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Why therapy apps are all talk


What makes therapy “work”? What encourages someone to open up, challenge themselves, and commit to change? It may depend on the approach your therapist takes, the rigor with which you interrogate your statements, the space you give you to feel difficult emotions. In any case, it will always involve care, trust and dedication. These are the essential elements that cultivate an environment in which people feel safe enough to overcome the discomfort of self-reflection, the conditions that allow them to explore and find material improvements in their lives.

Is there a way to get around these fundamentals and get the same results? That’s the solution proposed by BetterHelp, an online counseling service called the “Uber of therapy.” People can pay monthly or one-time fees to access thousands of online therapists through a single digital platform. Sessions are relatively inexpensive and can be booked just a few minutes in advance (cancellation carries only a small penalty). These meetings do not happen in person; They can be done via video call, but are often done by phone, text, or online group sessions.

BetterHelp has seen a surge in popularity over the past year and is now ubiquitous across Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok ads. As of 2023, it was the largest podcast sponsor in the United States. Their services (along with those of similar companies like Talkspace, Brightside Health or OnlineTherapy.com) seek to address a familiar problem. We are in a cost of living and mental health crisis (phenomena that are probably closely linked) and, with unaffordable prices and long waiting times on the NHS, talking therapies that are more affordable and immediately available, by qualified therapists, could offer a lifeline to many.

But despite the promise and popularity of therapy apps, there are downsides. While more affordable than many private therapists, typical sessions still cost between £50 and £80 and last just 30 to 45 minutes, down from the standard 50 minutes. For those who want urgent assistance without long waiting times, this can be a positive. But the quality of help offered can vary.

Beyond this, there are more serious accusations about the quality of therapy offered by some platforms. In November, a channel 4 Youtold documentary, I don’t trust my therapist, found that some online therapy users were receiving dangerous advice, such as one woman who claimed her therapist told her, after she described being raped by her partner, that she couldn’t be sexually assaulted if it was by someone she was in a relationship with. a a relationship with. She reported that the therapist had told her, “It’s not like someone climbed through your window and attacked you in the night.” Other former users have said that the short sessions led them to be They were quick to explain traumatic personal storiessuch as experiences of child abuse.

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Facilities/grounds management and maintenance
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The problems also affect therapists. Therapy apps often pay poorly compared to even the lower end of traditional therapy rates and have higher cancellation rates, without the commitment of a formalized relationship (and although BetterHelp charges the client a higher fee per session and cancellation, Therapists only see a small portion of that payment, most of it goes to the doctor. company). While there may be some unethical therapists who use these apps to make a quick buck, it seems likely that there are many more who genuinely want to help others, but who must deal with the inherent flaws of these platforms: flaws that are difficult to separate from the model. of business itself.

It is clear that these applications sell a different experience in theory than in practice, for both users and therapists. But the bottom line is that this form of talk therapy (cheap, quick, and requiring little commitment) is the antithesis of the way therapy help the people in most cases where it is effective. A few isolated conversations rarely solve a problem: it takes most clients months (many even years) to feel the effects of talking therapies. Like anything else that requires dedication, the benefits don’t come overnight. You can’t improve your long-term wellbeing by contacting a digital therapist for a one-off session in an acute moment of stress (although you’ll lose £80). That type of support is traditionally considered a crisis service, such as those offered by emergency departments or helplines such as Samaritans or Mind. But BetterHelp insists it is not a crisis service – a claim that seems to avoid the reality for many who might be using the platform.

There are more concerns about privacy. Last year, BetterHelp The United States Federal Trade Commission forced him to pay 7.8 million dollars to his clients. to resolve charges that it shared user data with social media sites such as Facebook and Snapchat – including email addresses and responses to personal health questionnaires – despite privacy commitments to its users. TO report published June 18 Consumer advocates in Australia urged the government to investigate whether BetterHelp had violated local privacy laws following its rapid expansion in the country.

In the UK, people are driven to these platforms by an inaccessible NHS, with waiting lists leaving many who need help months away from seeing a qualified therapist. In other countries, cuts to health services, as well as privatized health care, are having similar effects. There are huge incentives – and money to be made – to exploit this gap in the market. The rise of these applications is the logical conclusion of the decline in living standards.

But therapy platforms are motivated by profits, not results. The lucrative promise of quick-fix therapy is based on a fantasy of how the therapy works. The care that so many people desperately need cannot be provided through a business model based on convenience.

[See also: The death of the levelling-up dream]

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