Caleb Hill, a gay man who grew up in a conservative Christian household in Tennessee, was kicked out of his house after he came out to his family. After experiencing isolation and depression, Hill turned to BetterHelp, a popular online therapy app that promises "a personalized therapist match that is tailored to your preferences and needs."
Hill told The Wall Street Journal that his biggest concern at the time was missing his family. Alas, he alleges that the therapist recommended he try to "stop being gay" so he could reunite with his family.
"[The therapist] said if I chose to go back to who I was and deny those feelings, he could get me where I needed to be," Hill alleged.
To make matters worse, a screenshot shows that Hill had requested an LGBTQ+ therapist. The "personalized therapist" BetterHelp matched him with didn't specialize in such issues. In fact, the therapist's personal website states that he practices Christian counseling.
"He said either you sacrifice your family or you sacrifice being gay," said Hill. "I needed someone to tell me I was gay and that was OK. I got the exact opposite."
When asked if he had been intimate with a man, Hill said he hadn't, to which he was told, "Good."
"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."
Citing patient confidentiality, BetterHelp declined WSJ's request for comment. The therapist in question, Jeffrey Lambert, gave the same response.
"Given the scale of the service, unfortunate and negative experiences are not completely unavoidable," the website said in a written statement. "This is true in all therapy settings, whether traditional or online."
Although clients are able to switch therapists if they'd like, Hill said this experience discouraged him from seeing other therapists for fear of the same homophobic response. He said he believed Lambert used a conversion therapy technique that seeks to change a person's orientation from gay to straight.
BetterHelp recently posted about the dangers of conversion therapy on its official blog. A spokesperson for the company said, "If we do get information that a therapist conducts conversion therapy or similar practices, they would be removed from the platform."
Caleb Hill left the BetterHelp platform with an e-mail to his therapist saying, "I finally opened the door of the prison I built up inside, and the thought of going back kills me. Will kill me if I lock myself inside again."