I tend to have a soapbox about therapy as a profession. You may have heard it. It goes like this: You don’t hear the words “innovate” and “therapy practice” together all that often.” ~ From my bog post Innovative Therapy, July 14, 2011. Sometimes, I’m glad to be wrong.
Click on www.prettypaddedroom.com to see real innovation in action. CEO and Founder Bea Arthur has taken an already innovative idea, online therapy, and further reinvented in the form of a subscription-based, women-oriented community. While individual privacy is still protected – Bea tells me that even as the administrator, she can’t see notes that clients want to keep to themselves – the purple color palette and tongue-in-cheek sense of humor (who wouldn’t want their padded room to be pretty?) keeps it fresh and removes barriers to clients seeking therapy.
Removing barriers, Bea tells me, was one of her primary motivations behind the generation of this site. As a therapist, she has seen how it’s hard for individuals to break that first boundary into therapy. “It’s not something that most women will ask their friends about,” she explains.
Every aspect of the site seems geared to put the client at ease – from the blog post introducing the fear of change by comparing it to the fear of zombies to the easy, simple interface. One of my personal frustrations is that some therapists feel it takes a moral high ground to eschew customer service. But if we don’t have a perspective on the client’s needs, we can’t help anybody…because nobody will come to us.
Pretty Padded Room is an example of doing it right. When I expressed to Bea my concerns about state licensing laws as barriers to treatment, she said she gets that question a lot. She originally consulted with a lawyer on the question. He ended up telling her that since so little is known about it, he would have to spend a lot of time researching the subject. Since it would be cheaper than paying him by the hour, she might want to do it herself. And she did. (Lesson: Innovators are not afraid of doing the hard work on their own.) She found out that most states do not have specific laws against distance counseling. For the clients that do live in states where it is specifically stated that the counselor must be licensed in their state, they can join Pretty Padded Room with the understanding that what they will be receiving cannot be considered traditional therapy, instead “expert consulting.” Their careful attention to legalities has sparked me to re-examine opportunities I may have to counsel over state lines myself. (Lesson 2: Innovators open doors you thought were closed.) In addition, PPR screens for clients who might be unsuitable for online therapy and actively seeks consultation with organizations like the Online Therapy Institute.
Openness to innovation has produced some fascinating results. The Digital Diary, one of my favorite aspects of the site, allows clients to write in an online journal and choose – or not choose – to have their therapists read what they wrote and provide feedback. Clients can also save their journal entries and chats, search them and refer back to them when needed. The therapeutic benefit of writing through an issue is something a person would not regularly receive in a face-to-face counseling setting.
Pretty Padded Room’s therapists specialize in diverse areas and for the most part work part-time in addition to their own private practice or community mental health. Bea has liked the opportunity to provide therapists just starting out on their own another source of income, as she sympathizes with how hard it is starting out. She encourages new therapists to be patient, as it takes time to cultivate new clients.
Long-term, Bea hopes to continue expanding the company, and perhaps sponsor workshops on issues of concern to women, such as body image. She wants to continue pursuing opportunities in the distance counseling field, maybe someday licensing the software she’s developed for her site for use by individual counselors.
Bea Arthur is the perfect example of the therapist-entrepreneur. She’s a source of inspiration to me and I hope many others will take their cue from people like her. Our field will grow stagnant if we don’t innovate.
Does reading the story of Bea Arthur and Pretty Padded Room stir you to act on your own innovation? I hope it does. Each and every one of us has the potential for great innovation. We can do so much if we just let ourselves! How can you implement even a small step of your own innovation today? I would love to hear about it. Please leave me a comment sharing how you’re going to start bringing innovation into your everyday life.
Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. She helps clients and counselors start something new every day at Beginnings Counseling & Consulting, www.stephanieadamslpc.com.