Are the Benefits of Commercialized Online Therapy Too Good to be True? | Rice Psychology
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Are the Benefits of Commercialized Online Therapy Too Good to be True?

Consider the following story as it relates to this week’s topic.

When the pandemic hit, it seemed like online therapy companies were popping up left and right. I was already seeing a therapist for some time, and when the world went digital, I was nervous I’d no longer be able to meet with her. Luckily, she offered her services via Telehealth. One day, after being bombarded by Facebook ads for a ton of online therapy companies, I decided to give it a try and see what it was all about. Here’s what I experienced: The therapist I was matched with seemed nice, but her responses were very short and vague. I had difficulty picking up on her tone a few times since a lot of our communication was through text. It just felt very impersonal to me. I asked to try some specific methods my current therapist and I did in the past and, unfortunately, we couldn’t but I didn’t get a good explanation of why. I can only say that doing something as personal as therapy through this giant company was just not for me.

Are the Benefits of Commercialized Online Therapy Too Good to be True?
Bored woman working from home

COVID-19 forced most of us to spend much more time in the digital world, and we also saw plenty of increases in anxiety, depression, and more. Because of this, online therapy was and still is in high demand. When people are stuck at home and are looking to speak with a therapist, it only makes sense that they’d search for online services. So, that’s exactly what we did – pivoted to provide consistent care through video sessions (via telehealth).

And while we were able to continue working with many existing patients and reach many new clients, big names like Talkspace, BetterHelp, and Amwell saw exponentially higher rates of new registrations. Is online therapy with larger companies better or worse than in-person and telehealth sessions with smaller, more personalized private practices?

A Profit-First Mentality

We found that many of these therapy-centric online companies highly encourage their therapists to take the quantity-over-quality approach. According to an article on Mental Health Match, companies like BetterHelp only pay their therapists for messages that are limited to less than twice the word count of the message written by a client. By doing this, they take on more clients, provide limited care, and still get paid more.

Talkspace, on the other hand, pays therapists by the word, and employees can have their pay docked if they don’t respond to clients quickly. While that may sound great to you, this model puts revenue first and the client’s long-term recovery second.

Empty Promises

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  And that’s the case when it comes to online companies like AbleTo that offered a “Progress Guaranteed” promise at the height of the pandemic. Again, as mentioned in the Mental Health Match article and well known as a “no-no” in mental health and medicine, this type of statement violates ethics rules for individual therapists.  We all do our very best to help our clients and strive for progress, we cannot guarantee it.  We should note that since Mental Health Match’s article was published, AbleTo removed this guarantee from their website.

Then there’s Talkspace who, at the beginning of the pandemic, asked therapists to help people in states they weren’t licensed to practice in. There was some relaxation of regulations regarding licensed professionals providing mental health services across state lines, but we were shocked to learn that Talkspace even offered to cover legal fees if therapists had to defend their license to their state board. Not only is this approach professionally wrong, but it can also leave the client back at square one with having to establish a therapeutic bond with a new therapist if unable to continue with their original therapist.

At Rice Psychology Group, our team is transparent about our qualifications and what we’re licensed and trained to do and not do. Although we can’t promise that you’ll be feeling as good as new in no time, we can promise that we’ll help you as best we can and help to connect you with an even better fit if we aren’t it.

We can also assure you that we personally match each client with a therapist.  We base our decisions on a host of factors including client requests and whether we think the client and therapist are a good fit for each other in terms of skills, experience, and personality.  We know from years of research that the most important factor in making therapy work is the relationship between the client and therapist. This goes beyond the amount of experience, specific types of therapy offered, or any other specifics that can be listed on a resume. So much of it comes down to chemistry and simply being together in the process of psychotherapy. We just aren’t sure that the big business of “all access, all the time” online therapy really captures the heart of what makes psychotherapy really is.

A Word from Us

I’d like to say something about how RPG began taking care of people in Tampa over 20 years ago. With the support of families we’ve helped, schools and pediatricians with whom we’ve worked closely, and other professionals and friends, we are still going strong.

Our best referrals are word-of-mouth, and my favorites are when people say that everyone they spoke to (their pediatrician, head of school, and next-door neighbor) told them that Rice Psychology is the only place they would go for testing or therapy. When you choose to take care of something as important as your mental health, we hope that our reputation (and that of other well-respected community-based private practices, local clinics, and hospitals) speaks to how selective we are when hiring our psychologists so that we can stand behind all our clinicians without reservation.

Can you say the same for the therapist you might be matched with online? We know from researching that, sometimes, they use unlicensed or minimally certified people to provide therapy.  Others say you’re getting therapy but use coaches rather than licensed mental health professionals.

What Works for You?

Therapy is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Many people feel that the best method to address mental health is with a face-to-face, heart-to-heart session. Maybe you know someone who has worked with us before, and you prefer to start therapy with a “known entity.” If you’re wary of seeking help in person due to the pandemic or a mental health issue like anxiety, then we’ll be more than happy to accommodate you.

Online therapy can work very well when it’s practiced in a patient-centric manner, and you’ll get that with us. Contact us to schedule your free, 10-minute consultation. We’re currently offering private, online sessions via Telehealth as well as a limited number of online and in-person evaluations for all ages.

About Rice Psychology

Rice Psychology Group is home to a team of psychologists who work tirelessly to help adults, adolescents and children deal with their issues. Whether you’re currently dealing with depression, going through a divorce or fighting an issue you just can’t understand, know that our Tampa psychologists are here to help.

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