BetterHelp therapist ‘told man to stop being gay’ after he was kicked out by family

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A gay man who had been rejected by his family claims a Christian therapist tried to ‘convert’ him via mental health platform BetterHelp. 

The Wall Street Journal published an report on Monday (19 December) on how online mental health services boomed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and how some failed to screen out unqualified, unprofessional therapeutic providers. 

Caleb Hill detailed how he was matched with a therapist who he believed tried conversion practices on him. 

The pseudo-scientific, harmful practice has been outlawed in several countries as well as denounced by leading medical bodies, campaigners and LGBTQ+ advocates around the globe. 

Hill told the publication he was kicked out of his conservative Christian household after coming out as gay to his parents. He sought therapy after feeling isolated and missing his family. 

Hill eventually signed up for BetterHelp, a platform that provides online counselling and therapy services. The platform promises on its website to match individuals to a therapist who fits their “objectives, preferences and the types of issues [they] are dealing with”. 

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Hill showed WSJ a screenshot where he requested an LGBTQ+ therapist, but the platform matched him with a Christian therapist who recommended Hill stop being gay so he could reconnect with his family. 

“He said if I chose to go back to who I was and deny those feelings, he could get me where I needed to be,” Hill said. 

“He said either you sacrifice your family or you sacrifice being gay,” Hill recalled. “I needed someone to tell me I was gay and that was OK. I got the exact opposite.”

Hill also described how the therapist BetterHelp assigned him asked if he had ever been physically affectionate with another man. To which, Hill responded that he hadn’t, prompting the therapist to suggest it would be “harder” for him to reconnect with his family if he was gay. 

“He said, ‘Good’,” Hill said. “He said if I did want to go back to my family, I should think hard about being physical with a man, because it would be a lot harder after that.”

WSJ detailed how the therapist didn’t specialise in LGBTQ+ issues, according to the provider’s profile on BetterHelp’s website, and said he practises Christian counselling on his personal website. 

Both the therapist and BetterHelp declined to comment to WSJ on Hill’s experience, citing patient confidentiality. But BetterHelp admitted “unfortunate and negative experiences are not completely unavoidable” given the “scale of the service”. 

A spokeswoman for BetterHelp said the platform would remove a therapist from the platform if it got “information that a therapist conducts conversion therapy or similar practices”. 

Yet, according to the WSJ report, several other users complained they were matched with unprofessional therapists. This included other LGBTQ+ people who, like Hill, told WSJ they were matched up with counsellors who were unsympathetic. 

After his horrific session with the BetterHelp therapist, Hill wrote the therapist an email saying it would “kill [him] if [he locked himself] inside again”, according to a copy of the email seen by the WSJ

“I finally opened the door of the prison I built up inside, and the thought of going back kills me,” he wrote. “Will kill me if I lock myself inside again.”

He also quit BetterHelp and said the incident discouraged him from working with therapists for a long time afterwards. 

BetterHelp gained widespread attention in 2018 after concerns were raised about bad experiences with the app, its pricing and the use of influencers when advertising its services

One person who was targeted by ads for Pride Counselling – a subsidiary of BetterHelp geared towards online LGBTQ+ counselling services – told PinkNews that the adverts were “uncomfortable” as it felt like it was “almost capitalising off of [sic] the fact they know mental health services are difficult to access, especially in the UK”.

BetterHelp also faced backlash for supposedly sharing users’ data with third parties. The platform’s CEO Alon Matas previously said the company’s data-sharing practices are standard for the industry, adding: “BetterHelp is in the counselling business, not the data business”.

BetterHelp told PinkNews it is “constantly improving the therapist matching process” and that most users are happy with their therapist.

“We firmly stand behind the high-quality service provided at BetterHelp, both in successful therapist matching and ongoing care. This quality is evident in both impressive clinical outcomes (measured by standard metrics such as PHQ-9 and GAD-7) and consistently incredible client satisfaction rate,” they added.

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