Entrepreneur Joel Muise’s struggles with mental illness motivated him to found his startup, Tranquility Online. Now Muise is seeking participants to test his online service for treating anxiety.
Muise is looking for 48 people who suffer from anxiety to help him test whether cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) delivered online by a team of coaches is effective.
Muise wants to use coaches rather than therapists because he believes coaches can be trained to help clients. Using coaches rather than therapists, as some similar sites do, will make the service more affordable.
“Our program is based on CBT, which follows a simple, repetitive way of tackling anxiety and depression,” he said.
“The challenge is getting people from the starting line to the finish line. There are lots of CBT books and apps but most people don’t finish. Our coaches will be trained in motivational interviewing and active listening to get clients to the finish line.”
Muise established his online CBT business after a blog post, written in February 2015 about his struggle with generalized anxiety disorder and depression attracted attention. He realized there were many sufferers in need of help.
“I’d always been a supporter of ending the stigma around mental health,” he said. “I’d always been open about my struggles but I’d never shared the entire story.
“I thought, if I lay it out there people may judge me but at least I’ll be free from that burden . . . of wearing a mask. Analytics for the site told me that almost 4,000 people visited the post within 48 hours. The post got shared 63 times on Facebook.”
Following the post he took a health coaching course and the idea for Tranquility began to form.
Muise has recently taken his venture through Propel ICT’s regional program for new startups. He also met his co-founder Rebecca Tucker, who is completing her doctorate in clinical psychology at Dalhousie University.
Tucker has experience delivering CBT programs. Her interest in finding alternative ways to deliver mental health treatment arises from growing up in a rural area where she and others had difficulty accessing mental health care. Tucker’s mentor, Dr. Alissa Pencer, is Tranquility’s scientific advisor.
By using coaches (most likely undergraduate psychology students) instead of therapists, Muise aims to keep charges to $99 for a month of one-on-one coaching, and $65 for group sessions.
He said the pilot, which is free to participants, will be run with 16 people in three groups. One group will receive one-on-one coaching, another will receive group coaching, and the third, the control group, will use self-help materials with email guidance.
Participants must be older than 18, have a computer with internet access and be able to commit to 10 weeks.
Muise, now 30, suffered particularly severe anxiety and depression in Grade 12 while at high school near Yarmouth. He went on to train as a chartered financial analyst and worked for six years as a stock analyst for a Halifax investment company. But he didn’t thrive in that role and quit, suffering from burnout and depression.
He wants his venture to provide timely and affordable help for anxiety sufferers. He said it can take six months to a year to get a referral to a psychologist in the public health system. Private patients pay around $175 for an hour of counselling and most insurance policies only provide for $500 of coverage annually, he said.
So far, Muise has bootstrapped his venture, using his own money and prizes won from pitching contests. But he is interested in talking to potential investors.
If all goes well, the service may launch by the end of the year. Muise plans to go on to tackle depression and other problems that CBT has been shown to lessen.