Recent Reddit threads have had students questioning the ethics of Tip Labs, an unaccredited personal coaching service formerly associated with the The Tipping Point movement. The Tipping Point is well known to the UBC community as a student mental health advocacy initiative founded by Ji Youn Kim, whose vulnerable blog post about her struggles with mental illness and dropping out of UBC went viral.
According to the program’s website, Tip Labs is a self-development program that aims to compliment the current academic system by guiding post-secondary students through action-based, individualized learning in a small community setting.
Its “Empower” program — which covers topics like “self-care” and “non-violent communication” — costs $295 for regular pricing and $245 each if the participant brings a friend. The “Drive” program, which focuses on “self-value,” “networking” and “holistic health,” costs regularly $345 or $275 for the bring-a-friend option. Both programs run for 12-hours over four weeks.
Redditors criticized them for “obscene costs, dishonest advertising and bad practice.”
“Going over the website the whole thing reeks of a motivational speaker scam under the premise of providing a peer support group for mental health,” commented user thethrowaway_hijack. “It just [seems] unethical and naive to have a ‘peer guide’ who doesn't have any background in mental health care.”
In response, some pointed out the Tip Labs’s disclaimer, which states that “it is not not run by medical professionals and should not be used as a substitute for professional support.” But not all redditors were satisfied, as they took issue with the premise of the service itself.
“Don’t charge people for coaching when you aren't qualified. Easy as that. Especially when it’s something as sensitive as mental health. You can ruin someone if you don’t use the right methods.” Reddit user arthriti5 commented.
In an interview with The Ubyssey, Kim said that although Tip Labs was originally created under The Tipping Point, the program no longer exists within the organization. The first and only cohort of three students participated in the program last February. The program advertised for Fall 2017 on the website did not end up running due to organizational challenges.
Giulio Suchar, one of the three Tip Labs students, said he went into the program with a full understanding of the service’s breadth and limitations.
“I never thought Ji-Youn would pretend to be a counselor, but also I wasn’t in a very vulnerable place,” he said. “I wanted to improve my life, but I wasn’t at risk. So worst case scenario, it’s not going to be super effective.”
Overall, Suchar said he was happy with his experience with Tip Labs and felt he gained useful tools and mindsets.
Kim believes that there is validity to a lot of the points being made and published a statement in response on The Tipping Point blog to address the public’s concerns.
“Like any other coaching and consulting service, there is no one-size-fits-all option,” read part of the statement. “It’s important that students find what is exactly right for them, from seeing a therapist, involvement in a club or other extracurricular, or the personalized coaching that I provide.”
She also emphasized that she is not a medical professional and that her services are for personal and professional development — not counselling.
“I realized [that coaching is] something that I want to do for myself as an individual and separate it from the non profit organization because I understand where misunderstandings happen about services that you pay for,” Kim said. “I do want to apologize to the community about not preparing or not sharing the updates and being transparent enough such that misunderstandings and misconceptions could have occurred like this.”