Mental Health is not a commodity
It’s the first thing you see when you search for a therapist on Google: ads for BetterHe|p, Talk-space, Almá, Heàdway. To the unknowing patient/client consumer, why not click on the link and use this low-cost online platform to obtain mental health services? To those of us in the profession, we understand and know better.
A carrot is a carrot. There are different types of carrots, but they all do the same job. Mental health, on the other hand, is not a commodity. Mental health is not the same regardless of where you obtain services, and obtaining services from tech-owned companies is not the same as from your local, practitioner-owner small private practice.
Even during first phone calls, many prospective clients will ask our thoughts on these platforms, their voices full of hesitancy, and for good reason. Some have heard rumblings about other client’s poor experiences seeing a therapist through these platforms, some have heard how disliked these platforms are by those in the field, and now these companies are making headlines for mounting concerns about privacy violations and unscrupulous practices.
Now, let us be clear: there are excellent clinicians on those platforms. The trouble is most of these platforms lure well-intentioned therapists into positions based on deceitful practices (promising exceptionally high pay, without mentioning how many clients and hours would need to be worked to actually earn such pay and constantly attempting to poach therapists from small private practices). Most clinicians who take the leap eventually find that their pay is nowhere near what was promised, and that they are working nonstop to even come close to a living wage. This leads to high turnover, and therefore poor client care. And where do those clinicians go? Back to a local practice, where integrity and client privacy/confidentiality is honored, and pay is commensurate with experience, specialization, and the work being performed.
The same companies lure unsuspecting prospective clients into paying for their services, by attracting them to the idea of obtaining low-cost mental health treatment. After all, if they weren’t priced so low, most people would look past those virtual platforms and head directly to their local therapist’s office. The question you have to ask yourself is: if I’m not paying much for my services, who is taking the hit? Surely it’s not the massive tech company, but it’s your therapist. Who also surely will not stick around very long once they realize they are highly underpaid and overworked.
How we got here
While some of these companies have been around for several years, and likely started out with good intentions, overtime they have been bought out by larger companies only focused on profits. COVID-19 really spawned not only the current mental health crisis, but a seemingly easy way for tech companies to capitalize on people’s need for help. As the world went virtual, tech companies and financiers realized that they could venture into a market (that they have little to no knowledge of) and make a big buck. Thanks to being backed by massive funding sources, these tech companies have used high marketing budgets to pay for ads and rise to the top of the Internet search, and trick genuine people looking for help into paying for their services.
They may appear to be first on the list (even though it is always notated as an ad), but this does not mean they are first in quality or services.
Small, local practices will always rise above in client experience, therapist consistency and continuity of care, opportunities for in person (traditional) therapy, and honoring your rights to privacy. But when it comes to your standard Google search, small practices simply cannot compete with the massive funding tech companies have, and unfortunately it leads some potential clients astray.
The tech companies behind these platforms are only concerned with profits, and have absolutely no background or experience in the clinical or regulatory realm of mental health. On the other hand, your local practitioner-owner business, namely Tampa Therapy, opened its doors for one primary reason: to do the work we as therapists are trained to do, and provide quality mental health services to the community.
Now does that mean your local small practice works for free? Absolutely not. Make no mistake, a business is still a business. Clinicians still went to school and invested those many years in higher education and student loan debt in order to obtain the training, degree, and license to practice in the field. And we are all human, which means we have bills and families to feed. Earning pay for doing work is part of the economic system, and how this thing called life goes. Likewise, let’s be clear: a business must earn revenue as that is the only way for therapists to be paid, the electricity to be on, and the business to keep its doors open.
The difference is that these tech companies are solely focused on revenue to the misfortune of the clinicians operationalizing their systems, and clients paying for the services. On the other hand, as your local mental health practice, we are in business first and foremost to provide needed mental health services to those in the community. The owner of Tampa Therapy is a licensed mental health provider who has the clinical knowledge and experience, and is fully aware of, and takes seriously, all privacy regulations. And, perhaps most important, WE CARE. Because we are mental health providers first and foremost, and it is our small business, which means we really care.
The Fall of Big-Tech Virtual Platforms
Those of us in the field have sat back, knowing that these big tech platforms will fall. There is no way for them to be sustained when the leadership driving these companies have never sat in the clinicians seat, and are more concerned with their bank accounts than their providers or patients.
Most recently, Cerebral laid off hundreds of staff following bad press and lost insurance contracts after FDA investigation around overprescribing of stimulants. Headway also just made a round of layoffs. TalkSpace and BetterHelp are being reviewed by the Senate for violating privacy rights and mining client data (including therapy session transcripts) to third party companies. As stated by a panel of three senators initiating the investigation, “there is mounting evidence that platforms marketing themselves as a ‘cost-effective alternative to traditional therapy’ are collecting, mining, and disseminating private information about their clients” by exploiting a “regulatory gray area” regarding telehealth apps.
The cracks in the facade are starting to show. This is what happens when “innovators” who have no experience in the clinical or regulatory realm of mental health put profits ahead of patients.
So next time you do a search for a therapist, skip past those paid ads (if they are even still around…). #ChooseLocal. Choose to work with Tampa Therapy – a practice who will honor your privacy, never engage in shady practices to advance business interests, practice according to the highest ethical standards, and who values their clinical team (which, in turn, means treatment consistency for you).