- Popular text-based therapy platform Talkspace is planning a massive expansion.
- The company is bringing on psychiatrists to prescribe medications to patients through the app using its video chat tool.
- The app is also partnering with fraternity Delta Tau Delta to offer its 9,000 members free access.
I began my first therapy session on a crisp spring night in 2015, in the middle of a crowd near Manhattan’s Union Square. I was on my way to the subway when my phone buzzed with a new text from an app called Talkspace, a text-message-based therapy platform.
“Hi Erin, it’s nice to meet you,” the message said. “Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself? I’m glad you are here.”
Following that initial message, I used Talkspace for a week.
The app is designed to replace or supplement traditional in-person therapy. And nearly three years and some 1 million additional users after I tried it out, the platform is planning a major expansion.
The biggest change is that Talkspace plans to start prescribing users medications for conditions like anxiety and depression.
Roni Frank, Talkspace’s co-founder and head of clinical services, told Business Insider that the decision to expand into prescription drugs comes alongside the company’s recent appointment of its first chief medical officer. Neil Leibowitz, Talkspace’s pick for the role, was previously senior medical director at UnitedHealth.
In addition, Talkspace is announcing a round of new partnerships in the coming weeks, one of which involves free access for brothers in the 9,000-member college fraternity Delta Tau Delta.
Prescribing drugs through the Talkspace app
The Talkspace platform is built as a way to confront the reality that traditional therapy – which involves pairing a licensed therapist or social worker with an individual or couple – is failing to meet a large and growing need for mental health services.
Of the roughly 20% of Americans who have a mental illness, close to two-thirds are estimated to have gone at least a year without treatment.
Dozens of other startups are also attempting to solve this problem, including AI-powered app Woebot and chatroom platforms like Better Help and 7 Cups of Tea. None of those currently offers patients access to medication, however.
With that in mind, Talkspace is bringing on a team of licensed psychiatrists who will serve as independent contractors and work directly with Talkspace’s therapists to determine appropriate prescriptions for medications.
With Leibowitz on board as CMO, Talkspace would be the first mental health app to provide this service, which Frank said they would be piloting in a region of the US beginning in October 2018.
“Many patients can’t access medication and it’s very expensive,” she said. “This collaboration is key for better clinical outcomes and better results.”
Users won’t completely forego an in-person consultation, though – Talkspace said that would take place via video chat.
Talkspace is increasingly moving into offices and universities
In addition to expanding into the prescription drug space, Talkspace is also bringing its platform to offices and universities – first by offering its services through employer assistance programs, and second by teaming up with fraternities on college campuses.
As part of the new arrangement with Delta Tau Delta, the fraternity’s members will get free access to Talkspace by using a special code. Talkspace views the initiative as an opportunity to provide young people greater access to mental health services, according to Lynn Hamilton, Talkspace’s chief commercial officer.
“I think millennials today are more open about their mental health and their desire to get services but the flipside of that is that the universities are challenged to keep up with the students’ demand to access care,” Hamilton said.
The company announced a similar partnership with Alpha Tau Omega in 2016, after a member of that fraternity heard about Talkspace in an advertisement and reached out to the company.
The company is also in talks with several sororities and has been mulling the decision to work directly with on-campus mental health services at universities across the US.
“I don’t view this as a fraternity-only partnership,” Hamilton said.