A therapist from online provider BetterHelp reportedly told a 22-year-old gay patient to turn straight so he could reunite with his family
- BetterHelp matched a gay patient to a therapist who attempted conversion therapy, the WSJ reported.
- The company has prioritized growth. Some patients say they are dissatisfied with their care.
When Caleb Hill, a 22-year old gay man from Tennessee, sought online therapy with the platform BetterHelp after his conservative parents kicked him out of the house, he didn't expect to be told to change his sexual orientation.
But according to Hill, the therapist that online provider BetterHelp matched him with did exactly that. "He said either you sacrifice your family or you sacrifice being gay," Hill told The Wall Street Journal. "I needed someone to tell me I was gay and that was OK. I got the exact opposite."
While BetterHelp says it's provided beneficial online mental health services to more than three million clients, Hill is among several who said they had issues with the company, according to a recent investigation by the Journal.
BetterHelp, which is owned by publicly traded Teladoc Health, uses algorithms to match patients like Hill to therapists. However, many therapists on the platform aren't accepting new clients or have left the platform entirely, people familiar with the service told the Journal.
The company says it has 29,900 therapists; they're not employees, but independent contractors paid by the hour, the Journal reported. A BetterHelp spokeswoman told the Journal that the company pays more than the median for a licensed therapist in many places.
Amid the pandemic, BetterHelp, like many online mental-health providers, doubled down on growth. The company's ad budget was increased to hundreds of millions of dollars a year and it spent $64 million on podcast advertising alone during the first 10 months of 2022, according to estimates that the research firm Magellan AI gave the Journal.
At the same time, the company's process for training therapists is minimal, the Journal reported. A former clinical director at the company told The Journal that therapists were "treated like Uber drivers." The company told the Journal it goes thorough background checks and also relies on state licensing boards, which certify therapists.
Meanwhile, digital mental health startups are a growth area, especially as telehealth has skyrocketed during the pandemic: They received an influx of $4.8 billion in investment over the last year, research and investment firm Rock Health told the Journal.
But providers have had challenges: Cerebral, another online therapy platform that rode the pandemic wave, laid of 20% of its employees in October and has since made plans to slow growth, Insider reported. It's now facing federal investigations regarding its prescriptions of stimulants to patients. Done Global Inc. is also up against a Justice Department investigation based upon The Journal's reporting that its clinicians felt pressured to prescribe stimulants for ADHD.
A spokesperson for BetterHelp told Insider by email: "We firmly stand behind the high-quality service provided at BetterHelp, both in successful therapist matching and ongoing care." The company said 85% of its clients who do their first session continue on with other sessions.
Meanwhile, the therapist who was assigned to Hill's case declined to discuss the issue with the Journal, citing what he said was patient confidentiality. BetterHelp also declined to comment to the Journal specifically on Hill's case. He had requested an LGBTQ counselor, but the site didn't match him with one, according to the WSJ.
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