The Dark Side of BetterHelp: Commercializing Mental Health

BetterHelp has emerged as a major player, promising to assist people in navigating the depths of their emotional battles. With a network boasting over 23,000 certified therapists and helping more than 2.5 million users, BetterHelp’s success seems unquestionable, backed by an impressive 100,000 app store reviews with an average rating of 4.8.

However, beneath the surface of their clearly altruistic mission lies a disturbing reality: the relentless pursuit of profits and the decline of doctor-patient privilege. In this questioning, we delve into the darker aspects of BetterHelp’s operations.

Selling Out: Data Privacy Concerns

The Dark Side of BetterHelp: Commercializing Mental Health

In the realm of data privacy, ethical considerations often overshadow legal ones. Major tech giants like Google and Meta have raised ethical eyebrows with their data collection practices, even though they are typically within the bounds of the law. BetterHelp, on the other hand, paints a diverse picture.

While buried deep within their fine print, BetterHelp vaguely acknowledges the possibility of data sharing, and they consistently reassure customers of their commitment to privacy. Phrases like “Rest assured, any information provided in this questionnaire will stay private between you and your counselor” permeate the platform’s messaging. However, this wasn’t the only issue.

In 2020, research exposed BetterHelp’s apparent sharing of therapist discussion metadata with Facebook. Essentially, Facebook was privy to users’ therapy session timings, locations, and durations. When confronted, Better Help remained tight-lipped. One might have expected them to halt data sharing at this point, but recent reports suggest they may have intensified their efforts.

According to a March 2023 FTC report, BetterHelp is accused of sharing health information from over 7 million users on Facebook, Snapchat, and Pinterest. Even sensitive health questionnaires, inquiring about issues like overwhelming sadness and thoughts of self-harm, were not spared. The motivation? To retarget users with BetterHelp advertisements. This data-driven strategy allegedly generated millions in additional revenue, contributing to BetterHelp’s first billion-dollar year.

The punishment for these actions is a mere $7.8 million, to be repaid to impacted users. Strikingly, BetterHelp never admitted wrongdoing, defending their actions as “industry-standard practice.” Shockingly, other online therapy platforms like Cerebral were found to engage in similar data-sharing practices, suggesting a systemic issue within the industry. Consequently, the FTC is focused on broader enterprise reform instead of exclusively punishing BetterHelp.

Mental Health Reform: FTC’s Suggested Resolutions

The FTC has proposed six critical reforms that BetterHelp and similar platforms must adopt:

Expanding the Meaning of Health Information

The FTC argues that supplemental details, such as email addresses and metadata, should be treated as health details when used in the context of mental health venues. This expanded description aims to protect user data more thoroughly.

Implementing Policies for Data Protection

BetterHelp is accused of lacking written policies and procedures for safeguarding health information, as well as inadequately training and supervising employees with access to such data. The FTC mandates the creation of these policies and procedures and the requirement of explicit user consent before data sharing.

Annihilating Deceptive Designs

Online therapy platforms often use misleading designs that mislead users about data privacy. The FTC demands greater transparency regarding data collection and sharing practices, aiming to bridge the gap between user expectations and reality.

Clarifying Encryption’s Limitations

Encryption is often equated with data security. However, if commodities like Facebook possess both encrypted data and decryption keys, user data may be protected but not private. The FTC urges platforms to enlighten users about these nuances.

Active Monitoring of Data Sharing

Venues must assume a proactive role in monitoring what data their promotion partners manage and share, ensuring that user data remains safeguarded.

Preventing Misleading Advertising

The FTC will forbid platforms from misleadingly using certain seals and certificates in their advertising. Such practices, as seen with BetterHelp’s use of the term HIPAA, can deceive users about the platform’s credibility.

The Challenge of Online Therapy

The proliferation of online therapy, especially amidst the pandemic, can be attributed to its convenience. However, the important question remains: does online therapy truly correspond to in-person counseling? The answer, beyond a suspicion, grows beyond clinical results.

Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp face a significant drawback – they do not accept health insurance. Consequently, users bear the full financial burden of therapy, even though BetterHelp maintains relatively affordable pricing at $60 to $90 per week. Opting for in-person therapy covered by insurance may offer superior care for the same cost.

Furthermore, in-person clinics generally provide higher-quality care, partly due to the distinction between psychologists and psychiatrists. BetterHelp exclusively employs psychologists and lacks support for psychiatrists. Psychiatrists, having undergone medical training, possess the expertise to diagnose and prescribe medication. This crucial differentiation may go unrecognized by many BetterHelp users, highlighting the potential effects of the therapy’s commercialization.

Why does BetterHelp share personal user data with Meta?

Well, to reach as many people as possible and make as much money as possible.

Why does BetterHelp have arguably misleading promotional material?

Well, to reach as many people as possible and make as much money as possible.

Why do BetterHelp users not know the difference between psychologists and psychiatrists?

Well, because in BetterHelp’s pursuit of reaching as many users as possible and making as much money as possible, talking about services that they don’t offer isn’t exactly in their best interest.

So, why is BetterHelp dangerous?

Well, because they’re commercializing therapy like never before, and that naturally comes along with a bunch of side effects. 


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