Can you tell me a little bit about Innerworld?
Innerworld is a mental health platform that’s virtual. It’s as easy as using Zoom, but it’s interactive. You sign up, and it’s a free platform. You come in, and you are in a private room, and you can see a bulletin board. We have over 100 classes a week, and each class pivots around a single topic, like living with anxiety, social anxiety, living with depression, all kinds of things. And then you can go into a group setting where there’s a live community 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a live guide. You can just get to know people and hang out in a community setting. You can go up to a guide and ask them questions.
Let’s say your dog recently passed away, and you say, “I’m really sad. I don’t know where else to turn to.” And the guide might say, “Have you ever learned about the grief cycle?” And they can pop up a visual of the very famous CBT and DBT tool called the grief cycle. And then you could go take a class, for instance, on how you use this tool. We’re focused on behavioral tools. So if you go to a meeting for social anxiety or agoraphobia (when you just don’t leave your house), there’s a tool that we use, and the guides give [it] to people during this session. It’s called Solve It Ahead. You might say, “What is my goal? To go to the grocery store. What’s the worst-case scenario? What’s my biggest fear?” You write that down. What would I do if this actually happened? You make a real plan, then you say, “What’s my best-case scenario?” Then you make a plan. Not that you get to control the outcome, but you can maybe influence it where the best thing might happen. Then you write down what is the most likely thing and think about that. And then you begin to practice that tool.
We had one woman who hadn’t left her home in four years, and she decided to go to the grocery store. She had a plan, and part of her plan was using Innerworld on her phone live while she went grocery shopping because all of her friends came in to support her and were there. And she went to a concert of 5000 people within four months of being on our platform. So this is very real help. It’s very focused on best-in-class, scientifically proven behavioral tools. We are a clinical research platform. It is a very safe platform. There are no trolls. There is no bullying. And we’re very focused on behavioral skill sets to make sure everybody has access to them. Right now, as you probably know, we have a tremendous mental health need that has outpaced our ability to serve it in traditional therapy settings, one-on-one therapy, [and] even one-on-one Zoom therapy. There just aren’t enough therapists right now. So this is a way of doing it in a group setting that is skill focused.
What are you most proud of accomplishing with Innerworld?
I’ve been looking at the bottleneck that we’re in, in our mental health crisis. We’ve done a great job as a society through a great group effort of raising awareness around mental health and getting people to talk about it. But we haven’t done a good job innovating in the field to meet the need. We have more and more people willing to say, “I need help” or “My daughter needs help.” But you can’t get an appointment with a therapist. We’re currently 500,000 therapists short in the U.S.
That’s so crazy.
And if everybody who needed help got it, we think there’d be a five-million-therapists deficit. So we have a problem, right? We have a huge bottleneck. What I aimed to do with Innerworld was realizing the tools are scalable. We have to make these tools accessible, not just in a one-on-one environment and setting. We have to make these tools accessible to everybody, and putting those into a virtual setting allows us to create a massive scale that’s still very high touch. There can only ever be 30 people in any meeting. The great thing about virtual, though, is we can have 100 meetings happening simultaneously with only 30 people in them, all led by a guide that’s trained in this. We’re not training PhDs or a therapist, by the way. We’re training peers to lead groups, and it’s all given with a lot of oversight and a lot of training.
That’s really great. It feels like a very smart solution for the therapist deficit that we’re in. What does mental health mean to you personally?
Mental health is having the right feeling at the right time or the appropriate feeling at the appropriate time.
I like that.
I do think there’s a little bit of a danger right now in wellness culture selling or giving us the idea that we should be happy all the time. Happiness is a side effect of choices, and we want to create an environment that causes happiness as a general result, that’s cultivating the soil for good things to grow so that your overall experience is positive. But again, mental health is having the appropriate feeling at the appropriate time. … If something is betraying, you should feel angry, and then you should figure out the right course of action to take. I think a lot of the problem, for me, personally… I call it emotional dyslexia. Something betraying would happen, and I would talk myself out of anger and get myself to forgive them. Instead of acknowledging that I was angry, that hurt, this is the action I need to keep myself safe. Or I betrayed my own values. That makes me angry at myself. This is the action that I needed. The anger was an appropriate response. So knowing the right feeling to have and when is a huge part of mental health.