by Erin O’Donnell
A new therapy app, which costs one-third of typical in-person sessions and serves close to 1 million, is the latest telemedicine model that’s trying to improve mental health by giving people a chance to chat for less than $50 a week with a licensed therapist, all on a smartphone.
“Talkspace” works as a webpage and mobile app that connects people with licensed therapists through an unlimited amount of messaging via text, audio or video message. There is no real time session per se–therapists respond around the clock. All 2,000 of the Talkspace therapists are licensed and go through an onboarding process and credentialing program in professional counseling and marriage and relationship therapy.
“The mental health system in America is completely broken–50 million people suffer from mental health issues each year and 70% of them who are diagnosed have no access to health care,” said Roni Frank M.D., cofounder and head of clinical services.
Talkspace is solving 3 major barriers:
- Cost: An average 50-minute in-person session is typically $150. ‘That is a price point that most people cannot afford,’ Frank says, at least not on an ongoing basis. Talkspace charges $49 a week.
- Stigma: A lot of people suffer from shame behind getting mental health help. Talkspace messages are much more confidential than meeting face-to-face so people feel less judged making it less intimidating and awkward. Text messages create a safe space to help people get over the shame and it normalizes therapy in a way such as texting, like texting a friend.
- Access: And many people don’t have the means to go to therapy whether it’s a travel issue, taking time from work, or getting a babysitter. Talkspace, says Frank, allows people to get help immediately in their home or wherever they are, ‘without waiting weeks for an appointment.’
The motivation for creating Talkspace derives from Roni and her husband seeking out couple’s therapy.
“My husband and I experienced a crisis in our marriage. We wanted to give couples therapy one last chance and it saved our marriage. Therapy changed my life in so many ways, so I wanted other people to get that and I felt compelled to be part of the solution.”
Frank sought out to create something “real and interactive.”
‘We’re a data driven platform and the data is growing very rapidly, Frank reports. ‘We collect usage patterns and outcomes and currently have 5 completed data outcomes. We’ve seen 80-92% improvement in 2-3 months by people using the app and have found they get the same outcomes as traditional therapy for a third of the cost.
Talkspace is tracking every intervention and measuring each outcome. Therapists who are involved in the sessions have a minimum 5 years of clinical experience. It takes 3-4 months to get each therapist qualified for the program.
How to Find
The Talkspace app is available for download for Apple or Android devices. New users get a free consultation on topics regarding anything ranging from depression, anxiety, to relationship issues.
Insurance coverage is still in its infancy somewhat. Frank says users typically pay out of pocket or ‘can be referred’ by their employer who may cover the cost, although there are opportunities on the horizon, including one with leading insurer Magellan. There is precedent for insurance coverage of these types of services generally, although they have not focused on mental health as the Talkspace app does. Wellpoint, in 2013, launched an online care service called LiveHealth that gave its members 24-7 access to doctors.