Hillel's Tech Corner: 7Chairs: A virtual shoulder for those in need

Barriers to mental health care are widespread and include inefficient and ineffective delivery, lack of patient access to quality care, and perceived stigma about mental health and mental health care

7Chairs. (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Mental illness. A large percentage of people feel a level of discomfort with the very concept. It is just as hard for some people to read those two words as it is for others to say them aloud or hear them spoken by others.
It’s the middle of 2020, yet the idea of any illness outside of the physical remains taboo, which is somewhat paradoxical for two reasons. First, mental illness is far more common than most people think, and it’s time to stop sweeping it under the rug.
Second, and possibly more importantly, unlike physical illness, talking about struggles outside of the physical realm, especially with a professional who can help, might well be a very effective component in treating it and coping with its challenges. And yet, it is still not discussed nearly enough.
I’ve covered at least two companies that offer a platform to cope with mental struggles: BetterHelp and Wisdo. In this case, a saturated market is a very good thing. The more the merrier.
Meet 7Chairs, a young Israeli start-up that offers small, intimate online support groups led by a certified professional to help those who struggle with their emotional and mental health. 7Chairs harnesses technology to create a unique and user-friendly experience, while providing emotional support groups for people facing chronic and acute illness, grief, loneliness, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.
7Chairs’s mission is to create a virtual environment that emits a feeling of safety and connecting with others, even from the comfort of your own bedroom. The deeper goal is simple, yet powerful. What each person may be struggling with can vary, but clients should never feel alone as each person tries to navigate, process and work through their own personal journey toward inner peace and happiness.
Barriers to mental health care, especially in the United States, are widespread and include inefficient and ineffective delivery, lack of patient access to quality care, and perceived stigma about mental health and mental health care. To date, the 7Chairs platform has helped over 3,000 individuals by providing 450-plus professionally facilitated topic-specific support groups.
Each of 7Chairs’ support groups consists of six participants and a professional facilitator. The 7Chairs group facilitators are all licensed clinical social workers (LCSW or LICSW) who have experience in online group facilitation which will look and feel differently than a face-to-face session.
Additionally, in today’s challenging global environment, how could one speak of anxiety without mentioning COVID-19 and the emotional stress caused by the pandemic and all its restrictions? 7Chairs recently launched coronavirus topic-specific groups in order to ease feelings of anxiety and stress people are feeling due to the pandemic.
These newly developed coronavirus-specific support groups focus on a variety of topics such as: coping with the fear, anxiety and shock of coronavirus; isolation and loneliness as the result of quarantine or social distancing; parenting during coronavirus; unemployment and financial stressors; and grieving the loss of a loved one from coronavirus. All the groups are conducted by text to allow anonymity and privacy.
7CHAIRS RAISED an accumulated $2.7 million ($2.2m. in its last round) from private investors including Sir Ronald Cohen and Gigi Levy-Weiss. They also completed a successful proof of concept in the Israeli and United States markets, and achieved an outstanding 82% customer retention rate.
Irad Eichler, founder and CEO of the company, is just as impressive as the mission and community he is trying to build. Irad was named 2008’s “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” by the World Economic Forum as well as the winner of the Project Zero Prize by the United Nations in 2017 for impactful social enterprises.
He founded 7Chairs in December 2018, after witnessing his mother’s struggle with both cancer and the loneliness that accompanies the life of many cancer patients.
Irad realized what most of us already know but lack the resources to do very much about. That is, when someone is struggling with life’s challenges, there is no reason they should struggle alone when the world is filled with people who have “been there and done that.”
The company is also led by Dan Landa, former Google (Israel) CMO, who is working toward penetrating a huge, underserved market.
The magic of 7Chairs, as opposed to other companies I’ve seen, is the group setting, a format that is known to be extremely effective in the real world. The founders then took that model and simply combined it with the virtual world.
When you hear the phrase “pull up a chair,” what are your immediate associations? To me, I associate it with the image of a cup of coffee, a listening ear and a space free of judgment. This is precisely what 7Chairs is aiming to achieve. It welcomes its users to an intimate and safe space for them to get the support they need. “Pull up a (virtual) chair” are the first words you will see when logging onto their website and I must add, as a marketer, I think that is some brilliant copy.
As far as the groups, the user has the choice to remain anonymous or to share their identity, the group is limited to seven members, and the discussion is facilitated and led by the mental health professional.
You can choose your specific group by topic or time, the first meeting being free with no strings attached. After that, you can join your group for weekly meetings over text or video, based on user preference.
7Chairs is available for desktop, and the company also offers apps for iPhone, iPad and Android devices, so there is no friction and users can benefit from the platform seamlessly wherever they are. They are currently working on finding partners in the US, such as medical staff, first responders, and teachers, to offer extended support.
My take on this company is quite simple. In a world of ongoing global challenges and struggles, mental health is becoming more central in the eyes of the public, but we are not quite there yet. There is still social stigma attached to mental illness, so any company that facilitates discussion about this important topic, is a company that deserves to be promoted and supported.
The fact that 7Chairs allows us all to “pull up a chair” is a beautiful thing that needs to be recognized and acknowledged.