Can BetterHelp Diagnose? Exploring Virtual Therapy Limitations

A therapist and client connecting via virtual therapy, providing mental health support.

A recent study from Brown University School of Medicine unveiled a startling statistic: out of 145 individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder, 57% had been misdiagnosed. Such findings highlight the profound risks associated with incorrect diagnoses, which can lead individuals to undergo inappropriate treatments for extended periods.

BetterHelp, a leading telehealth service, primarily focuses on providing therapy and counseling services to assist clients with their mental health challenges. Yet, a question frequently posed is, “can BetterHelp diagnose?” The unequivocal answer is NO. While BetterHelp is adept at counseling, the intricate nature of the diagnostic process means it is not equipped to offer a clinical diagnosis.

This article answers the question: does BetterHelp diagnose, and lays down the different ways in which BetterHelp’s counseling services can help clients.

What is a Diagnosis? 

In definition, “a psychiatric diagnosis is a professional’s interpretation of the person’s experience which becomes formalized as signs of particular disease states in a static medical model.”

A diagnosis refers to the identification of a specific mental health condition or disorder, arrived at through a comprehensive process and set criteria implemented by mental health professionals. Some of the steps of the diagnostic process are: 

  • Assessment

An assessment entails a systematic evaluation of an individual’s emotional, psychological, and cognitive functioning.

  • Diagnostic Criteria

Diagnostic criteria refers to a standardized set of symptoms, behaviors, and duration parameters that must be met for an individual to be diagnosed with a specific mental disorder. These criteria are outlined in two primary authoritative diagnostic manuals: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

  • Planning Out the Treatment

Planning out the treatment ensures that the individual receives the most effective interventions according to the needs and circumstances. This step also involves the decision of correct treatment modalities.

  • Follow-up

Follow-up is a critical step of the diagnostic process. It primarily monitors mental health symptoms over time and manages prescribed medications ensuring that treatment is effective and necessary adjustments are being made on time.

Why Doesn’t BetterHelp Diagnose? 

Since BetterHelp does not support face-to-face therapy sessions, its therapists can neither confirm a diagnosis nor offer an official diagnosis. Although all therapists are licensed, BetterHelp’s terms and conditions clearly mark that this platform is not intended for clinical diagnosis. Below are some of the reasons why:

No Access to Physical Health Assessment

BetterHelp is a strictly virtual platform, which means that physical health assessment is not possible. The Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027 emphasized the need to consider physical health when diagnosing mental health problems. 

The summary of the Mental Health & Learning Disability Inpatient Bed Census of 2018 is shown in the chart below, highlighting the link between mental and physical health. 

Lack of Information

BetterHelp’s therapists can only access the information shared through forms and observations made during the online sessions. This confines them in terms of knowing complete medical history or evaluations, which are essential to confirm or give a diagnosis. 

Although BetterHelp attempts to cover this gap through video calls, the real experience of face-to-face interaction, and visual and aural cues cannot be captured.

A study by Bipolar UK, the Royal College of Physicians, and Bipolar Scotland in 2012, found that a misdiagnosis can have dangerous consequences. Among the 85% of respondents whose diagnosis was delayed, 71% reported worsened symptoms as a result of receiving inappropriate treatment, such as antidepressants or sleeping pills. 

Due to BetterHelp’s online mode of communication, offering a clinical diagnosis and prescribing medication is risky as it involves several ethical or legal considerations. These can entail verification of the client’s identity, physical health assessment, and managing an effective follow-up routine. 

Tips for Users Seeking Diagnosis on BetterHelp

It is important to understand that BetterHelp is an online mental health service provider, and hence has certain limitations. During certain circumstances, seeking in-person therapy is necessary. Some scenarios when it is significant to consider in-person therapy are:

  • Detox or Substance Abuse Rehabilitation: Those in need of detoxification from substances or intensive rehabilitation may benefit more from in-person programs.
  • Crisis or Emergency Situations: In case someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of harming themselves or others, immediate in-person intervention is crucial. 
  • Need for Complex Diagnosis: Although online counseling comes with several benefits, it is not reliable for complex diagnoses. In such cases, it is pivotal to consider in-person therapy and diagnostic services. 

How Can BetterHelp Provide Value if You are Seeking a Diagnosis

Although BetterHelp cannot provide a formal diagnosis, it can prove to be a valuable resource for mental health support and counseling. For clients seeking diagnosis on BetterHelp, here are a few considerations that can be useful:

Consider a Hybrid Therapy 

Hybrid therapy allows patients to enjoy the perks of both in-person and telehealth models. They can have better access to therapy from the comforts of their homes, while also utilizing hands-on bridging activities, diagnostic assessments, and face-to-face therapy. However, since BetterHelp is strictly online, clients would have to search for some other reliable in-person therapy options. 

Set Clear Goals With Your Therapist

According to a study done by Dominican’s Department of Psychology, goal setting and goal achievement are deeply linked

Impact of goal setting chart

BetterHelp’s therapists can help you set your goals, and plan them out during the therapy sessions. These goals can eventually help guide your treatment and focus on the outcomes you want to achieve.

Try  Keeping a Symptom Journal

During your online sessions, you can use a symptom journal to keep track of your feelings, experiences, and symptoms. If you opt to go for an official diagnostic process, this information can then help identify triggers and store critical information about your state.

Key Takeaways
• BetterHelp excels in providing therapy but doesn’t offer clinical diagnoses.
• Psychiatric diagnosis is intricate, requiring several comprehensive steps.
• Virtual platforms face challenges, like the inability to conduct physical assessments and access comprehensive medical histories.
• The terms and conditions of BetterHelp clearly state that any clinical diagnosis can neither be given nor confirmed on this platform.
• Some situations, such as detox or emergencies, necessitate in-person therapy.
• Leveraging BetterHelp’s platform with goal setting and symptom journals can optimize therapeutic outcomes.