A report from the New York Times raises questions over how the teletherapy startup Talkspace handles user data.
- In the report, several former employees said that "individual users' anonymized conversations were routinely reviewed and mined for insights."
- Talkspace denied using user data for marketing purposes, though it acknowledged that it looks at client transcripts to improve its services.
- It's still unclear whether teletherapy is as effective as traditional therapy.
Talkspace.com<p>Former employees also questioned the legitimacy of certain interventions by the company into client-therapist interactions. For example, after one therapist sent a client a link to an online anxiety worksheet, a company representative instructed her to try to keep clients inside the app.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was like, 'How do you know I did that?'" Karissa Brennan, a therapist who worked with Talkspace from 2015 to 2017, told the Times. "They said it was private, but it wasn't."</p><p>Other former employees said the company would pay special attention to its "enterprise partner" clients, who worked at companies like Google. One therapist said Talkspace contacted her for taking too long to respond to Google clients.</p><p>Talkspace responded to the Times with a Medium <a href="https://medium.com/@founders_22883/talkspace-founders-respond-to-a-new-york-times-article-78d6f5c45c59" target="_blank">post</a>, which claimed the Times report contained false and "uninformed assertions."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Talkspace is a HIPAA/HITECH and SOC2 approved platform, audited annually by external vendors, and has deployed additional technologies to keep its data safe, exceeding all existing regulatory requirements," the post states.</p>
HIPAA concerns<p>However, if the claims in the Times report are true, Talkspace may have violated the <a href="https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files//hipaa-privacy-rule-and-sharing-info-related-to-mental-health.pdf" target="_blank">Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule</a>, which prohibits providers from disclosing patients' medical data for marketing purposes, unless the patient gives <a href="https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-individuals/guidance-materials-for-consumers/index.html" target="_blank">authorization</a>.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If it is true that Talkspace used information from private therapy sessions for marketing purposes, that is a clear violation of trust with their customers," Hayley Tsukayama, Legislative Activist from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told <a href="https://www.salon.com/2020/08/10/therapy-app-talkspace-allegedly-data-mined-patients-conversations-with-therapists/" target="_blank">Salon</a>. "All companies should be very clear with their customers about how they use personal information, make sure that they don't use information in ways that consumers don't expect, and give them the opportunity to withdraw consent for those purposes on an ongoing basis. Talkspace trades on its trustworthiness and mentions privacy frequently in its ad campaigns. Its actions should be in line with its promises."</p><p>(It's also worth noting that Talkspace recently threatened legal action against a security researcher who wrote a blog post outlining the potential discovery of a bug that allowed him to get a year's subscription for free. A report from <a href="https://techcrunch.com/2020/03/09/talkspace-cease-desist/" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">TechCrunch</a> notes that Talkspace rejected the findings, and that the company does not offer a way for researchers to submit potential security bugs.) </p><p>Beyond privacy concerns, the report also raises questions about the efficacy of teletherapy, especially within a corporate model.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The app-ification of mental health care has real problems," Hannah Zeavin, a lecturer at the University of California and author of an upcoming book on teletherapy, told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/07/technology/talkspace.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Times</a>. "These are corporate platforms first. And they offer therapy second."</p><p>The main problem with judging the efficacy of teletherapy is the lack of solid research — it's too new to comprehensively compare it with in-person therapy. Still, some <a href="https://www.theraplatform.com/blog/284/is-telemental-health-effective-how-does-it-measure-up" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">studies</a> suggest it could be useful for at-risk populations, or for people in the wake of a disaster.</p>
'It's just not therapy'<p>But others remain skeptical.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Maybe [teletherapy] products and services are helpful to certain people," <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/07/technology/talkspace.html" target="_blank">said</a> Linda Michaels, a founder of the Psychotherapy Action Network, a therapists advocacy group. "But it's just not therapy."</p><p>Proper therapy or not, it's worth considering how platforms like Talkspace use — and possibly even depend on — user data. In a 2019 <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/opinion/health-care-data-privacy.html" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">opinion piece published in the Times</a>, Talkspace co-founder Oren Frank wrote:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The vast amount of information each of us possesses is far too important to be left under the control of just a few entities — private or public. We can think of our health care data as a contribution to the public good and equalize its availability to scientists and researchers across disciplines, like open source code. From there, imagine better predictive models that will in turn allow better and earlier diagnoses, and eventually better treatments.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Your health care data could help people who are, at least in some medical aspects, very similar to you. It might even save their lives. The right thing to do with your data is not to guard it, but to share it."</p><p>Would you?</p>
Reveri Health has launched a new stress-relief self-hypnosis program through Amazon Alexa to help combat the anxiety of COVID-19.
- Hypnosis refers to a trance state that is characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation, and heightened imagination.
- Hypnotherapy can be used to help you quit smoking, to manage chronic and acute pain, during labor and childbirth, as well as to ease stress and anxiety.
- Reveri Health, headed by Ariel Poler and Dr. David Spiegel, has launched several self-hypnosis skill programs through Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, one of which is designed to combat the anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Hypnotherapy via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM5NjM4NS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NDgxNjMwNn0.uwAkUblBsFyeqPwNNTnEd43DGmUv9GN2a2K_OQX4mMg/img.png?width=1245&coordinates=2%2C0%2C2%2C0&height=700" id="ce045" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0a24c656f0cab8cc3bdda198b5f1261d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="" />
Clinical trials of the Amazon Alexa stress relief skills have showed a significant decrease in anxiety amongst users.
Image by Reveri Health<p><strong>What is hypnotherapy?</strong></p><p>Hypnotherapy takes advantage of the relaxed, suggestible state your brain is in to alter our perceptions of things.</p><p>Hypnotherapy expert Diane Zimberoff (cofounder of the <a href="https://web.wellness-institute.org/blog/bid/265872/How-Does-Hypnosis-Work" target="_blank">Wellness Institute</a>) compares our subconscious mind to a computer's filing system. Our subconscious is like a hard drive. We store experiences, emotions, thoughts, and other processes there.</p><p>Hypnotherapist <a href="https://web.wellness-institute.org/blog/bid/256330/what-is-the-difference-between-hypnosis-and-hypnotherapy" target="_blank">Judi Vitale describes</a>:</p><p><em>"With hypnosis, you might want to help someone stop smoking by suggesting the taste or smell of cigarettes is worse than it actually is. But a hypnotherapist can use age-regression techniques [during hypnosis] to examine the impulse that fuels the client's habit.</em></p><p><strong>Self-hypnosis can aid in pain management, quitting smoking and stress relief.</strong></p><p>Self-hypnosis, according to <a href="https://www.reverihealth.com/about-hypnotherapy" target="_blank">Reveri Health</a>, is a type of hypnotherapy that can be done via an audio guide. You can do this in the comfort of your own home. First, you follow a series of instructions to get you into a focused state of attention (what is referred to as the hypnotic state).<br></p><p>Once you are in a calm and focused state, the therapy track will begin. After you hear and absorb all of the suggestions in the session, you will be guided out of your hypnotic state. </p><p><a href="https://www.reverihealth.com/about-reveri-1" target="_blank">Reveri Health</a> was cofounded by Dr. David Spiegel, who is considered one of the United States' most respected experts in clinical uses of hypnosis, alongside Ariel Poler, an passionate investor in the field of human augmentation. </p><p>With a team of psychologists, doctors, designers, and engineers, Reveri Health is dedicated to the belief that we can all feel better by changing the way we think - and one of the best tools to do this is the use of hypnotherapy. </p><p><strong>Clinical trials for Amazon Alexa self-hypnosis have revealed very encouraging results.</strong></p><p>According to Poler, Reveri Health has run clinical trials using self-hypnosis tracks through Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant at Stanford University that focused on the ability to <a href="https://www.reverihealth.com/quit-smoking" target="_blank">quit smoking</a> and <a href="https://www.reverihealth.com/manage-pain" target="_blank">pain management</a>.</p><p>The results of the pain management via hypnotherapy trial showed that pain ratings of users moved from an average 5.1 to 3.95 after using the Alexa Hypnosis pain relief app for 3 months. This specific trial also showed that hypnosis reduces pain by up to 50 percent over a year among women with metastatic breast cancer.</p><p>While it's important to note that self-hypnosis doesn't work for everyone, these results suggest there may be a new wave of hypnotherapy treatments that are available in the comfort of your own home.</p><p><strong><em>"Alexa, start hypnosis stress relief."</em></strong></p><p>Reveri Health has launched a specific program (which is currently being offered for free) to help combat the anxiety around the COVID-19 global pandemic. </p><p>If you're near your Alexa device, find a comfortable position, and then say: <em>"Alexa, start hypnosis stress relief."</em> </p><p>The voice of Dr. Spiegel will take you through a short hypnotherapy session that was designed to help you manage stress and anxiety that can be generated from the current COVID-19 pandemic. </p><p>This is a 10-15 minute session that you can repeat as many times as you'd like for free. You can begin using this service by <a href="https://www.reverihealth.com/stress" target="_blank">clicking here</a>.</p>
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