Therapy is a Scam! – The truth about mental health and big pharma  

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Therapy’s positive effects are impossible to deny- decades of research have proven it to be an effective treatment. Despite this, therapy is plagued with the same issues as the rest of healthcare, namely financial issues and exploitation. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

Yes, you read that right; therapy is a scam. In a world where phrases like “mental health matters” seem to greet you every direction you look, it almost seems forbidden to utter the kind of remark you’d expect from your grandfather who exclaims, “therapy is for suckers!” While I don’t hold the sentiment that therapy has no value, he does raise a point: Are therapists really swindling our money? The short answer is yes, the field of professional help and the pharmaceutical industry is rigged with financial traps and emotional roller-coasters that run for as far as the skeptic’s eye can see. 

The last decade worked hard to destigmatize mental illnesses, and contemporary culture finally recognizes that everyone can benefit from therapeutics, not just “those crazy people that belong in the loony bin,” as the older generation says. However, if you haven’t been dragged into the mess of professional help, there’s a misconception that once you finally seek a therapist, their help will…help. 

Therapists are never available to begin with, and after months of waiting for a consultation, you enter Susan’s soothing lavender room, complete with a stress toy and a place to vent. But on your second visit, you realize Susan only asked variations of “so how does that make you feel?”,  made surface level insights, and suggested general coping mechanisms that could be doled out to anyone. You walk out feeling more anxious than when you walked in, and that complementary stress ball is soon to be on life support. You end up asking yourself, “is this what therapy was all cracked up to be? No thank you, I think I’ll stick to my beer and Sunday football.” 

The typical rebuttal is “you just have to find the one you click with!” But why should I, the patient, have to go on a wild-goose-chase for a therapist that “works” for me? They should just…work. A highly qualified therapist would be sharp and strategically personalize their treatments for each of their clients. Leapfrogging through the field of therapists illustrates a fundamental flaw in our approach to treatment. Clearly, schools of psychology need to increase the rigor of their programs and raise the standards to be a certified therapist. To put it into perspective, we easily give doctors access to our bodies; their job is to maintain our physical health. Would you trust therapists to have unrestricted access to the depths of your mind because their job is to maintain our mental health? Would you be okay with allowing a surgeon who botched surgeries sometimes?   

Therapy can be life saving for some people. This makes the long wait times to find a therapist who’s right for you and the financial gates blocking off expensive options all the more harmful to patients who are seeking help. Photo by Alex Green from Pexels.

Getting legitimate therapy isn’t the only factor draining our pockets. The pharmaceutical realm shamelessly capitalizes off the increase in diagnoses for mental illness. “Big Pharma” is a running joke amongst younger generations, because no matter what economic logic you come up with, it all boils down to a gut feeling: Profiting off of someone suffering just doesn’t sound right. Corporations are incentivized to prolong the misery of patients, forcing consumers to rely on their pharmaceuticals. It’s no secret that corporate America rarely shies away from the chance to play with lives; they certainly haven’t hesitated to use the trivialization of mental disorders to their advantage.  

This is also where accessibility comes into play. Your favorite pill-pushing company may brand themselves as a “family company,” but which families are we really talking about here? Prescription anxiety medication is likely to earn a scoff in most marginalized communities. We circle back to the age-old controversy: should those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder still have the right to healthcare in spite of their inability to pay for it? Do marginalized groups not deserve therapists, medications and an improved standard of living? Or is it just tough luck, since they didn’t “work hard enough” for that white picket fence that anyone can earn in good old America? 

In the end, whether you’re rich or poor, one thing seems clear: we still have a lot of work to do in order to evolve our idea of what good, effective therapy looks like. We need to recognize these petty, stubborn mindsets are keeping us from focusing on reaching a point where the answer to “Do you think having a therapist is essential?” is “Yes.” And if we were to indulge a lofty prediction, when doctors’ physical check-ups are automated, perhaps therapists and psychiatrists will ironically become a “no-brainer”. Until then, do your research before shelling out cash for those pricey medications and wasting precious time on finding a decent therapist. Or as grandpa would put it: Don’t be a sucker! 

25 COMMENTS

    • I’d be interested in hearing your opinion! Please feel free to elaborate, I by no means believe there is any right answer and I’d love to see things from a different perspective on this topic.

    • Big fat liar you are, shithead. I’m glad that this author’s against as much as I am. So if you can’t stand this article, suck it the hell up, shut the fuck up, and get your ass off here!

  1. This article definitely seems to describe my experience with therapy. I went through a very public trauma that the local therapists went so far as to rent out a concert hall to talk to the people who were there and tell us all we needed therapy. I dodged it for a year, then finally succumbed to the pressure (it’s bullying, let’s not kid ourselves) to “get help.” Four years later I’m worse off, because the only thing that got “helped” was therapists helping themselves to my bank account. I have all the same symptoms, but now also I worry about therapy taking advantage of me. I got threatened with hospitalization twice without ever being so much as rude or mentioning any kind of violence or harm to myself or others. I need help, but it seems needing help is very different from someone being capable of providing help. 4 years, 3 therapists, countless visits, and yet not one single formal named therapy technique applied. No EMDR, no desensitization, no CBT, nothing. Just showing up feeling bad, then leaving feeling worse, every single session. I feel utterly betrayed. I gave them so many chances, was never rude, always paid my bill on time, but I just wasn’t worth helping, and I was literally told I was too foregone with too many traumas to be helped. Imagine the blow that was to me, especially after paying so much for the help I was promised. How am I not supposed to feel lied to, taken advantage of, and played for a sucker?

    • I always wonder why they make so much. It’s not brain surgery. They don’t even half to offer advice or tell you want to do. They’re basically an ear listening. Which is not what I wanted.

  2. I just finished calling to make an appointment with a therapist via Kaiser. The entire time, all I could feel was dread and all I could think about was what roll of the dice was I going to get this time? I’m 29 years old and have lived a miserable life, honestly. I’ve seen countless therapists who I couldn’t “vibe” with, many of whom wanted to reeeeeally push for anti-depressants. And hey, I’ve been there done that as well. Tried about 4 different onces, each with its own pros and cons. In the end, they all ultimately had the same effect. I was more numb to emotions, so negative experiences didn’t hurt as bad, but positive experiences barely felt like anything. I felt empty and dead. And even when on anti-depressants, I would realize this, begin to feel sad but couldn’t because of the drugs. These drugs just suppress the sadness but it never goes away, not unless addressed through actual competent psychotherapy. Competent practice is difficult to find nowadays. I’m saying this coming from California which has the strictest standards for becoming licensed; I can only imagine what it’s like in other states. The best progress I’ve ever made was tackling these things on my own with magic mushrooms. If you do it right, it works. Places are finally starting to incorporate psilocybin with their practices. Big pharma isn’t going to like that unless they get their cut, and here starts the BS politics all over again which is actually a big contributor to my existential dread.

  3. it is a scam. I’ve experienced sub-par service from three different providers in Tucson. Don’t call that suicide hotline, it’s a scam too.

    • Some are getting well over 150 for not even a full hour. Then they don’t answer their phones, because they are too cheap to hire a receptionist.

  4. It’s an easy way to make money. How can someone out of school, with very little life experience, actually help someone?
    How can they know more, or know better?
    Just what are they supposed to be delivering, for $155 an hour?

  5. Good article, but it didn’t go nearly far enough. Most of this stuff is expensive and based on practices like CBT that are, according to some sources, no more effective than placebo.

  6. Complete opposite of my experience with therapy, all of the ones I’ve spoken to have been readily available and always answer their phones when I call. Also the therapist/surgeon analogy is bad because everyone’s insides are the same, but everyone’s brains and how trauma is processed are not. Which is also why you need to find a therapist that works for you. By the logic used in the article, shouldn’t every writer be able to create an article that bangs it out of the park and be great if they follow everything they’re taught and adjust their writing for every person that reads it? Instead of writing poorly researched articles like this one, one that doesn’t even talk to an expert before making some pretty audacious claims? An article that people only arrive to when they google “is therapy a scam”? Unsurprising, since this is something written by someone in their 20s though.

    And in response to good old Doug above me here, some sources do say that CBT isn’t effective, sure. That’s how science research works. MORE sources describe it as a very effective method and recommend it.

    In conclusion, shut up go to therapy.

    • I think I do know how science research works. I have a PhD. Do you? The meta-analysis of studies seems to suggest that CBT doesn’t work. The article is not poorly researched at all. And I’m not “Good Old Doug.” So, saying things like “Shut up and go to therapy” is pretty regressive. You need to read more.

      • So, essentially anyone who doewssn’t have a “PhD” (even if it’s in creative writing), isn’t qualified to formulate their own opinion, beliefs and conclusions?

  7. Therapy was the biggest scam and worst experience of my adult life. I have no idea what the women I hired was supposed to be doing. I would directly ask and she would answer nothing or she didn’t know. I was told it gets worse before it gets better -but why? And why can’t those people tell you what they do to get paid? Other than sit there. I think they choose therapy as a profession because there is so little oversight and unless they blatently steal money or sleep with a client – they are protected. Therapy is horrible.

  8. Our corporate health insurers have successfully segregated mental health professionals into two categories:

    A. The Competents who you want to see; but they won’t accept insurance assignment of benefits, so you can’t afford them.

    B. The Incompetents who accept insurance assignment of benefits, but you don’t want to see because they are either:
    1. Clock-watchers who don’t listen, want to keep visits brief for higher patient volume, and just write Rx’s for addictive psych drugs so the patient is “locked in” for life to psych medication.

    2. Concerned, caring counselors who unfortunately are so disorganized in their office practices that they soon abandon their practices. They listen and hand out pamphlets and treatment plans, but aren’t around for the followup care.

  9. Thankyou for this article…Thankyou!!! More has to be said on this subject. The brow raising that I get for mentioning anything bad about therapist is insane here in Prescott AZ. It’s become taboo to speak negatively about therapy in general. It seems a slippery slope that Americans have accepted it as a norm.

  10. This is for John. My PhD isn’t in creative writing. It’s in literature, an interpretive field. I also had a supporting program in the History of Science and Technology. I was also a medical copy editor at WB Saunders Company for three years after Penn. I’m pretty clear about what the scientific method is. Psychology isn’t really science based. You need to be accurate when you check me out. I hope you’re more accurate cost estimating than you are here. As you know, because you checked me out on linked in, I’m an English professor. I also worked at the psychiatry department of the University of Pennsylvania when I was an undergraduate. I worked in the lab that developed the Beck Depression Inventory. I saw first hand how dodgy this entire field is: graduate students roaming the hallways talking about patients, chain smoking post docs, and everybody chasing grant money. So, no, a PhD isn’t necessary. Reading a lot is. And reading accurately is. Whoever made the comment I responded to didn’t offer any real interpretation, just word salad. A new study reports that therapy is at best 30 percent effective. And my PhD isn’t in quotes. As an English professor, I can say, you don’t understand how quotes work. Take care.

  11. Although this is a experience that many have had, myself included, I really wish you would have worded your article differently. Therapy has saved my life in so many countless ways. I understand the experiences you spoke about and don’t invalidate your feelings, however stating a strong claim such as therapy being a scam can steer so many in search of therapy away from it when it can be just the thing they need. This article could of been written in such a different way, if anything this article does more harm than help darling.

  12. this is 100% spot on, and honestly, doesn’t even go deep enough. so much damage is done in the name of well-meaning that can often make the situation worse. Years of the run-around by therapists that do virtually nothing, the stigma against talking against them, and the hell someone can go through if they ever are in a crisis by an easily abused system and telling the wrong person (see baker’s law/5150ing) that can make the situation that much worse. Oh, and you think its confidential? Don’t kid yourself. The entire psychotherapy industry is largely a grift, and even the grifters have convinced themselves of it. If you speak against it, you’re automatically labeled as someone that needs it.

  13. I’m someone who has been through quite a lot in life, and despite many negative experiences with therapists as a younger person, decided to become one. Initially, I had been involved in systems advocacy and urban community health program development. My motivation stemmed from the desire to “change the field from within” by being the shining example of what a competent, empathetic clinician should be. Life will be your greatest teacher…Doug, I agree with much of your article. Truly talented clinicians are an endangered species, most are nearing retirement. Graduate training programs are a joke, with many opting for online programs, literally churning out droves of new counselors with no understanding of how the field actually is. Post-grad supervision, which is where you master the craft under proper guidance, has become little more than cheap labor for agencies who hire new therapists, overwork them for 3 years until they’re burnt out and opt to do telehealth sessions for an online service. There is no real training: “evidence-based interventions” are mostly just some variations of CBT; (the great DBT, which is just CBT with a some Buddhist ideology thrown in). Thank you for bringing attention to the actual research. , The studies are often problematic and misleading, like much of the research behind the psychiatric drugs. Patients need to be put on separate medications just to manage side effects; children are put on strong neuroleptic medications and psychostimulants. Someone diagnosed with clinical depression is now given an atypical antipsychotic to augment their antidepressant which isn’t working? How about stopping the medication instead of adding ? I’ve seen people Everything is a disorder; the DSM V and its addendums are laughable nonsense with no scientific basis. More meds are given to keep people more symptomatic, more chronic. The system is overwhelmed, understaffed and undertrained. Morale goes down, the quality of care goes down. It is a shame; REAL therapy done well can be incredibly healing. Sadly, much of the field has been reduced to cookie-cutter counseling and a referral to the psychiatrist or APN for meds. And everything can be done via Zoom, for the same fee of course. I walked away from the field; it was starting to feel like I was pimping empathy to people who were desperately seeking guidance. Charging $125 to be compassionate is unethical, amoral, or something insidious somewhere. So… what is the solution? Mindfulness, radical acceptance…guess what? You don’t need to see someone with an advanced degree in psych or counseling to practice any of these…they’ve been appropriated from Eastern philosophies: go to a meditation class, it’ll be a genuine experience.

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