Madly scrambling to organize things perfectly. Feeling terrified of saying the wrong thing in a key meeting. Relationships disrupted by your vigilance. The psychology community categorizes these anxious behaviors into disorders, but you already know what you're called: a startup founder. And now you can get professional help with the overload - without driving to a therapist's office.

San Francisco-based Joyable offers cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) online, allowing anyone needing to examine how beliefs affect one's life to do so from anywhere, in manageable modules. Five-minute activities include checking in on one's feelings about a to-do list, and examining personal values.

Individual plans cost $99 per month and, depending on the issue you're working through, involve eight-to-twelve weeks of personal coach-guided therapy in modules that typically last five to 10 minutes.

Widespread demand

Joyable's co-founder and CEO Peter Shalek jokes that the stress of being a founder is something he knows well, but he also has firsthand experience with social anxiety, and has witnessed the effects of anxiety and depression in his own family.

The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 34 million people are grappling with major depressive disorder without treatment in Europe and the Americas in any given year. And Shalek cites National Institute Mental Health data as the impetus for his mission at Joyable. The company estimates only one in 7 people with anxiety or depression issues in the U.S. get real help in the healthcare system.

One big obstacle for many people: It feels impossible to get to a therapist each week. Research shows that internet-based CBT's effectiveness is in the format--minimizing some of the common barriers of geographic distance, costs, lack of insurance, availability, stigma--in addition to the outcomes of the therapy itself.

A little at a time

The platform is designed for baby steps and peppered with modern touches. A bright white screen with minimal content, uncluttered and simple to keep you going even as your brain, desk, and life feel impossibly cluttered and complicated.

Before you register for a free trial, you'll take a quiz to rate the severity of your symptoms in place of traditional therapy's intake questionnaire. Those answers build a score that rates your starting point. Then you can create a free seven-day trial if your assessment interested you.

This morning I worked through the first of eight weeks of the depression program, finding a digital version of a standard therapy workbook. Like a workbook, you get an overview of what depression is, and a breakdown of standard CBT analysis: thoughts feed feelings feed actions. Your behavior produces negative outcomes, those results produce negative thoughts, and the cycle starts over, also known as the depression spiral. The difference between this and a workbook is your slideshow-meets-quiz of a 10-minute module is punctuated with a warm reassurance that depression can be conquered, and it's really not your fault. And you also have your personal coach hovering in the right margin, a photo of a smiling face with a name and phone number, that extra push when you're just not in the mood.

Coaches aren't licensed therapists, but they direct you through the platform, somewhere between a personal cheerleader and dedicated tech support.

Building the platform

Joyable was founded in 2013 and first offered CBT in 2014, raising capital through 2015 totaling $15 million. The program was available to individuals from the beginning, though, individual subscribers presented a business challenge. Shalek and his team recognized the tension between profit (retaining subscribers) and mission (getting people well as soon as possible) and so developed business among companies and health plans by cold calling, networking, and receiving referrals from their individual clients starting in early 2016.

Joyable reports that its therapy has so far reached 500,000 individuals.

Published on: Oct 5, 2017
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