BetterHelp: Democratizing Access to Mental Health Services
BetterHelp is the world’s largest mental health platform, connecting over 16 thousand therapists to nearly two million patients. The company was founded in 2013 by Alon Matas and aims to reinvent the way behavioral and mental health services are delivered.
Accessing psychologists is not an easy task, especially for first-time patients. Many people who need therapy end up not getting adequate treatment because of barriers such as cost, stigma, inconvenience, or poor match with the counselor. Seeking to reduce these barriers, BetterHelp was created to connect patients and psychologists in virtual therapy sessions. The model leverages technology to make treatment less costly and more convenient for patients and therapists. BetterHelp’s value proposition is endorsed by recent research that suggests that online therapy can be an alternative as efficient as face-to-face counseling.
Value for patients
Patients in need of counseling subscribe to the platform for $260 a month, getting unlimited access to counseling services via text, video, or phone. Perhaps the most obvious benefit users will get from the platform is the ability to get treatment virtually. For instance, people from rural areas or geographic regions with low supply of therapists can now have access to mental health services. Additionally, besides scheduling virtual face-to-face sessions, patients can communicate with therapists asynchronously. This feature not only provides flexibility for patients and psychologists, but also allows a timelier treatment. Users can reach out to therapists on real time, describing the thoughts that are currently in their minds. Therapists, in turn, have the option to help out right away if they find it necessary. Moreover, text messages can make it easier for some patients to share feelings and thoughts that they wouldn’t be comfortable speaking about in a face-to-face conversation. Subscribers have 24/7 access to messaging room to share private messages with their counselor.
Another way BetterHelp creates value for users is by enabling first-time patients to get early access to treatment. In fact, with fewer barriers to access a counselor, patients might not wait for seeking treatment until their condition is already unbearable and therefore more difficult to treat.
Value for psychologists
Therapists who decide to join the platform go under a rigorous selection process and are required to provide documentation on their license to operate in a given jurisdiction. Therapists are not employed by BeterHelp and typically have their own counseling jobs and practices. In terms of compensation, part-time psychologists (working 20 hours per week) usually make around $ 40,000 a year in the platform. Full time therapists (working 40 hours/week) make around $100,000. Noteworthy, besides providing additional earnings to therapists, BetterHelp give them access to a new patient base – something very important especially for newly graduated psychologists who still don’t have many patients.
To better match patients and psychologists, BetterHelp collects data from users and counselors. When a user joins the platform, he or she will answer a questionnaire providing different types of data, such as general demographic information, mental issues history and personal challenges. They also inform preferences for therapists. Patients are then matched with therapists based on users’ preferences and therapists’ specialties. If a user is not happy with a counselor, he or she can easily switch as many times as needed until they find a good match.
Challenges on scalability
BetterHelp’s current model is heavily dependent on the availability of therapists. Because of the rigorous process for acquiring therapists and because of therapists’ limitations to work within certain jurisdictions, availability of psychologists is the main bottleneck in the platform growth process.
A possible solution to address the scalability issue is to make use of technological resources to increase the platform’s efficiency. Chatbots or self-help tools could replace the most procedural parts of a psychologist work. Also, using data collected from existing users and therapists, BetterHelp is well positioned to design solutions for helping the therapist to work more efficiently so that they can manage more patients and treat them with higher quality and standardization.
As BetterHelp looks for growth opportunities, a natural move would be to serve enterprises in a B2B model. Selling to companies interested in providing employees with mental health services benefits could bring BetterHealth a new set of highly profitable and sticky customers. However, in order to that, the platform has to increase its scalability by leveraging more efficiently its therapist base.
Student comments on BetterHelp: Democratizing Access to Mental Health Services
Really liked reading your blog Marcos! A couple of thoughts came to mind while reading:
1. Covid impact on the platform performance: I feel like this is a great example of a platform that would thrive in a pandemic like Covid. Not only does it enable therapists to do their work under lockdown conditions, but also the demand for such services is much higher because of the pandemic and people’s deteriorating mental health. I would be curious to see if the pandemic drove their subscribers and therapists base up
2. Disintermediation risk: I wonder what the company is doing to avoid disintermediation risks. I feel like if you match with a good therapist, both of you would want to get off the platform and save money and ensure availability whenever needed. IS there anything they are doing to avoid that?
Great post Marcos! As you described, the platform really does appear to be reducing barriers and making access to mental health services much simpler (and maybe even better than in person?). You mention using data to improve services but I wonder what the limitations are given health care privacy laws like HIPAA and how this will impact their growth
Great post Marcos! I am curious in your research is BetterHelp was taking any active role in trying to expand the number of therapists avaliable by engaging with social workers and less credentialled workers who are often also more affordable? Additionally, one of the biggest gaps in mental health care currently is for Medicaid patients. Many therapists won’t accept Medicaid patients due to lower reiumbursement rates and the standard BetterHelp price seems too high for a low income user. Do they offer discounts or have they indicated how they might address this huge and vulnerable population?
Great blog post! And great idea on moving to B2B as a possible revenue source for BetterHelp. We’ve seen players like Gympass take a similar approach with tremendous success. This B2B play can also be a way to mitigate the threat of disintermediation, at least from the perspective of the end-customer, since in this case it’s a company that might be paying for part of the expense and and it becomes easier to manage this larger stakeholder than many individual customers.
Question for you on the scalability aspect. As you said the model depends on therapy / availability of therapists. Is this an indictment on the the platform or on the industry itself? Do you think that BetterHelp could change the narrative around effective treatment methods for mental health – outside of just therapy? Are there other services that they could provide and get in front of the masses that could revolutionize the industries practices overall – not just their delivery?
I am a big believer in telemedicine and loved seeing the industry’s growth over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. I think BetterHelp contributes to the availability of therapists, as it allows providers who see patients in-person as a full-time job, moonlight in the evenings and on weekends. However, given the pricing of the platform the increased availability might not be accessible to the underserved populations who are in great need for mental health services. Additionally, I am curious how the company might respond to an entrant such as Teladoc, which dominates the telemedicine market. Teladoc recently acquired Livongo, which offers mobile health solution to behavioral health. I believe it is only a matter of time before they begin offering teletherapy.