- Neil Colvin
Just When You Thought BetterHelp (BH) Couldn't Get Slimier
Updated: Feb 27
Shedding some light on yet another unethical approach
I'm a pro-therapist business owner with an eye for figuring out how things work so that I can make them better. I built Thera-Fi so that the clinicians can have a career that basically takes care of them for the rest of their working lives. I actually built it with my sister in mind. She realized that once she goes through several college programs, she'll have a masters degree and make right around 50% of what she currently makes with just cutting hair - that's heartbreaking. I looked into it and realized that the revenue is there but the money is usually funneled to the owner or their investors. Well, that was an easy decision point. I built out Thera-Fi... kind of like the big companies like the one in this headline but the key difference is that most of the money goes back to the clinician instead of investors or any other entity that they owe money to. But there's one thing that really pisses me off: The fact that companies like BH are capitalizing on people's vulnerability by making promises they know can't be kept. You see this sort of thing all the time on social media platforms like YouTube or Reddit, where people make comments about needing help but don't actually have any intention of getting it (and then post it publicly). And now BH is doing the same thing with its ads on those sites! They also hired influencers to claim that they were receiving their services and "forgot" to mention that it was a paid advertisement. Well, they supposedly cleaned up their act by posting that those were paid for advertisements and moved on.... Or so we thought.
For those who aren't familiar:
BH is an online therapy service that has gotten a ton of press lately for its unethical marketing, targeting ads at YouTube viewers with low self-esteem, and offering lengthy free trials. It's not as bad as it sounds if you're paying for the service; but if you're getting stuck with fees because your therapist didn't accept your cancellation request on time or whatever else happens when an app does shady stuff—that's another story.
If you're considering becoming a BH client, you may be wondering if it's the right choice. Here are some things to consider:
Is this company legitimate?
Are they selling therapy services or just marketing services?
Do they have any therapists on staff who can actually provide treatment to clients or are they all just contracted workers?
What does the fine print on their website say? I read it and boy were there a lot of asterisks to point out their claims may not be typical or a list of rebuttals to their own comments. Don't kill the messenger here. They change up their website frequently so just take a look at the fine print to get an idea of their latest issues.
The latest scheme: Caredash (CD) has been scraping therapists' info off of the internet and creating a bogus listing with their information.
Ok... so what? Well, they create the list and oftentimes, the info is incorrect. Correct or incorrect, if the therapist didn't sign up for this listing service, it doesn't matter because it isn't built out to help the therapist. It was created to help BH and we'll get to that point in a moment. But let's go down their rabbit trail just a little more. CD didn't let the therapist know that they were now on CD's website. And if a therapist were to find out that they were on the listing, they couldn't close out the profile and they couldn't make any corrections because CD didn't build that list for them. So what happens if a potential client is looking on line for a therapist and clicks on a specific therapist's profile on CD's listings. Well, they get redirected. They get redirected and not to the therapist that they chose but to BH's website instead.
It's hard to believe that someone at BH didn't realize what was happening. After all, this sort of stuff happens all the time online—and not just with ads for online therapy services. Do you remember how Facebook started displaying ads for credit cards in your feed? Or how YouTube videos were being used as propaganda by Russian hackers? These things happen because human beings can be really shady people and when it comes to money, you don't have to look very far in the history of anything to find a dumpster fire full of unethical practices just to make a few extra bucks.
Even if it weren't intentional on their part, they still benefit from this behavior.
Even if you don't think BH is being intentionally slimy, the fact remains that their business model still benefits from this behavior. After all, if the therapist doesn't want their misinformation on CD, they now login, claim their profile and update their data points - giving away more information than they intended to. And don't forget that both companies (BH and CD) had to sign contracts to do business with each other and to agree on compensation. They are not the only tech company to do this in order to boost revenue and profits, either. In fact, doing so has become a common practice for many companies across all industries as they seek out ways to monetize their services.
The bottom line is that this problem isn't going away any time soon; it's one of those things we're going to have to deal with until we can figure out how to fix it or find some way around it. So what do we do? Possibly class action suits. Remember, this is all done for profits so if it isn't a financially viable solution, then perhaps they'll abandon the practice and find another avenue to exploit.
There are people out there who are genuinely trying to help others but BH and CD are not counted among them.
If you need help and want to talk to a therapist, don't be fooled by the promises that their site makes. If you're feeling depressed or anxious, please seek out a real licensed professional with proper training and experience in mental health issues. Don't trust companies that promise to help you for free—they almost never have your best interests at heart. It's important not only to consider what kind of person runs this business but also how they've behaved in the past when it comes time for clients (who are also people) to decide whether they should be trusted with their money and their personal information.
What to take away from all of this.
The thing about BH is that it makes me wonder if anyone (in the near future) will be able to truly escape their influence. The company has been pumping about $7 million dollars annually into their advertising efforts, and it seems like every time they get bad press or something else goes wrong, they come back with a new shady business model. It isn't hard to offer an ethical service but it seems that when you have company full of leaders focused on unethical scheme after unethical scheme (focused on ripping of clients and then taking advantage of clinicians that work for them or have nothing to do with them), it is only a matter of time before we see a major collapse and watch the cockroaches scatter when the media starts uncovering issue after issue. In the meantime, if you are a potential client, don't be fooled by the hype promising you a better life and saving you from yourself.
Look at your options, ask questions, and use common sense. If you can't talk with the therapist or the owner of the clinic before signing up, well then those are gatekeepers put in place to minimize the chance that you leave before getting a credit card. If you're looking for a therapist, ask for referrals from people you trust, do research on them and make sure they are licensed in your state.