No, Not Everyone Needs Therapy
“Big Therapy” tells us the solution to our problems is to pay a stranger
I can’t get away from ads for online therapy. Every YouTube video I watch harasses me to start my healing journey now. Every podcast I listen to pressures me to open up. I couldn’t even read about the situation in Gaza without BetterHelp telling me they’ve teamed up with the Israeli government to offer 6 months free therapy to those affected by the war!
They’re everywhere. BetterHelp wants me to try weekly video calls and texts with a therapist any time. Talkspace is desperate to give me mental health care from the comfort of my own device. There’s even been a rise in AI therapy bots recently like Wysa and Woebot, promising me a happiness buddy and a mental health ally. It’s an industry worth billions.
I have many problems with these therapy platforms. There’s a lot I could get into, like the use of Silicon Valley tactics or the selling of private data. But my major concern at the moment is that these companies promote and profit from what I see as an unhealthy therapy culture. By which I mean a culture that pathologises normal distress, and presents therapy as the solution to all problems. It’s this very modern vision of mental health that implies that you can achieve a perfect psychological state, that every emotion is diagnosable and solvable with some product or service. And it’s something I see as just another source of pressure on Gen Z. There’s pressure from the beauty industry to have the perfect face. Pressure from social media to have a perfect life. And now pressure from the mental health industry to have a sort of perfect soul.
Because what could possibly be more profitable than convincing young people they can smooth out all of life’s suffering? That they can heal from being human? Pay your way out of anxiety, and all those not very nice emotions! And if that doesn’t work, you obviously haven’t spent enough. Just as “Big Pharma” encourages us to take pills for our problems, “Big Therapy” tells us the solution to our struggles is to pay a stranger to talk to.
Just look at the way these platforms frame therapy. Therapy is for everyone, says Hers. Therapy For All is Talkspace’s slogan. Therapy shouldn’t be a last resort, Cerebral reminds us. And the reasons to go are getting increasingly vague. Do you deserve some self-care? Are you “worrying like, more and more?” Need help with “any issue you have in life”? Connect with a therapist now. And I can’t help but notice that a lot of this marketing is targeted toward adolescent girls—have a “healed girl summer” with Talkspace! Use the discount code “SLAY!” for 10% off BetterHelp! Try therapy for “sad girl thoughts” and “big girl depression”!
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Which worries me because I think this idea that everyone needs therapy for every problem is unhealthy. I think it’s especially unhealthy to teach those young girls who aren’t mentally ill but are increasingly sad, anxious and risk-averse. The way I see it so much of mainstream culture is teaching them that they can’t cope with life. We’ve got a progressive movement rewarding them for feeling like victims and seeing everything as an injustice. We’ve got TikTokers telling them they are traumatised and mentally ill. And less talked about is this booming therapy industry indulging their every fear and anxiety, permanently there to remind them that they need professional help. I don’t know about you but I really don’t think being able to message a therapist 24/7 from your room is going to do anything for the resilience of an anxious, socially awkward generation.
And it’s weird to me that the mental health industry gets so little flak for this? Everyone’s all about empowering women and calling out men and the patriarchy and whatever else for patronising us. But what about the mental health industry? The industry that treats us like perpetual children? Companies like Hers that suggest women need to pay $99 an hour to handle “daily stressors”? Or Talkspace that shares anxiety reward stickers for making eye contact and getting through a phone call? I’m sure some of it is well-intentioned but it’s just so infantilising. Girls are anxious and struggling, yes. But a culture that insists they need constant reassurance and can’t handle any uncomfortable emotions without help will only make that worse. Especially when it’s pushed by companies that profit from girls feeling more fragile and dependent on their services.
But that’s not all that bothers me. Not only do I think these online therapy companies are cashing in on how anxious Gen Z is but also how atomised and alone. Teens today hang out less than ever with friends. They are detached from their local communities. Three-quarters of UK kids spend less time outside than prison inmates. Some are spending over 10 hours a day on screens.
And companies know this! That’s why we’re seeing all these AI therapy chatbots that feel like a real human being and are ready for conversation at any time of day. That’s why using Talkspace is like text messaging with a trusted friend! And why BetterHelp markets its therapists less like professionals and more like besties! “She’s my girl!” is how an influencer describes her therapist in one of their ads. “Being able to just…send a quick message and say hey this is happening…it was life-changing,” admits a woman in another BetterHelp ad. Life-changing? God that’s depressing. And makes me think that much of the demand for therapy now is not because we are an increasingly mentally ill generation but a desperately lonely one. So starved for human connection we will pay strangers just to have someone listen to us.
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To be clear: I’m not saying that nobody ever needs therapy. Sometimes professional help is necessary. What I’m saying is we’ve swung from stigma to way too far in the other direction. Of course there are people who need help and are still ashamed to ask for it. But I also think there are people who now feel pressured to get professional help for normal negative emotions—teens and pre-teens convinced the reason they’re sad sometimes is because they’re broken and haven’t paid enough to be healed. Now not going to therapy is a red flag. Seeking support from friends and family is exploiting their “emotional labour”. And men are shamed for preferring to chat to their mates about their problems than pay a stranger, like that one BetterHelp ad where a woman dismisses a guy she’s dating because he “doesn’t do therapy”. Think about that! How have we reached the point where we’re stigmatising people for not needing mental health support?
To those girls getting inundated with this, I can’t say whether or not you need therapy. But what I can say you absolutely do need—what we all need—is human connection. Frequent, real human connection. Not some Zoom call that costs £90 an hour or automated texts from an AI chatbot. No, actual communities, stable families, and meaningful relationships outside of the market. Connections that come without discount codes, subscription fees or Silicon Valley tactics. If you are anxious or depressed and you don’t have these, that is the first thing to fix. Because I would argue there are a lot of young people struggling right now not because they are mentally ill but because they have no friends, barely go out and spend all of their time online. And they are being told the solution is to sit inside and talk to a stranger on a screen.
No. Not everyone needs that. Get off your screens. Build resilience. Invest in deeper connections before depending on these services. Because maybe you’re not struggling because you need therapy. Maybe you’re struggling because companies are taking your human need for connection, your normal feelings of stress and sadness, and using all this to sell solutions that leave you more anxious and alone. Because again: what could be more profitable?
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