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Need to Vent? Forget the Couch, Startup Moves Therapy Online

Pretty Padded Room's Bea Arthur helps women talk it out.
Pretty Padded Room's Bea Arthur helps women talk it out.
Photo © Natalie Brasington

What It Is
Pretty Padded Room connects women with licensed female therapists for counseling sessions via digital diary or video chat. Counselors evaluate prospective clients at the outset and help those with significant mental-health or substance-abuse issues find more suitable treatment options.

How It Started
When her first venture--MeTime, a social club for stay-at-home moms--folded in 2009 after less than a year, founder Bea Arthur (not that one) had a tough time finding a therapist she liked to help her sort through her feelings. That sparked the idea to bring therapy online. Using her savings and a small pool of funds from friends and family, she launched Pretty Padded Room--with its provocative tagline "a nice place to go crazy"--in February 2011.

Based in New York City
Therapy sessions booked each month: 30 to 40
Licensed therapists: 9
Trial session price: $20

Why It Took Off
Pretty Padded Room's convenient, confidential low-cost services benefited from early buzz after U.K.-based serial entrepreneur and social media powerhouse Cindy Gallop posted about the site.

The Business Case
The site offers users fee-for-service and subscription options. An introductory trial session is $20; subsequent single sessions are $40. Subscription models, which offer written and interpersonal correspondence, cost $100 to $200 per month.

Most licensed practitioners on Pretty Padded Room are just starting their practices and see the site as a way to supplement their income while they build their business. Practicing therapy across state lines or international borders does raise sticky issues, however. A lengthy terms-of-service statement requires users to acknowledge that sessions may not be in compliance with their state's regulations.

What's Next
Arthur is seeking venture funding for a number of projects: to create a weekly web video series, "Pretty Padded Room TV"; to devise a plan for coaching services; and to develop a version of her software to license to professional clinicians for use with their own patients.

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the July 2012 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Shrink Link.

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