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‘I don’t trust my therapist’: Jackie Adedeji reveals the problems with online counselling

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With NHS waiting lists overflowing, online therapy seems like a convenient alternative for those seeking help, but can treatment through a screen be successful? We spoke to broadcaster and podcaster Jackie Adedeji to find out.

“Finding a form of therapy that works for you is just as hard as finding someone you want to date in London,” says Jackie Adedeji.

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In November, the broadcaster’s cutting-edge documentary, I Don’t Trust My Therapist, came out on Channel 4. Having experienced the positive benefits of in-person therapy herself, Jackie was intrigued when she witnessed large amounts of people taking to social media to discuss the topic and diagnose others, with individuals claiming to be ‘experts’ in videos while imparting their so-called wisdom.

Meanwhile, she noticed an increased number of advertisements across podcast platforms and TikTok for an online counselling start-up called BetterHelp, which provides online mental health services to clients through web-based interactions.

All of this made Jackie wonder: is the combination of the digital world and mental health services a good thing? Are people getting the help that they need through online calls?





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If you watch the documentary, you’ll quickly find that the conclusion is no.

“A lot of the people we spoke to in the film had not had a positive experience with BetterHelp,” Jackie explains. “Their therapists would forget their name, stop the call to make a tea or just generally seem distracted from the discussion and the issues being addressed.” And this doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as the platform’s UK expansion has previously been criticised by British therapists for its dodgy recruitment process and lack of accreditation for practitioners.

BetterHelp was even ordered to pay $7.8m by the US government in March this year over the alleged release of user data to companies like Meta and Snapchat.





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Jackie Adedeji

While demand for online therapy increased during the pandemic, it was like putting a plaster over a bullet wound. And now that the NHS waiting list spans to over a million, alternative options are becoming necessary, but Jackie describes the ‘Uber-isation’ of therapy as an extremely dangerous thing.

“So many people are suffering and there’s not enough resources to go around,” she says. “There’s a mental health crisis on our hands, and that’s how a lot of these online therapy platforms can swoop in and offer people therapy packaged like a McDonald’s Happy Meal. But ultimately these services can’t deliver.”

But the broadcaster doesn’t place the blame on the practitioners themselves, who she describes as being “exhausted” and “burnt out” due to the sheer number of hours they work on these platforms, in between their own private practice or other counselling sessions.

“When I first started making the film, I assumed the therapists were to blame. But as we delved deeper, we realised the therapists were suffering. A lot of the practitioners working on BetterHelp were on call to patients 24/7 to build their hours and be paid more money,” explains Jackie.

The documentary describes this type of over-working as leading to numbness and compassion fatigue, two things that you don’t want your therapist to be feeling.

But if online therapy can be unsuitable for those in need of support, NHS waiting lists are ridiculous and private care is unaffordable — what else is there?

“It’s up to the government to put money behind mental health services in the UK and create initiatives to make it more accessible to people without removing the benefits of the practice,” says Jackie. “We tried to speak to health ministers in the documentary, and they didn’t want to be involved. That’s where the problem lies.”

While some online mental health platforms may be working wonders for patients who prefer the virtualisation of the experience, it’s clear that others need to experience an authentic therapy session to reap the benefits. So, while a lot of relationships can be maintained in the digital space, our relationship with our therapist might be one that can’t.

BetterHelp refused to comment.

If you’re interested in speaking to a counsellor, please contact your GP or a professional.

I Don’t Trust My Therapist: Untold Stories, is available to watch on channel4.com.

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