BetterHelp: The highs and lows of online therapy
By Rosemary De Souza, Features Editor
As awareness of mental health issues rise, several services, programs and accommodations have been developed to aid individuals in need. But that isn’t enough.
For many of us, it can be difficult to discuss our worries and fears or consider that someone may be able to help us understand the problems we face. Busy schedules can minimize time slots we can dedicate to a counsellor, psychiatrist, best friend or mentor.
With internet and virtual applications playing a dynamic role in addressing social issues, it’s no wonder technology has begun to fill the support gap for individuals navigating mental health issues.
Online programs like BetterHelp provide a potential solution.
The online counselling app allows mobile or laptop users to connect to a counsellor anywhere, at any time. Although advances in technology bring us together and make life easier in a lot of ways, there are setbacks that come with the nature of technology and an online world that sometimes makes our traditional methods seem better.
BetterHelp is one app that strives to change the way therapy has been done after founder and president, Alon Matas, realized how difficult it is finding help in today’s day and age.
“I was surprised to find out that most people who need help are actually not getting it,” says Matas to the Huffington Post. “Many people don’t like the way therapy is delivered, and when you add the challenges of cost, stigma and convenience, they stay away from traditional face-to-face counselling even when they can definitely use professional help.”
“Therapy can be life-changing,” he says, adding that the resource is under-utilized — a reason he sought to find a solution.
How does the app work?
When signing up for the service, you will be directed to fill out a short questionnaire that gives BetterHelp an idea of some issues you would like to address. From there you will be matched with a licensed therapist who fit your interests and the type of issues you face.
According to the website, all counsellors with BetterHelp are accredited psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists with a masters or doctorate degree and have at least three years and 2,000 hours of hands-on experience.
Once you have been matched, you can either opt to change your counsellor or start communicating with them via text messages, live chat, over-the-phone conversations or video conferencing. The choice is entirely yours.
The online counselling app, however, does charge a flat membership fee that accounts for unlimited counselling. That way there is no need to worry about how often you connect to your counsellor.
Anonymity is another option the service provides for users. The app does not ask for your name or contact information, rather users can give the system a nickname and emergency contact information that can be used when the user is in danger.
One way to gain traction and increase awareness among social media users is through positive reviews coming from popular YouTubers.
According to a report by Polygon, Bobby Burns, Elle Mills, Philip DeFranco, Heath Hussar, Boogie2988, Shane Dawson and ChandlerNWilson all have videos sponsored by the app. This has caused BetterHelp to gain traction, “despite the app not being exactly what the creators are touting.”
“ChandlerNWilson told his viewers the app was full of psychologists who could help people going through a tough time,” cites Polygon reporter, Julia Alexander. “Gabbie Hanna used the word ‘professional’ to talk about the mental health experts available to talk to people.”
But with further research, Alexander discovers there is a lot more to the app’s story.
Despite what they claim on their website, the BetterHelp Terms and Conditions stated: “We do not control the quality of the Counselor Services and we do not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service as well as whether a Counselor is categorized correctly or matched correctly to you.” Alexander continues citing that the document also says, “While we may try to do so from time to time, in our sole discretion, you acknowledge that we do not represent to verify, and do not guarantee the verification of the skills, degrees, qualifications, licensure, certification, credentials, competence or background of any Counselor.”
“It is your responsibility to conduct independent verification regarding any Counselor that provides you with Counselor Services (whether through the Platform or not) and we strongly recommend that you will conduct this verification prior to communicating with any Counselor through the Platform and on a continuous basis as you use the Platform,” Alexander quotes from the Terms and Conditions.
However, many of these conditions are no longer a part of BetterHelp’s terms of service, as the document was last updated on Oct. 4, 2018 — the same day Alexander released her report on the Terms and Conditions previously updated in July 2016.
After several reports surfaced on the app’s deceiving messaging, social media users were quick to call out the platform along with its YouTube endorsers and in less than a week Matas responded.
The app’s response
In a lengthy article with the Medium, Matas denies all accusations of fraudulent activity and says that therapists are heavily vetted. The disclaimer of limited liability for counsellors’ credentials in BetterHelp’s terms of service is similar to other service providers, according to Matas.
He implies that asking the app’s users to verify their own counsellors does not mean they have not been verified by BetterHelp.
“Only about 15 per cent of therapists who apply to work with us work at BetterHelp,” Matas tells Polygon. “We don’t accept interns, either.”
While technology has immense potential, it is important to remain critical and skeptical of digital trends. Although not a groundbreaking revelation, the prominence of social media service providers can make this easy to forget.
The future of BetterHelp remains unclear with many questions still unanswered.
As for other service providers out there, don’t assume we won’t read your Terms of Service.