Can We Talk cartoon picture

CAN WE TALK? Life in the Golden Age of Talk Therapy

The stigma that has so long been associated with getting help with behavioral issues – even mental health disorders, is melting away. As Peggy Drexler recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Millennials Are the Therapy Generation”: “People in their 20s and 30s seek mental health help more often, as new habits and technologies change the nature of treatment.” [PHOTO CREDIT: The Wall Street Journal]

In fact, according to data from 147 colleges and universities, the number of students seeking help with their mental health issues increased at five times the rate of new students starting college, between 2011 and 2016. And the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association found a 47% increase in depression diagnoses among 18-to-34-year olds, in the three years between 2013 and 2016.

This data is certainly supported by what we hear in our confidential Round Tables – both by parents of college-age students, and our Member-providers of behavioral health services, who are having difficulty finding enough LCSWs, MFTs, CBTs, and counselors in general, to meet the demand.

Of course, one of the main reasons for the growth of Behavioral Health is that it’s increasingly paid for. Thanks to Patrick J. Kennedy, the lead sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which passed in October of 2008. The Act requires most group health plans to provide coverage for the treatment of mental illnesses, with coverage not less restrictive than that provided for physical illnesses. And, two years later, President Obama doubled down on Parity by requiring that coverage for “Mental health and substance use disorder services” be an Essential Health Benefit in the ACA.

Patrick Kennedy, as the nephew of Jack and Bobby, and youngest son of Teddy, was familiar with mental illness first hand – having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. According to an extremely candid interview in the Deseret News, last November, Patrick started with cocaine as a teen, and abused alcohol and other drugs while a student at Providence College. That didn’t stop him from becoming the youngest Kennedy to hold elected office, when he was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives, while still a junior at Providence. He then went on to serve in the U.S. House for 16 years. But during those years, he was hooked on OxyContin, and went into rehab at least three times. Today, Patrick has been sober for over six years, thanks to his tight family – and near daily attendance at AA meetings.

Increasingly Health and Life Coaches are also in popular demand. ABL Member Eric Neuner is CEO of Health Coach Institute, which has graduated over 20,000 coaches from its six-month Health Coach training program, which teaches students from around the world “everything you need to know about nutrition PLUS the art and science of habit change so clients get real, lasting results” – first for themselves, then for their clients.

And for those who prefer interacting with a “virtual” human, rather than a real one, of course: there’s an app for that. Cardiologist Eric Topol, author of Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again, supports AI tools that provide “virtual support, taking advantage of the willingness for people to disclose their innermost secrets to an avatar.” He specifically mentions Woebot, which uses tools from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help its users “think better, feel better in just 10 mins a day.” Woebot was founded by Stanford’s Alison Darcy, PhD, a Clinical Research Psychologist, and is Chaired by Dr. Andrew Ng, who led the AI transformation of Google and Baidu, and co-founded Coursera. As they say on their website, “DIY CBT works. CBT delivered via the Internet (and even video games!) can be as effective as therapist-delivered CBT for both anxiety and depression.” And, perhaps best of all, if you’re feeling anxious or depressed, you can talk to Woebot for free, and he’s always in.

What apps or other new approaches to delivering therapy have you seen or recommend to help satisfy this growing need for someone (or something) to just listen as we talk out our problems?

by Mimi Grant, President, Adaptive Business Leaders (ABL) Organization – Round Tables and Events for CEOs of Healthcare and Technology Companies