10 Reasons to Ditch The Therapy App

angie gunn therapy
We feel broken, disconnected or lost... and are looking for immediate access to help, and yet the systems aren't available or seem too complex to navigate. Enter the world of therapy apps.

Lately it feels like every other ad on social media is promoting one of the many therapy app options, all competing for your business. I've worked for 3 of them over the past 6 years, and would like to explain a few of the reasons why you should AVOID the apps at all cost. I'll provide strategies for getting access to therapy that best suits you, without the often predatory middle man or elitist/ classist system that gate-keeps providers and access. Ultimately our therapy systems were built within a colonized white supremacist, patriarchal, hetereonormative, mononormative, ableist lens. Which makes it even harder to get access to providers who can hold all the parts of you. What would it mean to shift that?

Here's a few concerns with the apps (based on direct experience): 

The intake and informed consent process does not meet most therapist ethics standards

Frequent unethical transitions between therapists happen (ie: transferred without notice, releasing data before you consented)

All the apps are private corporations that take more than half of the money you spend on therapy, therapists are not compensated well and have little autonomy in the work

The companies distance themselves from liability- the therapist is still 100% alone if there’s a client concern or lawsuit

HIPAA is not followed as closely because they are “not a covered entity” because they are a technology company, not a healthcare provider. This is problematic on many levels.

Insurance integrations hinder quality of care (ie: limited sessions without ability to negotiate, therapists working to meet reporting standards instead of client best interest)

Therapists are penalized financially for not meeting outcome measures- it’s capitalism not social justice or client well-being

Algorithms problems are frequent and complex- given in state licensing requirements and limited/ changing providers, you can’t really choose the qualities you prefer in a provider (even on apps that specify certain identity traits- it's often hard to find the right fit in your state).

None of the companies are seeking to shift the mental health system or challenge white supremacy, elitism, classism, racism, sexism, homophobia within it ( and sometimes within the company itself). This is particularly true in terms of who can get access to becoming a licensed/ certified therapist and have the privileges/ resources to succeed in academia and licensing processes.

The cost is similar, if not more than therapy in person, but you’re getting less time with your provider (usually 30 min video sessions versus an hour).

Teletherapy can be effective, with the right person and in an ethical framework... there are certainly some great therapists on the platforms. But you don't need the app to get access, and using apps to do so can cause more harm to you, as well as perpetuate many of the problematic features in the mental health system. Every therapist is now digital- reach out to an individual provider that you like and build a direct relationship (see below to help find a good fit!). The foundation of any good therapy experience is a quality relationship…. Which the apps can’t facilitate as well as your own intuition, engagement and community support. Additionally; peer support, body work, mindfulness, coaching and other community based engagement options can be just as effective for mental health care; we thrive in community, and learn to heal in community. Therapy is just one formal piece of that puzzle.

Ultimately, before we had formal therapy structures, pathology and systemic oppression in mental health, we were just in community with one another. What would it mean to find a human who can just be human with you, and be a prism to expand and reflect your internal strengths, brilliance and resourcing? It's key to find providers who can reflect some of your identities and lived experiences, which sometimes means being a bit creative. We (including our culture/ history/ ancestors etc.) are our own experts, but sometimes need a few reminders of that. Mental health systems are based around the need to believe you are broken, but many of our mental health challenges are systemic- a result of trauma and a million systemic factors related to our identities and the oppression faced as a result. Finding a provider who can help you challenge and dismantle the systems is the key to shifting your relationship to brokenness.

If you need help finding a provider, here are some good options below. Every insurance network has a list of providers it works with, so that’s a good place to start: learn your coverage and options. If you don’t have coverage, many therapists take sliding scale clients if you ask. Use some of these searches below or use a site from the certifying board to avoid middlemen marketing and bias. Asking friends for recommendations can be really helpful too, and they are likely vetted already which is great. Therapists often have social media pages- try to search for keywords such as your identities, and e-mail providers in your area to see if they have openings. If not, ask if they could recommend someone for you. Also apps like Welltory and Daylio can also help with app based tracking and support, while having a direct relationship with your provider for regular care. You can usually have an intro call to see if it’s a good fit. Please visit the 'Our Network' page on our site for more therapists, peer support counselors, etc. that we recommend.

Some common questions to ask your provider in a first call:

  • What is their experience working with your specific needs/ identities?
  • What their approach to managing power dynamics and potential oppression in the caring relationship?
  • How do they handle client feedback if something isn't feeling right?
  • What if they don’t have an answer, will they tell you directly?
  • What is their clinical approach and how is it informed by critical consciousness, anti-oppression?
  • Who is their community, their supervisor, and their peers?

Here's some book/ resource recommendations:

 Here are some other resources to use to find a provider:

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