Therapy as a component to health and wellness is something the world at large is gradually warming up to, and many emerging companies are seeing the opportunity for improvement through design and consumer research. A new mental health company called Two Chairs (which recently received Series A funding from Maveron, a consumer-focused investment group that invests in socially conscious companies such as Everlane and Allbirds) is betting that therapy won’t just be something people seek in desperation—it will be an act worth celebrating. Their mission is to create a scalable system that helps people find the right therapist, navigate how to pay for treatment with insurance, all while providing a calming space for weekly appointments.
As it turns out, the rise in popularity of therapy has younger generations to thank. According to the APA, as of 2018 younger generations such as Gen Z and millenials are significantly more likely to open up about mental health and receiving therapy than older adults. With elegant, minimal branding and design-friendly spaces, Two Chairs is clearly finding ways to attract a younger clientele, while also diving into questions that speak to this population in particular: how do you create a system that makes it easier for young people to meet their mental health needs, connect with a therapist who understands them and their unique set of challenges, and even find opportunities to save money?
For Two Chairs founder Alex Katz, this entrepreneurial journey began through personal experience that forced him to ask these very questions. He started thinking in depth about the challenges of finding the right therapist after watching his partner struggle with depression. “The word "search" kind of implies you know where to start, but that's the exact issue, says Katz. "She, like many people, didn't. She didn't know how to find a therapist. She didn't know what therapeutic approach or modality would work for her and, on top of that, she didn't know what role her insurance benefits would play." After the toil of watching his partner go through this, Katz was determined to develop a solution to this process—within a year of this ordeal, he quit his job to start Two Chairs.
“I see three systemic problems in mental health: the stigma around mental illness, the enormous difficulty to even access care, and the lack of consistent quality in the services provided“, explains Katz. With the shift in culture to a more health-conscious perspective, the team at Two Chairs sees room for people to begin embracing the regular practice of therapy: "Therapy deserves to be part of an average day. We're making mental health care a beautiful consumer brand, so the everyday person can take a break from work, come in for a session, hit up the gym, grab dinner, and not bat an eye." In regard to access, Two Chairs considers elements that range from finding the right therapist to elements that might be overlooked, such as location in relation to public transportation. "For us, access is all the steps between you and care: identifying the best treatment, finding a therapist, getting to your sessions, and paying for it. Today's mental health system has significant friction at each step."
Insurance can also be a major barrier to access to proper therapy, which is why Two Chairs employs a team of care coordinators to help clients use their out-of-network health benefits to pay for their care. For a company with a design that’s clearly modeled on high taste, it’s refreshing to see the thoughtfulness applied to make sure Two Chairs is accessible to as many potential clients as possible.
Lastly, successful therapy is contingent on the right dynamic between client and therapist. “The strength of the alliance between client and clinician is the most important component of effective therapy. But shockingly, there’s little to no discussion of how to actually match therapists and clients in order to create strong alliances,” notes Katz. Using a combination of clinical knowledge and data science, the team at Two Chairs made a point not just to factor in a therapist’s area of focus, but also previously unchecked factors such as personality and background to create an effective matching process.
They ultimately developed a matching system that begins with an initial questionnaire, followed by an in-clinic consultation with a clinician, who uses this accumulative information to match them with the right therapist. And after more than two years of research, their matching method has proven to be 95% effective for incoming clients.
Two Chairs realizes that many searching for therapists would also benefit from breaking away from the sterile nature of many therapists' offices, so the company prioritized designing beautiful spaces for appointments to take place from the very beginning. "A driver for our interior design is this idea that nature heals—embracing objects that can positively affect our psychology. That means a lot of sustainably-sourced wooden objects, textiles, and rugs to both dampen sound and give you something to touch", says Katz. The spaces are filled with plants, smells of essential oils and amenities like herbal teas to help encourage calm using all the senses.
So why might a model like this work on a national scale? It looks at therapy holistically—what used to be perceived as a solution for rare cases of emotional distress, therapy is now being rebranded as a moment many should take to instead reflect on their daily lives; a refreshed philosophy that encourages people to prescribe themselves an hour each week not to "treatment", but to "self-care". With a comprehensive model like Two Chairs, the idea is that clients should want to spend time in spaces like these and that the barriers to entry that prevent people from receiving treatment should be as few as humanly possible. Another reason? Younger consumers want companies to actually hear their needs and respond to them. "There's a greater trend in the wellness industry of hyper-personalization, whether it's a vitamin or hair product, where companies are building entire services lines with the thesis that people are nuanced and require different things to survive and thrive," Katz aptly notes, "I think therapy fits within that evolution, and it needs to. Great mental health isn't templated, it's tailored."
As of now, Two Chairs is up and running in the Bay Area with options for individual or group therapy, and has plans to expand nationally. As they imagine a brighter future for how counseling looks in this day and age, we can only hope their design-first view helps to further normalize the use of therapy as a tool for many.
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