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Online mental health solution helps individuals find therapists

By Jerry Zeidenberg

TORONTO – When a group of overworked and highly stressed engineers needed to see therapists, they found it was virtually impossible to get an appointment.

Unfortunately, the clinicians weren’t available during the hours when the busy engineers could spare the time.

The solution?

Being engineers, they built a web-based therapy and counseling system called TranQool.

It works by connecting everyday people with therapists via secure videoconferencing – all of the video and text is encrypted. The participants can see each other on their screens, and talk for 45 minutes or more. But the client can remain in his or her home or office – there’s no need to trek to the clinician’s office.

Launched in early 2016, the system already has 18 therapists conducting sessions and another 60 in the pipeline, says co-founder and business development manager Saeed Zeinali.

Zeinali was one of those harried engineers who needed a helping hand. He was working in the oil and gas industry, flying constantly between Alberta and Ontario and working under intense pressure.

He needed someone to talk to, but couldn’t seem to get an appointment.

Zeinali and a few colleagues realized that others must have the same dilemma. Indeed, the solution is now used by more than 50 individuals, and the number is steadily growing.

“I believe digital health is going to change the way care is delivered, and mental health might be the best place to start,” says Zeinali. “When it comes to mental health, a lot of the therapy is done through talking.

“And you don’t always need to see a therapist in person for that. You can do it using video.”

He demonstrated the TranQool system at the recent Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Discovery conference, which was held in Toronto in May.

He noted the solution specializes in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), which has become one of the major forms of psychological assessment and treatment. “CBT is an evidence-based therapy that works as effectively over video as in person for the set of problems that we address.

Zeinali points out that TranQool is not being used for more severe forms of psychological problems, such as bipolar conditions or schizophrenia. “TranQool is more on the side of prevention than intervention,” he says.

It is effectively used for conditions like depression, social anxiety and eating disorders. Currently, TranQool is addressing nine different problems.

The therapists on board are all registered, masters-level social workers or clinical psychological associates. They’re not physicians, though, and they can’t prescribe medications.

TranQool takes pains to screen the therapists, checking their resumes and conducting phone and video interviews. Around 40 percent of applicants have passed the stringent requirements, Zeinali said.

At the Discovery conference, Zeinali demonstrated how a person would sign-on to the system.

To start, you need only enter an email and password. You then indicate which problem you need help with by using an easy-to-navigate menu screen. “We’re lucky to have been connected with OCAD,” said Zeinali, referring to the Ontario College of Art and Design. “Being around them helped us to have a better design mindset.”

The system then suggests three different therapists from whom the user can choose, based on the user’s need and preferences. TranQool shows you their pictures and provides information about their backgrounds and the languages they speak.

Once you select a therapist, you can then see their schedules – when they’re busy and when you can book an appointment.

As a telehealth application, clinicians and patients can find appointment times that are mutually agreeable – and they can conduct the sessions using videoconferencing that’s available on any computer, right from the client’s home or office.

The cost of an appointment is $80 for 45 minutes. “That’s around half of what our own therapists charge for their in-person sessions,” says Zeinali. He notes the service is reimbursable, and that insurance companies have agreed to reimburse clients when they use TranQool.

He said the therapists like the system because it helps them fill up empty spots in their schedules and puts them in the frontier of the movement towards technology use.

TranQool is targeting people in the 18-44 age group, many of whom are students or people who are just starting their careers. Zeinali cites a PwC study that found 72 percent of people in this demographic would rather see a therapist using online video.

The company is publicizing the service at university and college campuses, where students are often stressed but can’t find a therapist. Physicians like the service, too, says Zeinali. “Doctors want to know where to direct their patients, where therapy is available at a reasonable cost.”

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