São Paulo siblings Bruno Haidar, Daniela Chohfi, and Fernanda Maluf worked for years at different multinational companies but always dreamed about running a business together, one with a positive impact on the world.
Then came a deep national recession where record high unemployment put inevitable strain on relationships and budgets. That inspired the trio to start OrienteMe, an app that connects users to therapists via an electronic device, in 2017. The on-demand function means that patients can more easily schedule their appointments around increasingly hectic work and social lives.
That’s important, they say, because the World Health Organization and the International Stress Management Association estimate that Brazil has 23 million people suffering from mental health issues.
According to Chohfi, who researched the subject for a year, there are four main barriers for Brazilians seeking therapy: cost, access, compatibility, and stigma.
OrienteMe addresses all four points. The cost is significantly lower than going to a professional’s office, and the on-demand function allows users to schedule appointments whenever they choose.
The apps algorithms match users with the most appropriate professionals, so they can avoid the stigma of asking friends or family for recommendations.
“About 77 percent of users of OrienteMe have never done therapy before in their lives,” says Chohfi. About 5,000 people used the app in its first four months, the majority of them women.
Clients fill out a brief form online, and the app matches them with a therapist that best fits their profile. The app has more than 30 professionals registered, including psychologists, psychoanalysts, and holistic therapists. All communication on the app is encrypted, guaranteeing total privacy.
The trio behind OrienteMe hopes that as the app grows in popularity, it may help change way the therapy is viewed in Brazil. “Our work is to remove the stigma of therapy, that it should be seen as an act of courage, not weakness,” says Chohfi.