When admitting you are struggling with anxiety or depression is hard enough, asking for help can seem insurmountable. Pacifica’s self-help app was created to make cognitive behavioral therapy exercises accessible to more people. Now the startup is launching a Therapist Directory for users who want to take the next step. The service allows them to find a provider, attend consultations online using Pacifica’s platform and complete exercises as part of their treatment.
Founder and chief executive officer Dale Beermann says about 500 providers have already signed up for the Therapist Directory and expects that number to increase quickly after the launch as more profiles are claimed. The Therapist Directory is a bridge between Pacifica’s first two products, its app and Pacifica for Clinicians, a platform created for therapists who want to add online sessions to their existing practices.
Pacifica, which now claims 1.7 million users, was founded in 2014 by chief executive officer Dale Beermann and designer Chris Goettel, who were inspired by their own experiences. As a teenager, Goettel used cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to cope with social anxiety, while Beermann learned mindfulness techniques while dealing with insomnia. The two felt those approaches would adapt well to a mobile app. Both also had family and friends who were affected by depression, but while preparing to launch Pacifica they were still surprised to discover how prevalent mental health issues are and how difficult it is to find care.
Beermann and Goettel first focused on a self-help app because many people said they were intimidated by therapy, but wanted tools they could realistically fit into their daily routines. Based on CBT and mindfulness meditation, Pacifica app’s features are designed to combat stress, anxiety and depression. They include audio lessons, a health and mood tracker, relaxation exercises and journaling tools that help users set goals, challenge negative thinking and analyze their progress.
Now that the app has grown, Beermann says the startup felt it was the right time to launch the Therapist Directory.
One of the platform’s benefits is that therapists can assign exercises on Pacifica’s app to their patients and track their progress throughout the week, instead of only during sessions (all of Pacifica’s products are HIPAA-compliant). During consultations, providers and patients can also review data from those exercises together and use it to adjust their treatment plan. This integrated approach is one way Pacifica wants to differentiate from the increasingly long list of mental health-focused apps that have launched over the past five years, including Talkspace, Lantern, Joyable, Happify and Ginger.io.
“That’s why the release is really exciting for us, because as people use Pacifica, one thing they realize is that they didn’t quite understand what they were going through. As their eyes are opened as to how they can treat their own mental health, they look at ways to adjust more serious matters,” says Beermann. “To obtain professional help is a huge part of that and having a way to facilitate that with therapy closes the loop.”
Solving the accessibility problem
Beermann notes that only about a third of people with anxiety or depression get treatment. Part of this is because of the cost of treatment, an issue with no easy solutions. Pacifica is currently taking several steps, including reimbursement pilot programs, in an effort to make therapy accessible to more people.
Beermann says Pacifica wants to ensure that therapists, who are already frustrated by low reimbursement rates from insurance providers, see enough of a return on their investment to continue using the platform. Its platform uses a SaaS model, charging clinicians a subscription fee instead of taking a percentage of their revenue. Therapists set their own rates, use their own billing systems and decide whether or not to accept insurance.
“It’s not their fault that a lot of them don’t take insurance. It’s more of a systematic issue and we really need to work to take down barriers at the insurance stage,” says Beermann.
Many people are also reluctant to use insurance for mental health care, because they are worried about employers finding out or what might happen to their future coverage if they get a diagnosis that is considered a pre-existing condition.
For its reimbursement pilot programs, Pacifica has partnered with several insurance providers and companies, who are offering Pacifica to employees as part of their healthcare benefits. Beermann says they see the service as a way to improve productivity because mental health issues are one of the leading causes of sick days. Some universities are also participating in the program in the hopes it will reduce unsustainably high caseloads (at one school Pacifica talked to, there was only one counselor for 4,000 students).
“This structure prevents people from receiving healthcare they really need. That stigma bleeds into a lot of how we approach the topic in general,” says Beermann. “This is starting to get better and a lot of it will be generational. Millennials are so much more technology-adaptable and they are more willing to talk openly. A little bit will be a matter of time, but we also need to do a much better job of opening up doors.”