Receiving therapy online is a gift bestowed on us by advances in technology. We can now choose a therapist from anywhere in the world and benefit from quality therapy to suit our busy schedules.
It is no surprise, therefore, that platforms dedicated purely to connecting therapists and their clients have been growing in popularity over the past 10 years. Some well-known names are Talkspace, BetterHelp, Cerebral and Online-therapy.com.
While each of these platforms are different, sometimes specialising in one type of treatment over others and all with different functionalities as well as operational and privacy policies, they all have one thing in common: these platforms offer a service, bridging the gap between the demand for therapy and the provision of therapy virtually.
In fact, one would say that their mission is noble and has brought more attention to mental health and much needed support, helping many people, especially during the pandemic.
They also provide another outlet for Therapists in private practice, giving them the chance to reach more clients and increase their income.
A closer look at BetterHelp
BetterHelp is one of the leading online therapy platforms. They are based out of the United States and are available worldwide making virtual therapy accessible to many in secluded spots. They come up on first page of google for online Therapy, are listed as favourites on several best online therapy lists such as Forbes and are advertised in various locations – Podcasts, Search engines, YouTube. BetterHelp has helped many and at a first glance things are looking good.
However, unfortunately for BetterHelp users, all that glitters is not gold. Just earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission in the US raised concerns over data privacy.
According to the FTC, the company’s standard privacy statement did not reflect the reality of the usage of client information, and it should have instead read, “Rest assured – we plan to share your information with major advertising platforms, including Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo, and Pinterest.”
You can read the full report on the FTC business blog here. What the FTC has done is to propose an order to ban BetterHelp from revealing consumers´ data to third party advertisers and the ruling is still pending. So, in the meantime, what does this mean for people looking for online therapy?
Here are a few things about BetterHelp that you should consider:
1. Data privacy:
No one would like their private information to be shared, especially their mental health information. Just this week, when signing up to BetterHelp, we were asked highly sensitive questions regarding:
- having suicidal thoughts - relationships with people around us - sexual orientation - medication - current state of mind - religious beliefs - therapy history (have you been in therapy before) Now imagine major advertising platforms having access to that!
2. Limited Session length:
Sessions last at most 45 mins on BetterHelp. Sometimes a therapist may prefer a more extended session to work with you more thoroughly. Unfortunately, this is not possible at the moment on this platform.
3. No discovery calls
Having a call to get to know your therapist is a common thing. With BetterHelp your therapist is assigned automatically using the answers you give in your initial questionnaire. You may choose your own therapist but it is not a link that is very prominent on the platform. You will have to search for it. You are allowed to change therapists and can do so on your dashboard or through customer service, but it just means the process takes a bit longer. You will also be choosing the therapist from the profile they have uploaded to the platform; basically, an extended CV. No chance for a conversation. Your first call with them will be a paid one, as you need to pay BetterHelp before using the platform. Having said that, sometimes BetterHelp has run special offers that may offer you free trial access for a limited time.
4. Affordable therapy for you
BetterHelp provides affordable therapy. It is generally not covered by health insurance providers, private or public, but it gives clients who need to pay less an option to have convenient therapy when the cost may have been prohibitive. This goes hand in hand with shorter sessions.
But what does this mean for therapists? It is a low pay structure, with limited refunds for cancellations. It encourages higher caseloads for therapists to make a decent living at the end of the week. Considering that many therapists have spent considerable time and money getting the exact qualifications they need to offer you excellent care, the compensation leaves a lot to be desired. Remember that only a part of what you pay BetterHelp per week makes it to your therapist.
The reflection above is only considering the reality of using BetterHelp. As said earlier, not all online therapy platforms are the same. They do have different policies and structures, so it pays to investigate each of them individually to see which one would be a fit for you.
Is there an alternative route to online therapy?
It is important to remember though, that while BetterHelp and similar platforms offer a convenient service online, they are not the only choice you have.
Many private therapists, counsellors and coaches offer these virtual services directly. They run virtual sessions, allow you to book online, communicate by emails
and some even send you SMS reminders before sessions.
Additionally, many offer Single Session Therapy that can also be affordable and give excellent results. This may be the therapy option that you need at this moment in your life so do contact private therapists online directly to find out more.
They often offer calls where you can get to know them, how they work and see if they are the right fit for you. Thus, you can choose a therapist you like from the beginning. Their sessions may be longer, allowing you to cover more ground each time you meet.
Most importantly, private therapists can be counted on to take client data privacy seriously as they are required to do so by law to retain their license and they are bound by local laws and codes of ethics.
But how do you find them? Try searching with specific terms. We tried “online private couple therapy Newcastle UK” and we found a few options. Be ready to check out the first 10 pages of search results as this will give you more choice. A lot of space on search engine pages are given over to ads, and feature the big online therapy platforms. Simply dig a little further. Be mindful that many private therapists, though on google do not have money for ads as these big platforms do, so spend 10 mins scrolling through to come up with a pool of practitioners to choose from.
Technology has made it possible for us to receive therapy online. Big online therapy platforms have made this accessible and popular.
Although not generally talked about, many private therapists are also offering virtual therapy, counselling and coaching directly to their clients and there are many advantages to this.
It is now it’s up to you, to have a think and decide, is BetterHelp the best possible way you can receive therapy virtually?
FTC CASE SUMMARY: https://www.ftc.gov/legal-library/browse/cases-proceedings/2023169-betterhelp-inc-matter