A gay man in Tennessee said a therapist for one of the nation's largest digital mental health companies recommended conversion therapy to help cure his depression and isolation from his family.
Caleb Hill told the The Wall Street Journal he had been kicked out of his home after telling his conservative Christian family he was gay. As a practicing Christian, Hill had been taught same-sex sexual relations were a grave sin, and he struggled to reconcile his faith with his sexual identity. Over time, Hill said he became depressed and felt alone. He had heard advertisements on various podcasts for BetterHelp, which offered faith-based and LGBTQ-affirming counseling and decided to try its services.
Hill, then 22, said he requested an LGBTQ+ therapist but instead was assigned a Christian therapist who did not specialize in LGBTQ+ issues. Hill said he told the therapist, Jeffrey Lambert, he wanted to improve his relationship with his family. Rather than providing the type of supportive counseling he sought, Hill said Lambert recommended what he considered a form of conversion therapy.
"He said, 'Either you sacrifice your family, or you sacrifice being gay,'" Hill told the WSJ. "I needed someone to tell me I was gay and that was OK. I got the exact opposite."
Hill said Lambert specifically asked if Hill had engaged in sexual acts with a man and said the therapist seemed pleased when he replied he had never been physically intimate with a man.
"He said, 'Good,'" Hill continued. "He said if I did want to go back to my family, I should think hard about being physical with a man, because it would be a lot harder after that."
BetterHelp does not actually provide treatment using in-house staff but instead refers patients to independently contracted therapists around the country who are paid an hourly rate for their services. These therapists then conduct counseling sessions with patients via video or audio conferencing. The company has come under fire recently for its alleged poor and unprofessional services. Dozens of former patients posted their experiences to TikTok using the hashtag #betterhelptherapyisascam with over 2 million viewers to date.
BetterHelp told WSJ it has nearly 30,000 therapists nationwide and has served more than 3 million patients to date. BetterHelp does not accept insurance, instead providing patients with once-weekly counseling sessions and messaging per month for between $240 to $360. The business model appears wildly profitable, as BetterHelp said it has about $1 billion in annual revenue.
The company declined to comment to the WSJ regarding Hill's experiences, citing patient confidentiality. It did say the company does not condone conversion therapy.
"If we do get information that a therapist conducts conversion therapy or similar practices, they would be removed from the platform," a spokesperson told the WSJ.
While Hill said he was deeply upset by the therapy he received from Lambert and BetterHelp, he also said the experience helped him embrace his sexual identity. He detailed his dissatisfaction with the treatment he received from BetterHelp in a final note he sent to the company.
"I finally opened the door of the prison I built up inside, and the thought of going back kills me," he wrote in the note viewed by the WSJ.
The Advocate reached out to BetterHelp with questions about Hill and conversion therapy but had yet to receive a statement at the time this article went live. We will update this story to include any future comments or statements from BetterHelp.