Growing up, I remember a product named “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” as a promised healthier alternative to butter without compromising taste. Yet, for many, the flavor failed to live up to expectations. Fast forward to the present, and we encounter BetterHelp, along with similar therapy-esque websites like Talkspace (although, for simplicity, our focus will be on BetterHelp). BetterHelp takes on the role of today’s “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” positioning itself as a more cost-effective substitute for traditional therapy. While it markets itself as a therapy platform, the question persists: Can it genuinely provide the authentic experience of traditional therapy? Let’s delve into its pros and cons.
BetterHelp’s Progressive Approach
For decades, the conventional notion of therapy insisted on clients physically visiting a brick-and-mortar location for face-to-face sessions. Originating in the early 20th century, this model thrived in an era when in-person interactions were the sole means of obtaining information. However, with the technological strides made in the past thirty years or so, the potential for faster and more efficient connections has become apparent. Only recently have companies, like BetterHelp, capitalized on this, utilizing modern technology to revolutionize the landscape of therapy. It’s a transformative approach that brings us closer to a future where therapy transcends traditional formats through various devices.
Beyond leveraging modern technology, BetterHelp is reshaping the field in another crucial way. Traditionally, mental health has been viewed through the lens of healthcare treatment, rooted in a medical perspective where therapists prescribe solutions to fix mental “ailments.” This perspective, often perpetuated by therapists relying on funding from health insurance companies, contrasts with the belief of many therapists who see therapy as a foundation for human growth rather than a treatment for problems. BetterHelp breaks away from this by directly receiving income from clients, eliminating the need for dealings with cumbersome insurance companies.
BetterHelp’s financial model involves charging clients directly, typically on a weekly or monthly basis. Remarkably, the amount is often less than what individuals might pay as a copay. This financial approach not only provides a cost-effective option but also tackles a significant barrier to therapy—high insurance copays and deductibles. BetterHelp, by offering discounted rates, opens doors for a more extensive population to access mental health services.
Moreover, distancing itself from reliance on insurance companies transforms therapy from a “treatment” for specific issues to a service accessible to everyone. This shift normalizes the idea of seeking therapy, reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. Everyday individuals now sign up without feeling shame, as they join thousands benefitting from similar services. Additionally, BetterHelp’s scale and celebrity endorsements contribute to raising awareness of mental health, inadvertently demystifying and destigmatizing it. While it’s unclear if BetterHelp actively seeks to destigmatize, this positive consequence arises from its profit-driven marketing efforts.
BetterHelp Is Not Genuine Therapy
The allure of BetterHelp often lies in the promise of receiving therapy at a lower cost, packaged with immediate and flexible options like text, email, chat, and video sessions. It seems like a tempting deal – affordable and convenient. However, the real question should be whether this reduced cost ensures the same quality of therapy. The answer, in my view, is a resounding no.
Psychotherapists invest significant time and money in their training to provide the best therapy possible, and understandably, this comes at a cost. BetterHelp, however, relies on non-employee therapists who work as independent contractors and earn way less than they are worth. The salary contrast between these therapists and those in private practice is staggering, often amounting to just a fraction of the latter’s potential earnings. Typically, these therapists are fresh out of school, attempting to establish their careers or unable to work outside such platforms. As a result, they may not possess the same level of expertise as seasoned private therapists.
Choosing a lower-cost therapist may seem appealing, but experience is integral to effective therapy. The quality of therapy at BetterHelp is questionable, and it often doesn’t resemble therapy at all. These therapists may not be fully engaged in their own therapeutic work, potentially pressured by BetterHelp to generate more and more and more revenue for the company. This dynamic gives rise to the term “Mills” – entities that prioritize profit over the well-being of therapists, essentially treating therapists (and clients) as interchangeable commodities. While I might enjoy an occasional visit to my local Chinese buffet, I don’t expect a five-star meal or a pristine environment. The principle holds true here: you get what you pay for.
Even if BetterHelp had high-quality therapists providing genuine therapy, another significant flaw remains. The company heavily relies on tools like worksheets, which I consider to be subpar forms of therapy. Worksheets are a staple in certain therapy modalities, such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and CBT approaches. Yet, their use often reflects what I perceive as lazy therapy – a workaround for therapists who may feel uncertain or inadequate in what to do or work on with clients. Worksheets, whether or not created by the therapist, detach the human element from therapy, reducing it to a mechanical process. The therapist is no longer responsible for holding the mirror (the worksheet is the mirror), and the client isn’t responsible for doing actual reflection (just answer the worksheet questions). This approach sacrifices the essence of a therapeutic relationship, essential for fostering meaningful change.
Furthermore, therapy is fundamentally based on energy, not just content. BetterHelp’s text-based therapy options, lacking visual cues and the full spectrum of the real environment, raises concerns about its efficacy. Leaders at BetterHelp either lack a comprehensive understanding of effective therapy or simply disregard its crucial components.
In its attempt to revolutionize traditional therapy, BetterHelp has taken commendable strides, challenging the outdated norms of in-person meetings. Their broad marketing strategies, intentionally or not, have contributed to destigmatizing therapy and fostering a sense of normalcy around mental health—an achievement worthy of recognition.
However, the effectiveness of BetterHelp as a therapeutic platform comes into question. By relying on therapists willing to work for minimal compensation and emphasizing questionable therapeutic tools and connections, the service falls short of delivering what could be considered genuine therapy. This raises concerns about BetterHelp potentially taking advantage of individuals seeking cost-effective options, promising therapy but failing to deliver the authentic experience.
In drawing parallels to “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” BetterHelp is a product with the appearance of therapy but lacking the substance. Despite its semblance to genuine therapy, users may find themselves disappointed, realizing that the same investment could have been spent on fewer sessions with a private practice therapist, yielding lasting value. It’s a reminder that one’s mental health is a worthwhile investment, and opting for discounted products from large companies might not always result in the genuine support and growth that individuals deserve. Remember, you are worth the investment—choose quality over perceived discounts, especially with something as phenomenally important as your being.
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