reviews. However, when I typed BetterHelp into YouTube, Reddit, and Twitter, I began to wonder if those experiences were too good to be true…
On YouTube, Nazra spoke honestly about her shocking experience with BetterHelp. She scheduled the first meeting with her assigned counselor. Next week, 3:30 pm. Prepared for the session. 2:30 pm… the therapist cancels. It’s okay; you can always reschedule! An hour before the next session (a whole week later), Nazra receives another cancellation message. It would be bad enough if this were just one person’s experience, but sadly, a lot of people feel the same about BetterHelp.
This Reddit thread gives a pretty balanced view of BetterHelp. Some individuals have had positive and potentially life-changing experiences; Others found it a little rocky but eventually reaped the benefits. However, for a few people, Better Help caused only stress and upset. Most concerning was a comment from a therapist (to be taken with a pinch of salt, as this can’t be verified).
I’m Watching You, Wazowski. Always Watching.
Therapy: a completely private conversation between therapist and client… and ‘third parties’. As stated in BetterHelp’s private policy:
‘We may.. disclose certain information to third parties… to personalise the website experience and to deliver content… relevant to individual interests, including targeted offers and ads. We may share your information with any subsidiaries or parent companies within our corporate group.‘BetterHelp, Private Policy
Yep, that’s right. Other companies can quite literally the third wheel on your “private” sessions, messages, and information. Perhaps you disclose to your counselor that you’re struggling with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. The next day, you’re tapping through Instagram stories, only to come across an advert for a light therapy lamp… funny that, isn’t it? Using data mining, BetterHelp can make money by helping its affiliate companies sell products to vulnerable people. It’s not looking good, BetterHelp.
Is there Better Help than BetterHelp?
If we take everything into account, BetterHelp could get much worse. First off, you can use this cheaper alternative to in-person therapy anywhere. If you’re assigned a professional, well-suited therapist, the chat function allows you to message them anytime outside your 30-minute weekly session. But, an entirely positive experience is rare. Success stories are a by-product of a platform that benefits more from providing therapy than those who receive it. I’d never discourage anyone from seeking counseling. However, I wouldn’t have BetterHelp at the top of my list.