By: Channing Sargent
Art: Eva Grello
In recent years, Silicon Valley has hosted the intersection of technology and mental health, with more and more start-ups launching their own versions of online therapy (1DocWay, Level Therapy, and Joyable to name a few). But one startup has focused on using mobile technology to augment in-person therapy, a concept that began with the founder’s own experience in the chair. “It’s interesting how hesitant I was,” Ti Zhao says of initiating those early sessions.
She did find a therapist though, and instead of inkblots or therapy sofas, was introduced to EBP: Evidenced-Based Practice, a form of treatment in which patients track the details of their lives on a Google spreadsheet. “Things like how I was sleeping, was I on my period–and there was a column where I could ad-hoc notes for more information,” Zhao adds. That spreadsheet became the catalyst for Kip, an app that not only connects users with face-toface therapists, but also uses data to measure progress. “We wanted to make a difference,” offers co-founder Erin Frey, “to create a future where if you want a therapist, you can get one right away and have the tools to know you’re actually getting better.”
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE MENTAL HEALTH INDUSTRY?
FREY When I moved to San Francisco four years ago to work in tech, I started going to a therapist for anxiety, personal issues, and family issues. I had no idea if therapy was even working, and I struggled with whether I was making progress. Around the same time, I met Ti on vacation in Puerto Rico; we were both climbing the Arecibo Satellite – that’s the big white satellite dish from Golden Eye. We started hanging out when we were back in S.F., and we’d have these brunch conversations about things you don’t normally talk about, things that were vulnerable and weird. We were both in therapy at the time, and we connected over that.
ZHAO I studied and worked in engineering and biotechnology. I love science, technology, and the intersection of those. I had worked at Genentech, and learned there that I love building products and tools that can help people.
HOW DO YOU HOPE TO CHANGE THE MENTAL HEALTH INDUSTRY WITH KIP?
FREY We want to build a world where people receive therapy the same way they receive basic medical care. Sixty percent of primary care visits have a related mental health condition. The symptom might be something like exhaustion or headaches, but there’s often a mental health issue underlying that that goes untreated. When you go for a checkup, a doctor might say, “You’re in good health overall, but here are some problem areas,” and then you address those things until they’re under control. There’s no reason we can’t do the same with mental health.
ZHAO Our take is that therapy should be a high-value, short-term investment. Patients should leave therapy with a set of skills, sort of a toolbox to manage their anxiety, to better communicate, to address any issue. Right now only 10-15% of therapists track progress with their clients, whereas all Kip therapists do that. Progress is measurable, and you should be able see that therapy is working.
HOW DOES KIP CHANGE THE PROCESS OF FINDING AND RECEIVING THERAPY?
FREY One misconception people have is that once you start therapy, you can never stop. Our process is more designed; it allows you to go through X number of sessions and then continue living the life you want with the tools you’ve gained.
ZHAO People often describe a therapist as “not a great fit.” That phrase is a red flag. It means they didn’t feel heard or listened to. We vet our therapists with an hour-long, inperson meeting to look specifically at whether they relate to us as patients.
FREY When I decided to get therapy, all I had were friends’ recommendations, and it took me eight months and three therapists to find one I liked. The right therapist should be empathetic, curious, ask questions that push you, creative in their treatment methods, and personalize the tools they offer so that they’re relevant to you.
WHAT HAVE YOU GAINED PERSONALLY FROM YOUR JOURNEY CREATING KIP?
FREY Growing this company has been challenging in so many ways! This is where we have both found therapy so useful. For me, it’s helped build stronger self-awareness, which is critical for making good decisions about where to invest resources and when to ask for help or delegate tasks. I’ve learned tools to manage stress and deal with uncertainty so that it doesn’t affect my productivity.
ZHAO Yeah, starting a company forces you to level up in so many ways. As your company grows, you have to grow with it; there’s really no other option.