If you sought out online therapy in Lebanon at any point in the past, you undoubtedly would have been disappointed to discover that most famous platforms were largely based in the US up until now. As the first Lebanese user-friendly online counseling and therapy application, Mindsome has stepped in to fill the gap.

Given the coronavirus outbreak, people from across the world are seeking out telemental health –or e-therapy– platforms like Betterheld and Talkspace to access the psychological counseling or support of mental health professionals over the internet. And given both the recent Beirut blast and the stressors being increasingly experienced by people in the country, providing a similar and local service could prove helpful to many.

Mindsome offers a range of mental health services through counsellors, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and life-coaches. The application is mainly tailored to individuals who are 18 years and older, and to cases of mild to moderate severity.

As the core team behind Mindsome, Hiba Jabal and Darine Ammache found different inspiration for developing the new app.

“How can a client sit and talk without feeling anxious?” Jabal found herself asking. The psychology graduate from the Lebanese American University and the public relations and service provider manager at Mindsome believes that the whole idea of participating in online therapy through the phone can break that barrier. This is particularly relevant to Lebanon, where there are many taboos about mental health.

Ammache drew likewise conclusions from her professional experiences in the field. As a clinician who enjoys travelling, Ammache wanted to maintain continuity with her patients even if she was abroad for a while. While away from the country, she used to conduct online sessions and increasingly noticed that her clients actually became less shy about expressing their thoughts and feelings.

With that in mind, the clinical psychologist and CEO and founder of Mindsome started researching telemental health and decided it was necessary to provide such a service in Lebanon and the MENA region. She also mentioned that the application includes “Lebanese professionals helping Lebanese people, whether they are here or abroad.”

Features

Mindsome has several important features, starting with the ability to choose the mental health specialist who might best cater to your needs.

You start off by filling up a short survey on several subjects, including your symptoms, through the app and are then linked to professionals who can best address your case. Should you disagree with the matching, you can access the full list of mental-health providers and choose accordingly.

The developers of Mindsome nonetheless warn that the application is not meant to be used by those suffering from severe symptoms or in need of urgent attention, such as when suicidal intent is present. If Mindsome’s assessment identifies severe cases, the mental healthcare provider will immediately refer the individual to appropriate services.

Along a similar vein, clients input the details of an emergency contact who can be reached by the service provider when a case requiring urgent attention is identified. Based on a needs assessment, the service provider may communicate with the emergency contact to advise on the appropriate next steps to be taken –particularly in terms of seeking further help that can be delivered acutely. 

The application likewise offers anonymity. In other words, the client can choose to remain anonymous and opt in using a nickname or any other name. The team believes that this plays a major role in addressing the repercussions of the stigma and taboos surrounding mental health in Lebanon.

Mindsome also offers a diary feature. Specifically, clients can collect a diary within the application and update it on any information and details that the service user might want to share with their mental health-care provider in the future. The developers believe that such a feature enhances therapy outcomes.

Screening process of the mental healthcare providers

Mindsome has placed a rigorous screening process for the app’s mental healthcare providers. Prior to accepting specialists into providing their services through Mindsome, the team reviews several criteria: the applicants’ license, training hours, practice hours, and CVs. The application currently has around 40 specialists, and the core team is screening further applicants.

Data safety

With safety being a priority for the team, Mindsome was built in a way to ensure data is protected. Chats for instance are encrypted, and the team cannot access patient information through their backend.

Clients likewise can choose to not use their real names in the application. Along a similar vein, if a phone number (i.e. an 8-number digit) appears on a chat, the system flags it and does not allow the service provider to access that number to further ensure the patient’s anonymity.

Lastly, if a session starts with a service user and the service provider does not use the application for 5 minutes, the application automatically locks to prevent others from accessing it while the session is still running.

Prices

While the service is not provided for free, the sessions are relatively cheaper than other mental health services in Lebanon.

Mindsome currently accepts online payments through NetCommerce but the team is currently working on accepting payments through OMT to guarantee a smoother process for their users – especially given the current economic situation and banking restrictions in Lebanon. Here are the specific prices of the different packages on Mindsome:

Psychologists & Counsellors:

  • One Week Package: Unlimited messages, one phone call or video call – 130,000 LBP / week.
  • Two Weeks Package: Unlimited messages, 2 phone or video calls – 240,000 LBP/ 2 weeks.
  • One Month Package: Unlimited messages, 4 phone calls or video call – 470,000 LBP/month.

Psychiatrists:

  • One Week Package: Unlimited messages, one phone call or video call – 140,000 LBP/week.
  • Two Weeks Package: Unlimited messages, 2 phone or video calls – 260,000 LBP/ 2 weeks.
  • One Month Package: Unlimited messages, 4 phone calls or video call – 490,000 LBP/month.

Life Coach:

  • One Week Package: Unlimited messages, one video call – 120,000 LBP/week.
  • Two Weeks Package: Unlimited messages, 2 phone or video calls – 230,000 LBP/2 weeks.
  • One Month Package: Unlimited messages, 4 phone calls or video call – 440,000 LBP/month.

Feedback

Feedback about the application has been positive from service users and mental health professionals who signed up to Mindsome. Users seem to like how the application is user friendly and believe that it is useful.

Challenges

Telemental health services are faced with several challenges, especially in underdeveloped countries. For instance, Lebanon faces severe electricity cuts, and the internet is relatively weak.

The Mindsome team appreciates that our lives are shifting towards an increased use of online platforms, they are however currently trying to mitigate the difficulties present in our country. To solve the electricity and internet problems for instance, they are working on developing a feature which allows for free calls.

Future plans

The team behind Mindsome indicated that they want their application to reach an even wider audience, which is why they are currently working on an Arabic version of the application –although therapy is currently provided in Arabic.

The team also aspires to start, at some point, a financial aid scheme within the application. Lastly, the team is also working on a similar application which will be catered to children. 

When asked about what message their team would like to give to Lebanese people, Hiba Jabal and Darine Ammache answered as follows:

“Know what you are. There is no shame in asking for help. You should have a support system, and we are here to help in that.”

“Mindsome is here anytime, anywhere, and to everyone.”The application can be found on Google Play and the App Store.

Natali Farran is a neuropsychologist working as a senior research assistant at the American University of Beirut primarily. She is a certified mental health ambassador and the recipient of the Rajaa Salam Scholarship Award (from the British Lebanese Association), as well as the Rosa Burden North Bristol NHS Trust Prize, and the Cheyne McCallum North Bristol NHS Trust Prize.