News / Ottawa

Ontario startup offering less expensive mental health treatment online

Toronto-based Tranqool is trying to make access to mental health treatment by connecting patients with licensed therapists online in video chats.

Chakameh Shafii, cofounder of TranQool, says seeking mental health treatment online can break down the financial, accessibility, and stigma-related barriers.

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Chakameh Shafii, cofounder of TranQool, says seeking mental health treatment online can break down the financial, accessibility, and stigma-related barriers.

A new online startup launched in Ontario is poised to break down financial barriers to mental health treatment by matching therapists with patients in front of laptops instead of in doctor’s offices. 

Traditional therapy sessions in private clinics can cost upwards of $180 per session. Even for someone with a health insurance plan, just a few visits can eat through health coverage.

A new service called TranQool is trying to change that.

A University of Ottawa graduate suffering from a bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder who has tried it says the convenience and price – each session is $60 – make all the difference.

By offering therapy on a secure video chat for a flat rate, the company is “taking away all of the excuses” to get help, said Sarah, one of the company's new users who asked that her last name not be published for privacy reasons.

“While society is taking down the stigma, this service is taking down the logistical issues with going to see a therapist, which I think is just awesome,” she said.

Right now, about 60 Ontario therapists have signed up to offer their services in the TranQool system. All of them must go through a criminal record check and must be licensed with the College of Social Workers or the College of Psychologists.

Users sign up for free online and, after answering a few questions, are matched with a suggested therapist offering treatment in nine mental health categories, including depression, eating disorders, and social anxiety. 

TranQool, whose office in based in Toronto, is able to charge such a low fee because the therapists usually take appointments after hours during the week and on weekends. The company takes a cut from each session.

“What actually appeals to me more than (the affordability) is the ability to maybe try a couple different therapists out … and then down the line you can commit to your favourite one. At $180 an hour, I can’t go try five different therapists and be like, ‘Oh, I’ll go back to number one.’ There goes your insurance,” she said.

Co-founder Chakameh Shafii, a University of Toronto graduate, helped start the company after seeking help for her own battle with anxiety two years ago. 

Also included in TranQool’s treatments is behavioural therapy, which Shafii says helped her understand her emotions. 

“When you have a chance to see a therapist from home, no one actually needs to find out you’re looking for help,” she said. 

“It’s very private.”