Mentally ill ‘exploited’ by unaccredited online counselling

Unaccredited online therapists are “preying” on the desperation of people with mental health problems as the NHS struggles to meet rising demand, in many cases exacerbating people’s issues, experts warn.

Vulnerable people are being exploited by “unethical” private websites which charge large sums of money for therapy sessions via online chats – with some services even being used as a tool to project religious and spiritual beliefs.

There is growing concern many of these websites operate using unaccredited counsellors who are not medical professionals and do not have the minimum training standards to treat serious mental illness.

Currently, there is no legal requirement for therapists to be a member of a professional body. But experts strongly recommend anyone seeking therapy should be treated by someone who is on a register accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care.

Obtaining this accreditation requires a minimum of around 400-450 hours of college-based therapy training, which usually takes no less than four years.

But there is a growing number of alternative courses available to aspiring therapists which are quicker and less expensive, and can be completed in as little as a year. Due to the lack of legal framework around regulation, this has led to a “very wide spectrum of people calling themselves counsellors”, according to experts.

A number of privately run websites offering therapy have been described as “unethical and exploitative” by former users, who said rather than helping them, the experience caused them heightened stress.

One website states it offers “convenient, affordable, private” online counselling and offers the opportunity to talk with a “licensed, professional” therapist online.

But accredited mental health professionals have told The Independent there are concerns the therapists are often unaccredited, and sessions can leave the client…

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