Social media users who were targeted by ads for an online LGBT counselling service have criticised them as “crass” and “exploitative”.
Pride Counseling, a subsidiary of online therapy site, Better Help, offers private counselling with licensed therapists for LGBT people suffering from mental health problems.
The California-based service predominately advertises itself on Facebook and Instagram.
It offers unlimited online therapy via messenger and video calls for a subscription fee of $35-$70 (£25-£50) a week.
However, several targeted by the ads have taken issue with the company’s marketing, which they have called offensive, misleading or invasive. Others have labelled them as “exploitative” and “scam-ish”.
Adverts promoted on behalf of the business include images of a rainbow covered young man crying, and videos of tearful LGBT people embracing their future happy selves.
One social media user, who wrote online about their dissatisfaction with the company’s ads, said that Pride Counseling had good intentions, but that the “marketing feels really crass”.
Alma, who did not give her second name, told PinkNews that the marketing “really rubbed me the wrong way”, because “a lot of LGBTQ people [are] cut off their families for safety and can’t exactly pay upwards of £30 a week for a service like this”.
She added: “I think what makes me the most uncomfortable is that it’s almost capitalising off of [sic] the fact they know mental health services are difficult to access, especially in the UK”.
Another, who wished to be named only as Ellen, said that they had been rejected for counselling from the service, which they did not expect to happen from the adverts they had seen.
“[I] was going through a bit of a rough time – nothing to do with LGBTQ or sexuality issues – and it came up on my feed … and I thought I’d go for it because [I had] nothing to lose”, she told PinkNews.
The service refused her counselling, Ellen says, because “my case wasn’t worthy enough and they wouldn’t be able to help”.
Ellen initially accepted the company’s rejection, as she felt somebody else would need the service more if it was over-subscribed.
“But then like it came up on my Instagram feed again, and I was kind of confused because they said they had such a huge demand and declined counselling me yet were still trying to get people to come to them for counselling”, she says.
She added that her experience “contrasts with the slogan” on the company’s advertisements, which says that “we believe help should be accessible to everybody”.
A fellow Twitter user who had been targeted by the company’s promotions agreed that the service needed to be clearer, telling PinkNews that there is “not really much clarity or transparency from the organization”.
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“I’ve seen their ads way too many times …. [they] constantly pop up on my feed”, said Fae Johnstone, adding that they felt they were being “spammed”.
Approached for comment, Alon Matas, founder of parent company Better Help, told PinkNews: “We welcome feedback and will always look to improve the relevance and connection with all individuals who can benefit from our service.
“Our goal is to be inclusive, transparent and effective with all of our marketing in support of better mental health and well being.”
“There are more than 100 different ads that promote Pride Counselling – some by us and some by other partners who independently promote the service.”
Matas vowed to remove ads that were flagged as inappropriate, saying the company will take down or fix them if necessary.
The CEO also denied that the service marketed itself as free saying, “we make it very clear that it offers long-term counseling provided by professional licensed therapists.”
He added: “Our FAQ page, which is prominently linked from the homepage, has no less than ten paragraphs that discuss pricing, insurance reimbursement, and membership fees.”
Better Help has 150,000 registered UK users, although not all of them are active.
The Pride Counseling therapy app has a 3.5 stars rating on the Google Play store.