Hillel's Tech Corner: BetterHelp, needed now more than ever

We are social creatures, and whether we are introverts or extroverts, we need social interactions at some level to maintain our normalcy and not lose our minds.

It is time to address the elephants in the room, and they are quite large in these challenging times: Mental health and therapy.
Before I begin, allow me a brief disclaimer. This weekly column is about a very specific topic: Israeli companies, predominantly start-ups, that are doing something impactful. This means that for a company to be appropriate for this column, they need to meet two simple criteria: They need to be Israeli and they need to be impactful.
But how do you define Israeli and how do you define impact?
Israeli, as far as I am concerned, is a company that has its headquarters in Israel. As for impact, If the main goal of the company is to create something or offer a service with which the world can become a better and brighter place, well, I want to hear about it.
There are always exceptions to every rule, and I have decided to use that card and cover a company that is neither Israeli nor a start-up. The level of impact that this company is bringing to the table compensates for the two, deeming this company as one to spotlight. It is also worth mentioning that the founder is Israeli, the company has users in Israel, and there is discussion about opening an Israeli office.
Meet BetterHelp, the world’s largest online counseling service. The company, which is based in Silicon Valley, connects people facing life's challenges with a counselor from their network of over 7,000 licensed, accredited and board-certified therapists.
BetterHelp was founded by Alon Matas, who was born and raised in Israel. Previous to BetterHelp, Alon founded three start-ups and moved to Silicon Valley in 2010. He is founder and president of BetterHelp and, honestly, one of the nicest and smartest people I know.
Each month, more than 2,000,000 counseling messages, chats, voice calls and video sessions are facilitated through BetterHelp’s secure website and mobile app. The company’s declared mission is to provide everyone with easy, affordable, and private access to professional counseling, anytime, anywhere.
On a personal level, this company is especially intriguing to me, as I am not a huge believer in therapy for myself. I am not discounting the impact and difference it can make in the lives of people who are going through hardship, however, for me, I have opted out when life events came about in which therapy could have been a viable option.
The logistics of calling for an appointment, setting up a time to go, carving out time from my day and sitting in a face-to-face meeting, among other variables, makes therapy feel inconvenient and inefficient for me. However, the ability to do this online, at any point, at least for me, is something I find to be intriguing and one that makes the idea of therapy a bit more palatable.
So what is BetterHelp, how does it work and how big is it?
BetterHelp was launched in 2013. It then continued to grow without raising a dime from external investors. In 2015, after becoming the web’s largest platform, with multi-million dollars in revenue, it was acquired by Teladoc (NYSE:TDOC), the world's largest telehealth provider.
How does it work?
Upon registration, consumers pay a flat monthly fee. They are then assigned a licensed therapist who they can work with in a virtual environment. Essentially, because of the nature of the service, the client can send an unlimited number of messages to their assigned therapist at any point.
As anyone who has ever gone through therapy will tell you, a crucial part of the process is just opening up, talking it out, and not necessarily the therapist’s response. Using BetterHelp, users can open up using the 24/7 messaging when they want, regardless of whether “The clinic is open” or not.
For some, having that freedom and flexibility to speak out when they want to rather than at their dictated appointed time, can be extremely beneficial for them. Additional services include support for a weekly live session over phone, video or chat.
AT THE MOMENT, all of BetterHelp’s therapists are US-based and licensed in the US. However, BetterHelp has users from over 150 countries, including Israel.
How big is BetterHelp?
We are talking about over $100 million in revenue in 2019, with a projected expectation of over 50% growth in 2020. More importantly, a study conducted by UC Berkeley and UCSF found that a reduction in depression symptoms after three months of using BetterHelp is similar or better to traditional face-to-face counseling, which means that with all that you are getting by using this platform in terms of convenience, you are losing nothing, maybe even gaining in terms of results and quality.
OK, now let’s fast forward to 2020 and COVID-19. We are all very focused on our physical health and the need to isolate. However, not enough people are talking about the need to take care of our mental health as we isolate ourselves from what makes us human.
I don’t know about you, but what has become quite apparent to me over the past few weeks is that my sanity is very much dependent on two things that have been a big part of my life since I can remember: other people and productivity.
We are social creatures, and whether we are introverts or extroverts, we need social interactions at some level to maintain our normalcy and not lose our minds. For the past few weeks and with a slight exaggeration, we have been confined to our homes with limited to no social interaction, which directly affects our mental health.
Alon told me that they heard from the many BetterHelp therapists how coronavirus has increased the level of anxiety with their current clients. They have also seen a spike in people starting online therapy on the platform. The number of new members with concerns of stress and anxiety in February-March more than doubled compared to February-March of last year.
Here is a confession for you: I signed up for BetterHelp a while back after having a cup of coffee with Alon and hearing all about the company. I signed up (which by the way, was a really incredible onboarding from a user experience perspective), but I never really used the platform because of the reasons I mentioned above. As I wrote Alon this morning, I am strongly considering revisiting that right now as I - all of us - continue to lose our minds without any end in sight to this corona insanity.
If you look at BetterHelp’s site, you will find countless success stories about how the platform has saved people's lives, which to me means this company is a classic example of doing well by doing good.
BetterHelp also offers teen counseling services, which is a fantastic way to stay current and provide a service for a generation whose comfort level is communication via apps such as text and Zoom. And while face-to-face connection should be encouraged, when a teenaager is struggling and therapy could be helpful, it is comforting to know that a company provides a service in a way that can speak to today's average teen. Additional services include couples counseling, a focus on the LGBTQ community as well as faith-based counseling.
There is one more important point I need to emphasize here. While BetterHelp is an online platform that leverages technology to change the counseling world, there is no fundamental disruption of therapy happening here. What I mean is, these are the same therapists you would find in brick-and-mortar clinics, not some bots or artificial intelligence that is meant to replace humans. What BetterHelp is doing is making therapy more accessible, affordable and convenient.
In today’s climate, in which social distancing has become the norm, it is comforting to know that a company like BetterHelp exists. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and with BetterHelp, there is no need to choose between the two. People can access the psychological help they seek from their homes, thereby avoiding the need to venture out and increase their exposure.
In such uncertain times, I think we can all agree that the Internet and the world as a whole are better places thanks to BetterHelp’s existence. We could all use some better help right about now.