Mental Health Innovation: iCouch, founded in 2010 and based in New York City, allows people looking for therapy to find a counselor and conduct sessions online (via their computer in a Skype-like environment) or on their phone or tablet. The company has a roster of vetted mental health professionals.
The site makes it easy for customers around the world to join iCouch, choose a therapist from the list, book an appointment, pay the therapist’s fee, and conduct the session online. It's meant for people who need occasional therapy or advice for psychological concerns that aren’t urgent or complex
Who: Brian Dear
What He Does: Cofounder & CEO, iCouch
Why It’s Innovative: "Suppose you go out on a date and the date doesn't go well. You can go home and eat ice cream. Or you can call your best friend to talk; but maybe your best friend has to get up early and work the next morning and doesn't have time to talk. So you can call iCouch and have a best friend to talk to. The difference is, the best friend at iCouch is trained in dealing with your issues. iCouch is a web application designed to make casual therapy easy. By "casual therapy," I mean your typical low-level situations—mild anxiety, mild depression, social phobia—things that don't need medical intervention but need psychological intervention. We feel our structure is not appropriate to the patient with severe conditions, such as schizophrenia."
Why He Did It: "[Co-founder Jessica Rios and I] started the company when we lived in China. Mental health support systems aren't as developed overseas as they are in the United States. We found that for people who didn't necessarily need a psychologist but were having adjustment issues, they didn't know where to go. The big problem in America and, really, around the world is that there are big concentrations of mental health services that don't correspond to where the greatest needs are.
"The other thing is that people are just busier than ever. If you try to get a mental health appointment, it may be six weeks before you can see a provider. But there may be a provider in Nebraska or somewhere else in the country who can see you immediately through iCouch."
The Problem That Keeps Him Up At Night: "The real stumbling block with all of tele-health has been with regulatory and licensing issues. That's the main resistance from the professional community. There is still some fear about regulatory issues, and cross-state licensing is a big issue. [Some states don't allow mental health therapists licensed in one state to provide care outside of that state, even electronically.] That is the only hiccup to our road to wider acceptance. The solution needs to be at a federal level."
Another Great Mental Health Innovation: "Smartphone apps that allow people to track their moods or connect with others about mental health issues."
Would you use iCouch? What do you think are the biggest challenges facing mental health now?
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Shari Roan is an award-winning health writer based in Southern California. She is the author of three books on health and science subjects.