Philly-based Airapy wants to normalize access to mental health - Philly


Apr. 15, 2019 1:12 pm

Philly-based Airapy wants to normalize access to mental health

This nascent startup says mental health professionals can meet you where you are: parks, coffee, shops, libraries.

Airapy went live on Monday.


Airapy founder Rachel Cox fit the profile for her ideal client even before her startup began to take shape.

Some 18 months ago, right after her second child was born, the art school grad was seeking therapy but had trouble finding a provider that could fit her schedule. She was one of millions of Americans (as many as 53 million, one study suggests) who couldn’t access mental health care for reasons outside their control.

“In my case, I had been to therapy before and was trying to find someone new, but they didn’t book appointments more than two weeks ahead of time,” said Cox, who lives in South Philly.

With an initial $1,000 seed funding from the  Lori Hermelin Bush Seed Fund at Temple University, Cox set out to do research on the mental health care ecosystem, and eventually build a platform that would allow people seeking mental health providers link up with independent providers for low-cost therapy.

On Monday, the platform went live with an initial pair of providers, plus another three awaiting regulatory approval to hop on, Cox said.

The premise behind Airapy is based on something called walk-and-talk therapy. Instead of lying on a couch in a therapist’s office, patients can chat while taking a stroll along city blocks, grabbing a latte inside coffee shops (with ambient noise that drowns out private information) or sitting on a park bench. There are ground rules and previously agreed-upon mechanisms if, say, patient and provider run into acquaintances.

Alternatively, another neutral public space can be selected. If mutually convenient, therapy at home might also be an option. Sessions spanning 45 to 50 minutes cost between $30 to $65.

(Experts say the therapy M.O., which is not new, has its benefits but might not be a perfect fit for everyone.)

One immediate question arises: How to insure that quality of care is consistent? Providers, Cox said, are trained to deliver care consistently in spite of the somewhat unorthodox surroundings.

“My response to that is you can’t have it both ways,” said Cox; in other words, you can’t want increased access to mental health care and not support therapy in nontraditional settings. “If we’re going to make it accessible, I don’t see the downside to have more people access care in a variety of ways.”

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