Founder & CEO, reflect
Tuck prepares us to be wise, decisive leaders. You can’t make wise decisions or lead effectively if your mental health is suffering.
By Adam Sylvain
In 2012, Jonathan TranPham T’10 followed his passion for retail and joined the direct-to-consumer apparel brand, Everlane. After nearly a decade of consulting work at respected firms like Bain & Co. and Monitor Group, becoming employee number twelve at an early-stage startup was a risk, but also an opportunity to challenge himself while gaining hands-on experience building a business from the ground up.
“It was a good learning experience, but to be very candid, I got burned out,” says TranPham. “I needed to think about my mental health and so I started looking for a therapist to talk through some of those issues.”
The six-month odyssey of finding a therapist that followed—a dispiriting process that actually worsened his symptoms of stress and anxiety—led TranPham to think about how he could improve the mental health journey for others. “I just kept thinking there has to be an easier way,” recalls TranPham.
Drawing from his consulting background, He began with a large survey sent to Tuck classmates, friends, and peers, to learn whether his experiences were unique. TranPham then scheduled more than 200 coffee chats with therapists and others who had tried therapy to better understand the pain points on both sides.
“In my conversations, the first thing that surprised me was how common mental health issues were among my classmates and colleagues,” says TranPham. “Many of us feel burned out, anxious, or depressed. This is especially true for those in high-pressure jobs like consulting, finance, law, or startups.”
Although the topic is not often discussed openly, the data paints a clear picture of the mental health challenges many working professionals face. One in four adults has a diagnosable mental health issue, says TranPham, and the need for greater support is dire. Suicide is the second most common cause of death for men under the age of 45.
Armed with data and an extensive network, in 2016, TranPham founded reflect, an online platform that matches individuals seeking care with a vetted network of certified therapists.
Finding a therapist can be a challenge. For starters, the market is highly fragmented with most therapists operating small, solo practices, says TranPham. There is also the question of where to start. Many therapists grow their client base through word-of-mouth referrals, which means finding a trusted therapist often requires knowing other therapy clients. And despite a new wave of advocacy by actors, politicians, and other prominent figures, many still grapple with the stigma and shame of mental illness and never start the process. But perhaps the greatest challenge when starting therapy? Finding the right fit.
“The most important factor of success in therapy is what’s called therapeutic alliance. It’s the fit between you and your therapist,” says TranPham. “I didn’t know what good looked like. I went in blind and had to go through a lot of trial and error.”
From his research, TranPham discovered a number of alarming trends that he hopes reflect can address. As many as 80 percent of individuals who have a mental health need never find the proper care. For those who do, the most common number of therapy sessions is just one, largely because of a bad fit.
Due to increased public attention on mental health issues, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, TranPham says now is the perfect time to make this process easier, take the burden off the individual, and ensure more people find the help that they need. reflect aims to achieve each of these goals by building a trusted network of quality therapists so that anyone seeking therapy has one easy place to go. Before they join reflect, TranPham says each therapist is pre-vetted to ensure they meet all education and licensing requirements and are evaluated for competency and skill. To address the challenge of therapeutic alliance, reflect has also built an algorithm to assess fit and match people across 55 different factors. The algorithm leverages data from more than 40,000 therapy sessions to date, capturing a wealth of information, including how a particular therapist presents in the room. Once a match is made, reflect also helps with scheduling and billing to make the process as frictionless as possible.
“We take the fear out of our members’ minds,” TranPham says. “We are a center of excellence in terms of best practices so there is a level of trust in the quality of our providers. Eighty percent of those who try reflect find a therapist they like.”
Now the largest self-pay network of top therapists in California, reflect can get an individual needing support matched with a provider within 24 hours. They offer both in-person and remote teletherapy sessions depending on location. The company recently launched in Washington State, their first venture outside of California, and has plans to expand to other major markets soon. They already have a waitlist in a dozen other cities.
As far as his own mental health journey, TranPham is happy to share that he eventually found a great therapist. His only regret was not starting therapy sooner. There is a tendency for people to ignore or downplay their own mental health needs. They may not realize that stress can present in a variety of ways—including difficulty sleeping, anger, frequent drinking, or lack of energy.
“As a kid, I was taught I could overcome any challenge if I just worked harder. That type of thinking may have gotten me into great schools, landed me competitive jobs, and helped me excel in my career. I worked one hundred-hour weeks in consulting, no problem,” says TranPham. “Eventually though, that unhealthy mentality caught up with me. You can’t push through and ignore things forever.”
Poor mental health has far-reaching consequences, from high blood pressure and heart disease to a weakened immune system and even infertility. It often hinders performance at work. Depression is the number one cause of disability in America. “Tuck prepares us to be wise, decisive leaders. You can’t make wise decisions or lead effectively if your mental health is suffering.”
TranPham says working with a therapist helped him to understand himself better and reframe how he sees the world. Therapy also taught him useful skills and habits that have helped him recognize his blind spots, gain clarity during stressful situations, and build stronger relationships in his personal and professional life.
“I’m a better leader and CEO thanks to therapy. I think everyone can benefit from that kind of self-work,” he says. “You don’t wait to have a heart attack to go to the gym. Why wait till you have a panic attack to go see a therapist?”
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