News  |  ,   |  August 7, 2020

At Talkspace, Start-Up Culture Collides With Mental Health Concerns

News Article by Kashmir Hill and Aaron Krolik.
Published in The New York Times.

Excerpt:

The therapy-by-text company made burner phones available for fake reviews and doesn’t adequately respect client privacy, former employees say.

In 2016, Ricardo Lori was an avid user of Talkspace — an app that lets people text and chat with a licensed therapist throughout the day. A part-time actor in New York City, Mr. Lori struggled with depression and anxiety, and he credited the app with helping him get out of an abusive relationship. He was a believer in Talkspace’s stated mission to make “therapy available and affordable for all,” and when the start-up offered him a job in its customer support department, Mr. Lori was ecstatic.

Talkspace, which has raised more than $100 million from investors, had an office in the old Studio 54 building in Midtown Manhattan, with all the usual perks — a Ping-Pong table in the conference room and beer and wine in the company fridge, plus all the therapy employees wanted. “I felt like I was at the best place in the world,” Mr. Lori said.

After he wrote a general account of his therapy sessions on the company blog, an executive named Linda Sacco came to Mr. Lori with an intimate request. She wanted to give employees a sense of a typical user’s experience. Could she and one of the company’s co-founders, Roni Frank, read through two weeks of his therapy chat logs and then share excerpts with the staff? [ . . . ]