BetterHelp privacy issues
In this blog we will discuss “BetterHelp privacy issues: Is Betterhelp really confidential?”
We will also briefly discuss what BetterHelp is and how you can be safe when usign BetterHelp.
BetterHelp privacy issues: Is Betterhelp really confidential?
On paper, BetterHelp prides itself for being a confidential mental health service provider and one look at their privacy policies highlights that.
However, there has been some controversy surrounding how confidential and serious the platform is about privacy.
When it comes to the policies of privacy that BetterHelp abides by, the company has noted that they keep everything you tell your therapist confidential nor do they cooperate or work with any insurance companies.
They are also proud about the fact that all the messages between users and therapists are secured and encrypted by banking-grade 256-bit encryption and their servers are distributed across multiple centers for security as well as scrambled in case there is a breach so that the data becomes virtually useless.
However in October 2018, BetterHelp was knee deep in controversy. Some of the major concerns that were raised included use of unfair pricing, bad experiences with the app, and the therapist, the controversy that the reviews were from paid reviewers and actors, as well as unethical issues surrounding use of data from the platform.
Spokespersons and representatives of BetterHelp have not explicitly confirmed that they are “selling” user data after exposes and controversies arose in 2018, however it is possible that BetterHelp does use user data for marketing purposes and that it is done within the legal rights of the company.
Since then, BetterHelp has updated their privacy policies to include the there is breach of confidentiality for the following reasons:
- To communicate with users regarding information, alerts and suggestions that are related to the Platform.
- To reach out to users, either ourselves or using the appropriate authorities, if the user may be in danger or may be either the cause or the victim of a criminal act.
- For Delivery of services to users for customer support, for billing and transaction processing purposes, to match users with Counselors and facilitate the Counselor Services.
- In Compliance with law when there are law enforcement requests, to protect clients and public health and safety. (Source: BetterHelp)
When it comes to whether what Betterhelp is doing by sharing data with advertisers is legally right, it was found that it was within their legal rights to share user data as a collective with advertisers even to the point that what Betterhelp is doing is not covered by HIPAA.
Some of the other avenues where they legally share user data include the following:
- For business purposes with vendors and service providers, including data hosting and data storage partners, analytics and vendors providing technology services and support, payment processing, and data security. As well as with professional advisers, such as auditors, law firms, and accounting firms, and any subsidiaries or parent companies within the corporate group.
- For advertising though private information like member names, email addresses, phone numbers, diagnosis, sessions data, journal entries, messages, worksheets, or any other type of communication with a therapist is not shared and the user can opt out of this.
- In the context of a transaction related to asset sale, merger, bankruptcy, or other business transaction.
What is BetterHelp?
BetterHelp is an online therapy service provider that allows users to start a text-chat and online therapy session with a licensed, accredited therapist.
Better help was founded in 2013 and has since then become one of the largest online therapy platforms in the world.
The services that betterhelp provides include offering virtual therapy- chat, email, or video call and phone call based sessions with licensed and accredited therapists.
The company also includes additional services for mental health support like journaling and group therapy sessions for multiple people and couples.
The service that BetterHelp provides uses a monthly membership payment plan which individuals can subscribe to and cancel their plans at any time they want.
As of today, BetterHelp has expanded its services and works closely to other businesses and several sister websites that provide mental health support and therapy for couples, teens, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, as well as for people who are seeking therapy with a faith-based or spirituality based approach.
For the mental health service that better help offers, you can access therapy via texts, live chat, phone calls, and video calls with 24/7 access.
This allows you to reach out to your therapist at any time of the day as well as allows you to change your therapist with ease if you do not find that they are a good fit for you with no additional issues.
You do not have to commit to a certain amount of time, you can decide how long you want to use the platform, and you can cancel your subscriptions anytime.
The platform provides you access to well-qualified and experienced therapists who are board certified and have a minimum of 3 years and 1,000 hours of experience.
BetterHelp prides itself from being able to offer financial assistance to those who qualify for it; however, the drawback is that the services are not covered by insurance.
Another additional issue is that, therapists at better help provide talk therapy, but they do not diagnose, prescribe medications, or fulfil a court order and the services are only for adults.
To get yourself into the service, you have to register and you can do that through their app.
For users, to register they will be asked to complete a questionnaire and then the company will match them with an appropriate therapist.
To avail their services, the process is as follows:
- Go to betterhelp’s website or register in the app. On the website, select the type of service you’re interested in, while for app users, you simply hit “get started”.
- When you sign up, complete a questionnaire that focuses on you and your life.
- After you’ve completed the questionnaire, you will be connected to a therapist that can best fit your condition.
After you’ve been matched to some therapists and you have chosen your therapist, a virtual therapy room is created for you and the therapist which you can access through the app or site.
- Now, you can begin and pick up conversations from your device whenever and wherever 24/7. It has to be mentioned that your therapist will respond to you five times a week and depending on the schedule of your therapist, you will have to wait for a reply. For example, if you message at night the reply will come in the morning the next day.
- For people that want face to face sessions, betterhelp also offers live video sessions. For this you will have to consult with the therapist you are working with.
- You also have the liberty to switch therapists or stop therapy whenever you want.
When it comes to the legitimacy of the professionals at betterhelp, the company claims that each therapist is licensed and has the required training and credentials to practice as per state laws- this includes: master’s or doctorate degree and possess at least 3 years and 1,000 hours of experience as mental health professionals- all of which the company cross checks before hiring.
How to be safe when using online platforms for therapy?
When it comes to using online platforms such as BetterHelp your mental health, there are many issues that need to be considered so that you can protect yourself effectively.
The disadvantages when it comes to telemental health services is that there may be issues with ethicality and licensing of the professional who is supposed to be helping you out.
There may also be issues related to internet security due to unreliability of certain platforms. Such services also render the professional unable to respond to you during times of crisis since they do not know who you are or where you live.
Here are some things to pay attention to if you want to be safe:
A credible online therapy service that allows you to speak with a professional should have the details about their professionals on their site with links for further cross checking- such as links to the professionals place of work.
It is very important that you check out their credibility by looking into this information and perhaps even check the reviews left by other clients.
Pay attention to whether the service providers you are talking to are adhering to the five principles of ethical counselling that most mental health professionals stick to.
They should focus on you and stick to the ethical principles. If they aren’t and you feel unsafe, it is best to withdraw from these services.
Protects your Identity
A certified online therapist or service provider who is serious about helping you with improving your mental health will always seek to protect your identity if you want them to.
Some online platforms give you the option of being completely anonymous where the person you are chatting with has no idea of who you are. These goodwill individuals should not try to pry information that you are not willing to share.
Get familiar with the technology used
If it is an independent app, make sure you understand how the app works and what are the policies surrounding the use of it. If it is a forum, make sure you understand the rules and guides of the forum.
If you want to take it a step further, you can opt to use VPN services to protect your IP addresses.
Trust your gut
The moment you feel something is off with the service provider or the therapist you are talking to, choose to withdraw. A person who is ethical will not blur the lines between providing the help you seek and other interests.
If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe inspite of what they may be telling you, it is best if you stop the correspondence and seek out help elsewhere.
Though there has been some that attests to the efficacy of talking to online services for mental health support, you have to remember that e-therapy or chatting to strangers through websites or forums is not a replacement for seeking out proper treatment especially in the case for BetterHelp since it does not provide support for medical and crisis interventions.
If you find your mental health situation severe, to the point where you are unable to meet the demands of your daily life and are unable to take care of yourself physically and socially it may be time to seek out serious medical intervention.
In this blog we have discussed “BetterHelp privacy issues: Is Betterhelp really confidential?”
We have also briefly discussed what BetterHelp is and how one can be safe when using platforms such as BetterHelp for online therapy.
Meredith Dietz. Do Therapy Apps Really Protect Your Privacy? LifeHacker. Retrieved on 9th April 2022. https://lifehacker.com/do-therapy-apps-really-protect-your-privacy-1847983029
The Spooky, Loosely Regulated World of Online Therapy. Jezebel. Retrieved on 9th April 2022.https://jezebel.com/the-spooky-loosely-regulated-world-of-online-therapy-1841791137