Home / Health / Mobile platform Talkspace is the 'Future of Therapy'

Mobile platform Talkspace is the 'Future of Therapy'

An ad showing Freud in Google Glass says it all.

The father of psychotherapy is the past, the high-tech gadget is today and the image is for Talkspace’s April 5 conference on the “Future of Therapy.”

If anyone knows how vital talk therapy is and where it’s going, it’s the co-founder of Talkspace, a mobile platform. It all started because her marriage nearly tanked.

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Roni Frank and her husband, Oren, “experienced a crisis in our relationship and we decided to give it one more chance in couples’ therapy,” she said.

Frank became so enthralled with therapy that after a career as a software developer, she chucked it to study psychology.

Two years into her journey toward a master’s degree, she “started to realize the mental health system in America is completely broken,” she said. “One in five Americans suffers from mental health issues each year.”

Yet, roughly 70% of those who need help don’t receive it, Frank said. The three main obstacles? Cost, stigma and accessibility.

Most face-to-face therapy runs at least $ 100 an hour, many feel embarrassed about needing psychological help and getting to appointments can be difficult. Frank was convinced she could do something.

Four years ago, the Franks launched Talkspace with $ 13 million in venture capital funding. They now have over 500 licensed therapists, who report to supervisors.

Some 200,000 people have used the service, which runs $ 25 a week. Clients can text, record a voice message or leave a video on the firm’s app as often as they want. Therapists get back to them within the day.

The cost and convenience drew Bob, who works in insurance in Salt Lake City. He reaches out to his therapist five days a week, three to four times a day.

“I had made a goal to make 2016 my best year ever and this would be a good idea to get in shape physically and mentally,” he said.

Nine weeks in, Bob is happy because his therapist asks incisive questions. He enjoys the ability to frame his thoughts in texts.

Joe, 33, a heavy equipment mechanic from Baltimore, could not make traditional therapy work for him because he travels so much.

“Being on the road all the time, I don’t have a lot of friends,” Joe said. “It’s easy to get on there and vent and keep on moving.”

He’s been through a few therapists in 18 months with Talkspace. They always respond in kind, whether text, voice recording, email or video.

The system is also a great fit for therapists, said Scott Christnelly, of Queens. For 15 years he worked mainly with HIV/AIDS patients. Now he counsels 60 clients, with varied needs, through Talkspace.

“Obviously you are not getting the nonverbal communications from the people across from you,” Christnelly said. “What you are basically relying on is the building of the relationship through words and stories. It is very similar to face-to-face in that there is a story that develops over time, based on the questions I might ask or the client may ask.”

The advantage is that therapy occurs any time and anywhere, Christnelly said. This allows clients in another time zone or awake in the middle of the night to reach out and the therapist to respond as soon as possible.

Kate Denihan, a Manhattan social worker and clinical supervisor in a housing program, makes herself available as often as clients need her.

“I typically log in two to three times a day for someone in crisis and for others who have a lot of difficulty with frustration tolerance,” Denihan said.

She offers a free, introductory Skype session to meet clients and encourages them to check her credentials.

Several online therapy firms offer face-to-face talks, but in a few weeks, Talkspace is launching another innovation, combining the ease of Skype with security measures to ensure patient confidentiality.

“Our goal is to open access to mental health services,” Frank said. “We are committed to democratizing mental health care by removing the main barriers — cost and access.”

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