What is the Talkspace controversy?

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In this blog we will discuss the Talkspace controversy regarding their alleged mining of user data.

We will also briefly discuss what talkspace is and what are the services provided. 

Talkspace controversy

One of the major controversies that has hit Talkspace, a mental health service start up, is that the company has been mining the data that are being collected via client conversations with their therapists that are supposed to be confidential and private. 

It has to be mentioned that this particular accusation is alleged however, if it is true the company will be in a lot of trouble because this breaches ethical concerns when it comes to therapy and the client’s rights as well as patient-client confidentiality. 

The controversy arises from allegations made by former employees and therapists at Talkspace who in a conversation with The New York Times stated that conversations between professionals and their clients were not as private as the users were made to believe. 

They noted that these conversations and any data that was shared by the client were regularly reviewed by the company and the information were mined. 

One example that these anonymous ex-employees of talkspace noted was when the therapist would refer to an external resource the company would send in notice to push the users to continue using Talkspace which was alarming because the conversation was not disclosed by the therapist nor the client. 

The allegation against talkspace is that data scientists would regularly review clients’ transcripts, which the clients cannot not delete because it is labelled under medical information, so they could find use the data for marketing and to target customers. 

Since the allegations have come up, the company Talkspace denied that they are engaging in data mining for marketing and reach and that any data used for quality control as well as to moderate the kinds of “language” that was being used in the virtual rooms.

Besides this controversy of data mining, another issue that has come up within the talk space work culture and ethics is that the company has been allegedly forcing therapists to use scripts in their sessions. 

These scripts were used for Talkspace services promotion so as to help expand reach which is completely unethical since this is more or less influencing the clients for company gain and it breaches the guidelines for the ethical service of therapists. 

The company has also been accused of lacking sufficient crisis intervention plans for patients who are in danger.

When it comes to the rights of the employees and the therapists who have worked for talkspace, one of the major concerns was that there was no transparency in the company regarding the salary. 

Talkspace generally costs hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for a regular subscription, therapists who have worked for the company have come out saying that they were paid poorly and that talkspace was no different than any labour-based company.

Another alluring allegation that has landed talkspace into controversy is that the system that Talkspace uses can allegedly lock therapists out of the system.

This poses a threat to the therapeutic journey of the client as well as a breach in ethics for the therapist as it can deprive the therapist and the client of the chance to end a therapeutic relationship healthily with proper closure for both ends. 

In other allegations Talkspace has also apparently threatened therapists who leave the platform with legal action if they form relationships with the clients for independent practice. So even if the therapist has left the company, they were not allowed to engage with the clients after even if the clients wanted to continue sessions with them. 

When we consider the case for talkspace, the issues with ethicality and the danger of online service as data mining is a major space for concern which creates skepticism amongst users even if the idea of online and accessible therapy sounds like a great idea. 

When it comes to chatting with strangers online about your mental health, there are many issues that need to be considered so that users can protect themselves 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, mus like many therapists at talkspace were concerned for. 

Though there has been some that attests to the efficacy of talking to strangers online 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.

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 intervention. 

What is talkspace?

Talkspace is a mental health service provider that was founded in 2012 with the vision of making mental health services accessible.

Talkspace was perhaps one of the first service providers that was offering online mental health sessions and other virtual services.

The objective of the company was to provide mental health services like therapy and group counselling and make it more comfortable and accessible for people within their own environment.

Not every individual has the privilege of going out there and seeking help for themselves. There are some who are bound by cultural stigma, while others are physically held back, while others may find meeting new people extremely fearful. 

Online therapy is often in the favor of the client because though the client can identify and read up about their therapist online, the therapist is left in the dark except for the things the client may disclose. 

This freedom can empower you to choose how much you want to share and what aspects you want to keep private. The service also allows you to log out or turn off the call whenever you want without fear of any repercussions. 

Talkspace as a service offers multiple payment plans on a subscription basis with the intent to cater to different budgets and needs. 

According to healthline, the levels for individual subscriptions plan include:

  • Unlimited messaging therapy plus: $260 a month
  • Unlimited text, video, and audio messaging 5 days a week
  • Unlimited messaging therapy premium: $316 a month
  • Unlimited text, video, and audio messaging 5 days a week
  • One live 30-minute session a month
  • Unlimited messaging therapy ultimate: $396 a month
  • Unlimited text, video, and audio messaging 5 days a week
  • Four live 30-minute sessions a month

For couples, the plan includes four 30-minute video sessions each month with unlimited text, video, and audio messaging for all parties involved. 

Through the app, the user can live chat or schedule a video chat with their therapist regardless of the time of day or location.

Some of the target conditions that professional therapists at Talkspace work on include management, relationship dynamics, and LGBTQIA+ community related issues.

As of today, talkspace also offers couples therapy, psychiatric evaluation, and medication management by licensed professionals. 

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 Talkspace’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, Talkspace 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 Talkspace, the company claims that each therapist is licensed and has the required training and credentials to practice as per state laws which the company cross checks before hiring. 

Conclusion

In this blog we have discussed the Talkspace controversy regarding their alleged mining of user data.

We have also briefly discussed what talkspace is and what are the services provided. 

FAQ related to talkspace controversy

Where is Talkspace’s headquarters?

Talkspace headquarters is located in New York, New York, United States.

Is talkspace covered by insurance?

No, most users of talkspace have to pay out of pocket. 

Can couples use talkspace?

Yes, as of today talk space does provide sessions and support for couples. For couples, the plan includes four 30-minute video sessions each month with unlimited text, video, and audio messaging for all parties involved.

How to register for talkspace?

For users, to register they will be asked to complete a questionnaire and then the company will match them with an appropriate therapist. Go to Talkspace’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”.

Is talkspace online 24/7?

Yes, talkspace does provide 24/7 service however, 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.

References

Therapy app Talkspace allegedly data-mined patients’ private conversations with therapists. Salon. Retrieved on 4th April 2022. https://www.salon.com/2020/08/10/therapy-app-talkspace-allegedly-data-mined-patients-conversations-with-therapists/#:~:text=Talkspace%20has%20 previously%20come%20under,conversations%20between%20therapists%20and%20 patients.

At Talkspace, Start-Up Culture Collides With Mental Health Concerns. The New York Times. Retrieved on 4th April 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/07/technology/talkspace.html

Therapy app Talkspace accused of ethically questionable practices. Mobile Health News. Retrieved on 4th April 2022. https://www.mobihealthnews.com/content/therapy-app-talkspace-accused-ethically-questionable-practices

2022 Talkspace Review: Features, Benefits, Costs, and More. Healthline. Retrieved on 4th April 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/talkspace-reviews

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