You'll have had to be living on Mars to avoid a widely advertised therapy app. Technology generally improves people’s lives, and it’s worth knowing what you’re getting.
'Licensed therapists’ don’t exist in the UK but the wording is a clue to the model that these apps use - disruption-based from Silicon Valley. Disruption models seek and exploit niches within established models, often making things more convenient for the customer: Uber, Netflix, Just Eat, Air B&B have made, taxis, TV, takeaways and holidays much more competitive.
Creators don’t need to know any professional nuances, they need to know how far they can push profitmaking before they make an expensive mistake. That's the basis of health and safety legislation, regulation of anything, and business. The disruption model involves accelerated evolution: partial failure anticipated because growing just short of collapse means that a service is more likely to become fully functional sooner which serves to attract and retain investors. In products that involve people ‘failure’ unavoidably means individuals being impacted. Uber drivers had to go to court for basic rights (and got them); individuals suddenly had agents of massive media groups hunting them for thousands of pounds for an image they used in 1994 which is now owned by a multinational; and Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. SLAPPs purposefully intimidate individuals or small unfunded groups to prevent legitimate concerns from reaching the light of day. One part of the business creates standards for good practice while another part of the same business is a pool full of barracudas going after anyone who raises questions.
Of course, no therapy app group would ever dream of doing anything like that. I would never dare suggest such a thing.
Therapy apps give you access to a human, trained therapist via video, phone or text with an average contact time of 30 minutes a week. In the UK many therapists have been given £800 to sign on and many make more money from recruiting other therapists, which is not difficult when you're paid £30 a session. The client pays £65 a session. The therapist need only interact with the client for 30 minutes, and if using text are paid by the word. Many therapists subsequently transfer these clients over to their private lists. What’s less clear is what happens when, the client being used to paying £65 for 30 minutes, is given the conventional 50 minutes in private practice. And there are obvious grey areas around building a relationship in order to exploit it. It’s all too easy to build over-dependence and no therapist would admit to it.
Apps like large numbers of human interactions because they offer all kinds of highly valuable commercial data. The simplest information - age, location, the kind of product and access you pay for and how you use it - is priceless and the small print that no one reads is very clear that nothing you say or do on any app or programme is confidential.
Therapy apps are here to stay, they're by no means the end of the world, but they’re at the Wild West stage right now. Online therapy was around way before covid but the pandemic normalised it. Many commercial landlords have made office hire prohibitively expensive - a cost that must be passed on to the client - while meeting online means that clients save the time they once spent coming to and from therapy and can give themselves some breathing space between the end of a session and getting back to work or family responsibilities. In a perfect world, I’d see clients face to face in a pleasant, airy, sound-proofed room, one to three times a week. All clients would be able to prepare for, attend, and leave therapy in a relaxed manner, have the time to reflect afterwards and the money to pay for long term work, but the world isn't perfect.
As it is, I meet people online for 50 minutes. If they’re EAP clients I’m only allowed to meet them once a week and the one EAP I work with gives clients what I consider to be a reasonable and ethical number of sessions. (I made that decision after being handed a suicidal person to 'sort out' in 150 minutes.) While therapy, even in the NHS, is certainly a commercial offering, it is also a professional and boundaried health service: the purpose of therapy is deep, lasting change and that can only emerge via a meaningful therapeutic relationship. Anyone under the age of 30 is very comfortable with short interactions via apps, so therapy apps are here to stay. I don't know if they're good bad or indifferent. Ultimately, the market will determine a financial version of success.
It’s never been easier to access therapy, the stigma has all but disappeared, and apps are making it much more accessible. By all means use an app, it may be an excellent introduction to therapy, it may be precisely what you need. But if you find you want something more think about giving yourself 50 minutes a week to speak with a therapist who doesn’t get paid peanuts to see you for a very limited period of time so that investors can profit.