Is Talkspace the Future of Mental Therapy?

talkspace

Talkspace is a counseling provider based out of New York City. It was founded by Oren and Roni Frank in 2012, and allows you to connect with licensed therapists. You can reach professional help by logging onto a website; the company also provides apps for iOS or Android devices.

Founders Oren and Roni Frank are a married couple who got the idea for their new company after completing couples counseling – which they felt saved their marriage. Giving the public access to counseling over digital networks seemed like a good fit; Roni worked as a software developer before her experiences led her to begin studies for a master’s degree in psychoanalysis. Oren served as the business CEO. Their advisory board now includes several practicing psychiatrists, including Dr. Irvin Yalom, Professor Emeritus at Stanford.

Talkspace raised $3.5 million in funding in 2014, and introduced Unlimited Messaging Therapy. This plan includes unlimited text messaging with Talkspace’s therapists. In 2015 they raised another $9.5 million from investment firms Spark Capital and SoftBank, and extended their services to couples therapy. Later that year they launched a 12-week program of Social Media Dependency Therapy, designed to assist online addicts in dealing with the emotional and psychological effects of immersion in the social media environment. Talkspace soon after added the capability for therapists and clients to exchange audio and video messages.

The latest addition to their services is real-time voice and video chat through their LiveTalk Online program. These services are supported through Agora, a company that supplies HIPAA-compliant (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) video calling to the healthcare industry.

Remote therapy

Digital, or “remote” therapy can be seen as an inevitable development in our busy, electronics-driven lifestyle. You can use the Internet and your smartphone to order pizza, navigate through traffic, buy books, and reach out to organizations on the other side of the world. Millions of people are now obtaining accredited college degrees or vocational training through e-learning technologies. Since therapy doesn’t require any physical contact, why not reach out to someone professionally qualified to get advice and comfort on personal problems?

Part of the value in Talkspace’s revolutionary approach is the powerful convenience of it. Whenever a client feels anxious, they can reach out for help. After a bad date, an argument with a spouse, a car crash – even from the supermarket or a restroom stall – you can unburden to a licensed therapist at the touch of a button. You connect with help when you need it most – not a week or month later after making an appointment in the traditional concept of therapy.

Overcoming the limits of texting

Talkspace started out as a local texting service for New Yorkers. The intimate relationship between therapist and patient is certainly more impersonal and imprecise via text. It’s like getting therapy through email. You can only convey your problems via a short message, and then might have to wait hours for a response. There is always a strong possibility of being misunderstood, or distorting problems, especially for someone who’s texting in a crisis moment under intense emotions.

There is also great value in the unspoken aspect of face-to-face communications between people: the look in the eyes, facial expressions, and body language can tell an experienced professional quite a bit about their patients. It definitely can be said that a personal, empathetic connection is important to effective treatment. Text-based therapy definitely has it’s risks and limitations. But one of its benefits is anonymity – text users can sign up for Talkspace’s service without giving their names or addresses.

Digital therapy may seem like a shortcut or even a weak alternative to getting in-office psychiatric help. But often the important thing is having support available in the first place. Telephone help lines and newspaper advice columns have been around for decades. Organizations like AA and others have established a good track record of helping people with real social problems such as drug addiction or alcoholism. They do this by sharing experiences and supporting one another. And few, if any, of those sessions are run by licensed therapists. Text-based communication offers a level of convenient interaction that becomes part of a behavioral support system.

Video Therapy

But the addition of live video conferencing services has overcome the hurdles of texting, as well. This provides the visual cues and immediate response we expect of meaningful interpersonal dialogue. If you have problems you need to discuss one-on-one, Talkspace allows users the options of a 30-minute live video counseling sessions for a fraction of the price of an in-office visit with a traditional psychologist. It is even possible to take part in online public forums at no cost.

Company success

Providing different levels of interaction and privacy are considerations that have helped drive the growth of Talkspace as a business and a social tool. Since it’s beginnings in 2012, the company has expanded to include more than 200 qualified therapists and over 100,000 users.

Part of the reason that Oren and Roni founded their company was their dismay at the realization of how limited accessibility to traditional therapy is. Professionally licensed psychologists and psychiatrists charge very high fees. You might have to wait days for an appointment, and be astonished at getting a $800+ bill for a single session.

These are exorbitant fees for an hour with a psychologist that, in and of itself, typically provides inadequate results. This, and the personal stigma of seeking help in the first place, have historically been the major barriers to those in the public seeking help with behavioral issues.

Talkspace provides many of the same services at a fraction of the cost, and often with anonymity. Some people are even put off by the level of intimacy that comes with conventional psychiatric treatment, especially when they realize it’s liable to be a lengthy, drawn-out relationship before any tangible results are actually achieved. But with the services that the Franks have envisioned, virtually anyone can get help in a moment of crisis by simply picking up a cell phone.

Professional Resistance

Members of the traditional psychiatric community have dismissed Talkspace’s value in therapy. But as the company clearly states, they are not a mental health care provider, but a digital platform for connecting clients with actual therapists. Oren Frank has assured users that the therapists who sign up to work with Talkspace are vetted to ensure they have the proper education and licenses. They are also subject to interviews with Talkspace’s professionals. Only then can they begin an extensive training experience to learn company protocols and become comfortable in their roles.

As professionals, they are also expected to observe traditional obligations such as patient confidentiality and providing the best level of care. Clients who really do require an extended period of in-depth counseling may be referred to specialists. For the majority, however, Talkspace provides a welcome alternative for tackling a personal crisis or recurring problem. You can get help when and where you need it.

We’ve seen that every industry resists change, particularly if it affects their bank accounts. The fact is, Talkspace is a service long overdue in the digital age.


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