Online Therapy: Help 4 Nuts?

Last Updated Sep 18, 2009 6:59 PM EDT

No, The Corner Office hasn't gone mental. But I'm fascinated by an entrepreneur that came up with a unique business plan that targets 57 million Americans â€" one in four adults â€" that have a diagnosed mental illness, not to mention the countless millions that suffer from non-diagnosed disorders related to stress and anxiety.

And this is further evidence of our ever-expanding appetite for "quick fixes" - take a pill, go on a diet, buy a self-help book, join a health club, get an MBA - that sort of thing.

TechCrunch50 is a Bay Area conference where 50 early stage companies get to pitch their "concept" to panels of VCs, entrepreneurs, media mavens, and corporate execs that last year included the likes of Mark Andreessen, Mark Cuban, Henry Blodget, and executives from Facebook, Google, MySpace, salesforce.com, and Yahoo.

In only its second year, the conference has achieved some credibility. Intuit acquired Mint - a startup that launched at last year's conference - for $170 million last week.
Anyway, Forbes wrote a piece on one of this year's startups: BreakThrough provides a service CEO Mark Goldenson calls telepsychiatry or teletherapy - an anonymous, online way for those who need help to connect with those who provide therapy via phone or email.

I'm no shrink, but I do have mixed feelings about this sort of thing.

On the one hand, if this gets folks in need of therapy to reach out instead of just suffering or taking a pill, that's a good thing. And while, like everything else, successful therapy takes time and commitment and I don't know if doing it over the phone or via email actually achieves results, it might actually get some people into face-to-face therapy.

That said, let's face it, there are no quick fixes for mental illnesses or psychiatric disorders or a quarter of us wouldn't still be affected. And I could be wrong, but this just sounds too much like all the other quick fixes out there. We're spending more than ever on health clubs, diets, and diet pills but getting fatter and fatter. The same goes for the entire self-help genre, IMO. And don't get me started on MBAs.

To me, if you're not willing to do something face-to-face but you are willing to click on a web link, that tells me you're not committed enough to fix what's really wrong. So, while BreakThrough may eventually become a huge "breakthrough" success, it may do so without actually helping anybody.

Now, if some brilliant entrepreneur can come up with a way to fix that - get Americans to stop buying into quick fixes - now that's a venture I'd like to get involved with.

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