Overcoming The Stigma Around Working Professionals Trying Therapy

An interview with Alexa Meyer, CEO of Orchid.

We are seeing more business leaders, entrepreneurs, and executives embracing the conversation around mental health at work, and in particular, talking about the benefits of going to therapy. One study found that cognitive therapy was just as effective as medication when treating moderate to severe depression.

Another study found that the benefits of medications for depression and anxiety disorders stop after patients stop taking the medication. The benefits of cognitive and behavioral therapy for the same mental health conditions were found to endure after the treatment ends.

While the benefits of therapy are apparent, many professionals in the workplace still find it difficult to try therapy because the process of finding the right therapist and deciding if therapy is right for them is more than often time-consuming, tedious, and filled with frustration.

At Mind Share Partners, we are seeing many companies include therapy coverage in their employee benefits package. I wanted to cover the conversation on how businesses can help better support and encourage employees to try therapy, and ways professionals can overcome their own biases around therapy and simplify the process around giving therapy a try.

I interviewed Alexa Meyer, CEO of Orchid, a service that makes it easy for people to both try and find a therapist in their city, to cover this conversation and more.

Nina Tomaro: “Why did you launch Orchid?”

Alexa Meyer: “I believe investing in our mental wellbeing should be as easy, and as modern, as taking care of our physical well-being. Our emotions and mental processes inform so much of how we think, feel, and act on a daily basis, yet, the resources to take care of our mental health are extremely stigmatized and hard to access.

I experienced this frustration first-hand when I was starting to feel like I didn’t have control over how I felt. I felt highly anxious, frustrated, and burnt out. These feelings were starting to impact my day to day happiness, productivity, and relationships.

I knew I wanted to start learning how to take better care of myself, but finding a therapist and deciding if therapy was going to be useful was extremely time consuming and frustrating. I wondered why mental health wasn’t as easy to access as going to the gym or a walk-in clinic like it is for physical health. After experiencing this frustration first-hand, I decided to start working on Orchid with the mission of making mental health modern, easy, and accessible.”

NT: “How does an employee, or any working professional decide if therapy is for them?”

AM: “Therapy is a tool to help humans better understand ourselves and manage our emotional and mental wellbeing. I think as a society, we need to get rid of the notion of “needing” therapy. I don’t think there’s a definition for “needing” or “not needing” therapy. This idea of “need” is part of what contributes to the unfortunate stigma and resistance to try out therapy.

A lot of people think therapy is reserved for someone who is in crisis. Professionals (and really all people) go into therapy for all sorts of individual reasons including:

  • Identifying and mitigating potential mental and behavioral blockers (eg. imposter syndrome) that might be getting in the way of achieving a goal

  • A major life change (a trauma or loss, a move to a new city, a breakup, new job)

  • Learning to manage feelings of stress or anxiety in a sustainable way

  • Communication, Procrastination, Focus, Motivation, Purpose

This is just a small list of many things. Therapy is a tool to help us better understand ourselves and manage our emotional and mental wellbeing. This can be beneficial to everyone.”

NT: “What does it mean to reduce the friction (and stigma) around taking the first steps to try therapy?”

AM: “We believe taking the steps to take care of one’s mental health should be as easy as everything else in our lives, like ordering a Lyft or an Uber.

Imagine if ordering a taxi-ride to get from point A to B meant calling 20 different cab companies, getting put on hold, and waiting several hours before your ride came. You’d feel frustrated and might decide to find alternate means of transport. Trying out therapy should be as easy as ordering a ride. Many of us experience reluctance, fear, and hesitation around trying out therapy for the first time, even if we think it could be helpful. If you pair that fear with an extremely frustrating process, many people decide not to bother at all.

We have found at Orchid that removing the searching, calling, and calendar scheduling makes it a lot easier for people to take the first step. By letting people try therapy first without committing or feeling like they have to break up with their therapist after the first session, we remove a lot of the initial anxiety and hesitation.

The stigma is reduced when therapy happens in a setting that feels fresh, safe, and modern and is anchored by community. When people see that therapy is something that doesn’t have to be hidden, scary, and overly clinical, the stigma around therapy and mental health care is reduced. At our mental health pop-up events, we’ve had people come to us and ask if we have room for them to do a session after seeing their peers and colleagues going in and out of conversations with therapists.”

NT: “What steps would you suggest for someone that has never been to therapy before and has no idea what they’re looking for?”

AM: “It’s normal not to know what to look for. My suggestion is always to first think about some questions you might want help with. Imagine you were going to ask your best friend for advice on something. From there, I would suggest book a few consultations or trial sessions with different types of therapists and see what feels good for you.”

NT: “How can employers and managers help to reduce stigma around therapy? What are some ways to make it easier for employees to get to their therapy appointments (without shame)?”

AM: “I think employers should start by creating a workplace that supports mental health and wellbeing. This can include a few tactics like:

  • Fun education like bringing in workshop facilitators to talk about mental health, wellbeing, stress management, and different types of therapy

  • Therapy trials in office bringing in therapists to do easy consultations with employees

  • Creating physical space in-office for people to unwind, decompress, reflect, meditate

  • A monthly budget that can be used on mental wellbeing however one sees fit - mental health is not one-size fits all.”

NT: “Some companies are bringing on in-house therapists for employees to confidentially work through emotions and struggles. Do you think this is an effective move? Is it more effective to have insurance options that cover mental health for employees?”

AM: “Yes. I worked for a company who has an in-house therapist. 98% of our employee-base leveraged this benefit and it was extremely beneficial. It reduced the friction (since she was available in office) and destigmatized therapy for a lot of folks who wouldn’t have otherwise tried it out.

An in-house therapist can also act as a triage and help someone find outside resources that might be beneficial to them. I think in an ideal scenario, employers should offer both in-house and external resources.”

NT: “Do you think CEO’s should have a therapist? If so, why?”

AM: “Yes! The CEO sets the ethos of tone for the whole company. The more self-aware and emotionally healthy they are, the better off everything and everyone in the company will be. There is a huge trickle effect for a company from a self-aware and emotionally healthy CEO.

CEOs are in an especially unique position where therapy can be quite helpful. From managing stress, to pressure from investors, employees, and family, and overcoming imposter syndrome, the list of benefits for trying therapy is extensive. Founders and CEOs also have a higher likelihood of suffering from depression and should be aware of this risk and proactively take care of their mental wellbeing.”

NT: “For a company who is just getting started with a mental health program, what are some effective ways a company can start bringing mental health support into their organization?”

AM: “This can include a few tactics like breaking the ice using education as a tool to surface the conversation around mental health through workshops. These workshops and facilitators can also cover topics like communication, conflict management, imposter syndrome, managing stress, building emotional resilience, and more.

And things I’ve already mentioned like physical space, bringing therapists in-office to do easy consultations with employees, and a monthly budget that can be used on mental health programs and policies.”

NT: “If productivity is tied directly to the physical and mental wellbeing of a workforce, then investing in therapy for your employees seems like a smart financial investment. Where do you predict therapy from a workplace benefit standpoint will be in the next 5 years and is it a smart investment for businesses?”

AM: “Mental health costs employers 225 billion per year in lost productivity. This is beyond a smart investment, it’s a necessary one for the future of work. Companies used to not have fitness benefits or any form of physical health benefits beyond what was covered in a standard insurance plan. 

Now you see gyms inside of offices, generous physical fitness benefits and discounts for gym memberships, in office yoga and workout classes. I think the same shift will occur for mental health resources and benefits. We will see in-house therapists and coaches, physical spaces in-office for mental decompression, and learning and education programs about mental wellbeing.”

Mental Health Awareness, Mental Health at Work, Mental Health, Business

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