Talkspace Founders Roni and Oren Frank: “If we all shared the fact that we struggle from time to time, we would help create more visibility for these issues.”

Fotis Georgiadis
Jul 9 · 12 min read

It’s a great question and one that definitely doesn’t have a singular, simple answer. Individuals need to be proactive and reach out to others for support as soon as they feel the need. Early intervention is critical. But in order for individuals to feel comfortable enough to do this, we need to cultivate safe spaces for them, which requires a collective effort to reduce stigma around mental health. If, for example, we all shared the fact that we struggle from time to time, we would help create more visibility for these issues. This, in turn, would lessen stigma.

Oren Frank is a Co-Founder and the CEO of Talkspace, the leading online and mobile psychotherapy company that has made therapy accessible and affordable to people across the globe. In a day and age when mental health care is recognized as a global societal crisis, the effectiveness and convenience Talkspace provides to those seeking to improve their mental health and well-being stands out. Under Oren’s leadership, Talkspace has so far helped more than 500,000 clients connect with licensed therapists — the vast majority of whom did not have access to help prior to using Talkspace. As an avid believer in the power of innovation and technology to better society, Oren founded Talkspace with his wife Roniin 2012, with the vision of “Therapy for all.” After experiencing the benefits of couples therapy earlier in their marriage, they launched Talkspace with the strong belief that mental health care is a moral right, and everyone should have access to the support and value psychotherapy provides whenever the need or want arises. Prior to Talkspace, Oren was a successful senior marketing and advertising executive, mostly with McCann Erickson WorldWide, where he was recognized as a progressive creative strategist, and one of the leading voices in the new media-marketing world. Oren maintains that Talkspace helps him redeem and repent for his years spent in advertising.

Roni Frank is a Co-Founder of Talkspace, an online therapy platform and mobile app that connect clients directly with licensed therapists anytime and anywhere. Roni, who serves as Head of Clinical Services, is leading the company’s provider network of more than 1,500 therapists and responsible for quality of clinical service and therapist network growth. Roni is committed to open access to mental health care for every person in need. Roni and her husband co-founded Talkspace in 2012, while she was pursuing her Master’s degree in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy at the New York Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. Roni earned her degree in 2013. Before co-founding Talkspace, Roni was a software developer at Amdocs, a leading software and services provider to communications and media companies. Roni also received a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, in 2000.


Thank you so much for joining us Oren and Roni! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

Roni Frank:

Before Talkspace, I worked as a software developer for about 6 years. I had graduated with a degree in computer science, and though I was lucky to be in a field with nearly infinite job opportunities, I wasn’t happy with my work. At the time, my husband, Oren, and I were experiencing a crisis in our marriage that landed us in couples therapy. The experience was life changing: I felt something awaken in me. It inspired me to leave my job as a developer, go back to graduate school to study psychology.

It was during my studies that I realized how broken our mental health system is: 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental health issues each year — that’s roughly 50 million people. Yet 70% of those people aren’t able to access treatment. I was overwhelmed by these figures, and immediately felt compelled to be a part of the solution to the problem.

Oren and I began discussing these issues and realized that technology could help address and remove some of the biggest barriers for mental health care, such as: cost, access and stigma.. We both felt passionate about fixing the gap and this is how the vision of Talkspace was born.

Oren Frank

Following a relationship crisis, my spouse and I went to couples therapy and completely fell in love with psychotherapy. We ended up staying married, had two daughters — I continued therapy for a very long while, and my wife actually left her previous profession and went on to study psychology.

My previous career (forgive my sins) was in advertising and marketing, and when I left it, I was looking for something meaningful, valuable, and that aligns with my beliefs — making therapy accessible for all was a new path, but a natural extension of my positive personal experience.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

Roni Frank

Absolutely. Stigma is one of the primary obstacles to seeking mental health treatment. It has deep roots, and has existed across time periods and cultures. For centuries, people suffering from mental illnesses were considered insane, “hysterical,” or “mad.” They were forced to live on the fringes of society, and were seen as deficient, disabled.

The media continues to play a major role in perpetuating this stereotype, often linking mental illness with violence, portraying people with mental health issues as dangerous, volatile, weak.

In general, there’s a profound lack of education and understanding around mental illness, which reinforces the stigma around it. People fear what they don’t understand. Our mental health is also invisible, which makes it easier to dismiss or brush aside. Since there is no blood test or MRI that can show us when something might be off balance with our mental health, many people are more inclined to “suck it up and deal.” This contributes to widespread confusion and to the continued existence of stigma.

Oren Frank:

Stigma is a complicated issue, driven by many factors and made of several “parts” that are not always well known. Much of it is driven by lack of knowledge and education about mental health conditions and treatments, and by our innate fear of having something wrong with our minds — with the way we think and feel — and unfortunately supported by negative and frightening depictions of mental health issues in our culture.

Stigma is obviously partly the unnecessary shame we feel in there being something wrong, and our concern about other people knowing we may suffer from a mental health issue. It is also a strong sense of intimidation, an awkwardness, and a worry of being judged associated with meeting a therapist or a psychiatrist (especially during the first sessions).

Many times we worry what our therapist thinks about us and our condition; do they like us, do they think it’s all our fault, that we deserved it, that they may see something in us that makes us vulnerable and not appealing. Such feelings and fears drive many people in need to not show up for their scheduled appointments or not complete a full treatment course.

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

Roni Frank:

Stigma is very dangerous as it causes people to dismiss their challenges and suffer in silence. Part of our mission at Talkspace is to break the stigma around mental health by showing that mental health is a universal need, and that everyone struggles sometimes.

Last year, we had the pleasure of launching a partnership with world champion swimmer Michael Phelps as part of this effort. When we think of Michael Phelps, we think of this incredible athlete who is strong, masculine, and unstoppable — but when we hear his story we learn that he struggled with anxiety and depression. He realized he couldn’t do it alone and that he needed the help and support of a therapist. His story shows us that mental health issues do not discriminate; they do not care who you are, what you look like, where you come from, or how much money you have in the bank.

We know from clients, therapists, and the general public that Michael’s story was a powerful catalyst in allowing them to open up about their own mental health issues. In everything we do, our goal is to spark important conversations about mental health — whether it’s on our blog, social media, or at an event — we want to create a safe space for people to speak up and receive the support they deserve.

Oren Frank:

We believe that mental illnesses are just like any other conditions; if my foot is broken I’ll go see a physician, and it my heart is broken I need to see a therapist or a psychiatrist. I believe that treating this very matter-of-factly influences perceptions and helps overcome barriers to care.

My main focus, and the purpose and vision of Talkspace, is to get everyone to work with a professional therapist who is a great match for them, and complete a full treatment course. This is the best and fastest way to remove stigma and improve lives; people who went to therapy and received professional help become the best ambassadors for mental health care — they find incredible value in their experience and passionately share it with others.

Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?

Roni Frank:

The first service Talkspace offered was live video therapy, in which clients had the ability to schedule real-time video sessions. We quickly realized that users were not interested in this modality (initially surprising to us), and instead preferred to communicate with therapists via text messaging — without the need to schedule an appointment. They were looking for convenience and flexibility. We didn’t anticipate this finding, but it inspired us to revamp the model for online therapy we were creating, and move to text-based therapy. This experience was so powerful, and continues to remind us as a company to always pay attention to our users, and respond to their behaviors and preferences.

Oren Frank:

Building on Roni’s answer, when we researched therapy in the US, we found that only a fraction of people in need of help had access and could afford the time and money to complete a face-to-face treatment course. We thought to ourselves: “What would people in need feel if access to therapy was available for everyone?” “How would the world look like if 8 billion people had the support of a therapist?” (and much later on “Who would be our president if Trump’s parents and Trump himself saw a therapist?”). We then founded Talkspace, and got busy finding ways to remove as many of the barriers to entry that keep people from receiving help.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

Roni Frank

It’s a great question and one that definitely doesn’t have a singular, simple answer. Individuals need to be proactive and reach out to others for support as soon as they feel the need. Early intervention is critical. But in order for individuals to feel comfortable enough to do this, we need to cultivate safe spaces for them, which requires a collective effort to reduce stigma around mental health. If, for example, we all shared the fact that we struggle from time to time, we would help create more visibility for these issues. This, in turn, would lessen stigma.

I touched on this before, but as a society, we need to educate ourselves (and our kids, teachers, government officials, and so on) about mental health issues and treatment options. I strongly believe mental health education should be included in school curriculum so that, as a society, we can develop awareness and knowledge early on.

I am also a firm believer that employers must provide mental health services for their employees. If you think about it, the majority of us spend more time at work than at home with friends or family. Cultivating a safe and healthy attitude around mental health in the workplace is crucial. Work is stressful and we all need help managing it. If our employers want productive, happy employees, they must help provide access to care.

I also believe that social media giants (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) with their hundreds of millions of daily engaged users, need to wake up and address the rise of mental health issues that have become prevalent on and because of their platforms. They need to recognize the damage being done to our society, especially among teens and young adults. And, on top of that, they need to help provide access to mental health services.

Finally, it’s our firm belief that mental healthcare is a human right, not a privilege — the government needs to provide adequate funding.

Oren Frank:

The mental health epidemic is an extremely complex phenomena, and won’t be solved by any simple silver bullet. It is a problem that can’t be solved by only looking at one aspect of our world such as culture, nurture, genetics, biochemistry, neuroscience, politics, history, or data science.

The solution will take effort from all leaders and stakeholders, and will take time. The best way to accelerate this process dramatically is to make this a global research project — a good example would be the Human Genome Project (HGP) that was launched in the 90s.

A massive concentrated and integrated effort to understand the origins and nature of mental illnesses will likely yield a new understanding of the human condition and will potentially allow a new set of diagnoses and treatments.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Roni Frank:

In the first years of the company, I didn’t leave enough time for myself to decompress. I was totally obsessed with my work. I didn’t eat well and hardly slept. At some point, I knew I needed to make a change, and I did. I learned how important it is for me, above all, to admit when I felt stress, anxiety, and depression — and to take care of myself. I believe this to be true for all entrepreneurs.

Practicing yoga has also been very helpful — I try to do it at least a few times a week

Another huge strategy I’ve had to learn — and continue practicing — is how to say “no.” For so long, I was in the habit of agreeing to do everything for others and overextending myself as a result. This was a fast-track to burnout.

Something else that has been key for me is accepting that building a company is not easy. Embracing the struggle has freed me from the stress of false expectations.

Finally, I’ve learned to deal with failures in a more constructive way. I’ve learned to recognize my mistakes as important steps in my growth and development.

Oren Frank:

Moderation in everything you do is key. Do everything, live in as many ways you can, but do not consume too much of any one thing. Sleep is incredibly important — I believe that if you sleep 7 hours every night, you’ll be far better equipped to deal with whatever life brings to your door.

Friends and family should always come before work and strangers, read plenty of books, take vacations, talk with your family, see movies and shows, travel, be kind to yourself and to others, and, whenever in doubt, see your therapist.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

Roni Frank:

My number one resource will always be the people around me and their stories — family, friends, colleagues or anyone else I connect with. I’m always trying to stay open and curious about people’s lives, their choices, their stories. This, to me, is a way to connect on a deeper level and to learn about about the human condition. I find it very stimulating, and it helps me grow both as a person and as business leader.

Some relevant resources:

● The Gift of Therapy, by Irvin Yalom

● Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression — and the Unexpected Solutions, by Johann Hari

● Yalom’s Cure — https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3228360/

● Dare to Lead, By Brené Brown

● Brené Brown — The Power of Vulnerability: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en

Oren Frank:

● Staring at the Sun, by Irvin Yalom

● Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

● The Age of Insight, by Kandel

● Lost Connections, by Johann Hari

Thank you for joining us!

Fotis Georgiadis

Written by

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

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Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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