The free BetterHelp offer is a start.

After eight people died at his concert last Friday night and hundreds were injured in a suffocating mosh pit — and many no doubt traumatized by the events — Travis Scott has teamed up with therapy app BetterHelp to bring relief to those affected by the tragedy.

Scott is sponsoring a promotion for free, one-on-one therapy for a limited time, he announced via press release Monday. He will also work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America to provide further assistance to anyone injured during his headlining act at Astroworld, the rapper’s annual festival. These steps follow his earlier promise to cover all funeral expenses for the families of those who have died.

Maybe this olive branch doesn’t seem like much to victims, or even seems icky. It doesn’t help to increase the legitimacy of all this that Scott describes as a “partner” with BetterHelp — the kind of language used to announce that someone is raising money to lend their name to a fast food brand, for example, as Scott did with McDonald’s in 2020. It’s unclear whether Scott will receive compensation for this partnership, or even whether he will fund the promotion himself (BetterHelp and Scott’s Cactus Jack Foundation — also the name of his record label — didn’t immediately respond to a clarification request). It also doesn’t help that BetterHelp is, well, a wee bit of a scam: the app is perhaps best known for its text-based counseling offerings, which are both attractive on their face and not backed by much science. The platform is uninsured, and while it offers “financial assistance,” it amounts to a 25 percent coupon that users must renew every few months.

In a perfect world, Scott might be handing out envelopes of cash to help those who are suffering as a result of the chaotic show, rather than seizing the opportunity to be the latest celebrity behind an imperfect mental health solution. There’s even an easy way to do that: Many victims’ families have set up GoFundMe pages. Forming relationships with mental health organizations, including one based on: an app, should definitely not be the end of what is happening here to make up for it.

But even if someone cringes when I see celebrities “partner” with mental health organizations (it seems to me largely a brand movement for them) and when I hear my favorite podcast hosts reading BetterHelp ads (there are online therapy platforms that actually offer a take insurance), I believe this is a pretty good use of the service. In addition to text therapy, BetterHelp offers weekly video sessions with a licensed professional as part of the standard package, and the one-month offer of the partnership includes four of those sessions. (BetterHelp has not made it clear whether users’ credit cards will be automatically charged after the free month; we have reached out for comment.) Online therapy via a virtual platform, which has become quite common during the pandemic, is relatively easy to implement compared with, say, trying to match people with individual therapists in private practices. BetterHelp isn’t the first company of its kind to intervene in the aftermath of tragedy, either; in 2017, AmWell waived its advisory fees for people affected by Hurricane Harvey. And BetterHelp is just one of the few ways concertgoers can get help. NAMI is setting up a special hotline with the initials “CJ” in the phone number, likely for Cactus Jack, and NAMI’s Houston chapter will “guarantee access to various counseling services,” the press release said.

None of this is entirely satisfying, even from a distance – people died and suffered serious injuries during a hyped-up music festival performance, what they need is complex and up to them. The detail videos of those in the crowd look very, very scary. After-the-fact mental counseling services – and that’s only a month away! – are absolutely no substitute for good safety measures. It’s certainly possible there will be further actions that would turn the Travis Scott-BetterHelp partnership from a social good-slash PR movement into plain old expediency. Perhaps a celebrity who jumps into a “partnership” days after a devastating tragedy just feels icky to you no matter what.

It would be much better if mental health services were always easily accessible, and that “celebrities team up to provide therapy” was just a total nonsense concept, rather than a somewhat practical one. But what liability looks like here (and even who owes it) is more than what a weekend news cycle can solve. Mental health care is expensive and difficult to access. That’s why, as those involved continue to figure out what a satisfying response to Friday’s tragedy really looks like, free therapy is a start. At the very least, it helps some people who receive it.

Leave a Comment