A Uncommon Pandemic Silver Lining: Psychological Well being Begin-Ups

A Rare Pandemic Silver Lining: Mental Health Start-Ups

"It's a crowded space," said Alex Katz, founder of Two Chairs, who opened its doors with a single clinic in San Francisco in 2017, of the mental health start-up scene. Still, he said, "Because the problems are massive, we need many great companies that are working in innovative ways to address different populations, diagnoses and care delivery."

Mr. Katz, another Stanford graduate, started working at Palantir, the data analytics and software company, but tried to understand mental health services when his partner was "having a difficult time in her life." Eventually, he quit his job and began using his network of friends and family to understand the mental health system.

He soon learned that one of the system’s biggest challenges was getting a therapist and a patient together, which he believed technology could solve. However, after interviewing clinicians, he decided to start a physical clinic rather than a virtual one. While trying to raise funds for his young company, "I joke that I had three strikes against me: I was the first solo founder of an inpatient healthcare company." From the beginning Two Chairs relied on technology and uses a frequently updated proprietary algorithm to bring clients and therapists together after the first prospective client meeting.

Although both Ms. Safira and Mr. Katz initially focused on personal care and virtual therapy was a long-term goal, they had no choice but to change direction after the pandemic. Ms. Safira and her small team had to quickly move away from the space in Manhattan that they had carefully designed and renovated but never opened to be completely isolated. Within eight long days, she created a remote platform to deliver five types of services, largely group-oriented (one-on-one calls waiting for personal location to open). Mr. Katz, whose business had grown to seven locations in the Bay Area and is slated to open a new one in Los Angeles next year, also made the decision in March to continue his business entirely virtually.

Since both planned to offer remote services, they already knew that remote sessions had already been proven effective. David Mohr, the director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine who studied the subject, said researchers have long found that teletherapy can be as effective as personal therapy.


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