We love seeing celebrities and YouTube stars become mental health advocates by sharing their own struggles with mental illnesses. But even though therapy myths are being debunked every day, there are still many barriers that are making it hard for millions of Americans to get the help that they deserve — including inadequate public funding of mental healthcare and the pricey cost of therapy, which most patients have to pay out of pocket.
Thankfully, there’s a new app that’s changing the face of therapy in a BIG way. Talkspace (available on Android and iOS) is an app that connects people with licensed therapists via text messages and video chats for as little as $32 per week. We sat down with Oren Frank, CEO of Talkspace, to learn more about how this awesome new service is revolutionizing online therapy and how one good idea just might put essential mental health resources into the palms of millions.
B+C: How did you first come up with the idea of a service where you can text a therapist?
OF: The idea originated from what was almost the breakup of my marriage. Roni, my wife — and now happily, my co-founder — and I were having difficulties in our relationship. We started seeing a couples therapist. It completely opened our eyes and changed both of our perspectives on the relationship. The results speak for themselves: Ten years later, we’re still happily married. It was powerful.
The results inspired Roni to change careers — from a successful stint as a software developer to a path in psychology. Because of that, and because of our transformative experience, we wanted to bring the potential of therapy to as many people as possible. Half of those now using Talkspace haven’t previously been to therapy before using the service. We believe that being able to see a therapist is more important than how you see a therapist.
B+C: Is Talkspace a reaction to people’s embarrassment or hesitancy to go see a therapist?
OF: Stigma is certainly a component of why people don’t get care. Indirectly, it’s probably helped us succeed because our members can speak to a therapist in a more discrete manner. They can avoid things like alerting their employer to a weekly doctor’s appointment. Their nosy neighbor isn’t going to “catch them” heading into the therapist’s office.
But stigma is a much wider problem, and we didn’t create the service just because people are embarrassed to go to see a therapist. Talkspace is also a reaction against the inadequate access to mental healthcare that most people have — and the high costs they’re forced to pay. Those issues were top of mind when we set out to create Talkspace.
B+C: Why do you think a platform like Talkspace is necessary in the digital age?
OF: There is a mental health crisis in America. Researchers from NYU found recently that more Americans are suffering from serious psychological distress than ever before, even as access to mental health care has decreased. Not being able to get help has huge ramifications for those with mental health issues as well as for their friends, loved ones, coworkers, and employers. It should be important to all of us.
If there’s a huge number of people needing help and a low number of people getting it, we must broaden access. And we must meet people where they are! We live online — we Skype or FaceTime with our family, we text our friends. We order food, groceries, and get recommendations online. People are busy. To commute 30 minutes each way for an hour-long appointment each week is — rightly or wrongly — a big commitment these days. Being able to text your therapist any hour of the day or night feels right to a lot of people. Having a video chat from your couch doesn’t take up your whole night, and studies keep finding that therapy is therapy. It can be just as effective online as offline. The important thing is getting help when you need it.
B+C: Why was creating a low monthly fee (as opposed to the sometimes outrageous fees of in-person therapists) important to you?
OF: In trying to democratize therapy, it was certainly important to keep the service affordable. If you can pay $500 for a 45-minute session with a psychotherapist in Manhattan, that’s wonderful. Most people who need help can’t make that work. About 75 percent of therapy is paid out of pocket. There’s a huge gap between what people need and what they have. Keeping the service affordable is key to changing that.
B+C: How has the stigma around therapy changed over the past five years? Where do we still have to go?
OF: The stigma around therapy and mental illness is decreasing. More celebrities are speaking out about living with bipolar, borderline personality, depression, and anxiety disorders. It’s incredibly brave. We’re lucky to have these prominent figures talking about their experiences, but if you speak with them you hear how difficult it still is. Despite their platform and the privileges, they still face bullying. They face harassment online. They are stereotyped by fans. They face discrimination from employers, just like the rest of us. We still have so far to go.
So, in addition to speaking up about one’s experience to fight stigma, we need action. We need action from lawmakers to increase access to care and improve the social safety net, not destroy it. We need action and understanding from employers to provide programs for workers struggling with mental health challenges. And we need action from those needing help to advocate for themselves. We hope to be there every step of the way.
Would you consider using an app to text a therapist? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)