Non-invasive, simple, and personal. That’s how Alma wants to remake the experience of going to see a therapist.
Stepping out of the elevator on the 21st floor at 515 Madison Avenue in Manhattan, you might just think you’re headed into a meeting at any other office space housing startups of various sizes.
Inside, however, the floor is home to Alma, a co-working space geared specifically toward therapists looking for a place to meet with their patients. Alma, which has raised $US4.5 million in seed funding, opened its first location on October 10.
Therapists who become Alma members can use the space to hold individual therapy meetings and group sessions.
Before starting Alma, CEO Harry Ritter was vice president of care delivery at health insurer Oscar Health. There, he helped create ‘the doctor’s office of the future.’ Oscar had worked to bring mental health professionals into the space, but Ritter, a physician by training, noticed that they faced key challenges: the therapists often practiced on their own and space to meet with patients was hard to find and secure for therapists with patchwork schedules.
So he created Alma to fix that. So far, Alma’s signed on about 30 therapists, and it has the capacity to support around 115 providers.
Take a look inside the practice, where succulents and calming spaces abound.
Alma is a membership-based community for mental health providers, which include therapists as well as nutritionists and acupuncturists. Through a monthly membership fee, Alma provides the physical space they might need, but therapists can set their own rates for patients. Getting off the elevator, there are plants and wood paneling to greet you before entering the practice.
Patients are given a card from Alma, and they can show that to the doorman to avoid the sometimes intimidating process of having to check in with an ID card. Once they get up to the 21st floor, they can ring the doorbell to be let in.
Walking in, the first thing you come across is a waiting area for clients. There are mugs for tea, couches, and bookshelves in this space. The couches were designed to face in the same direction to bypass any uncomfortable feelings patients might have encountering other people while waiting for their appointment to begin.
When a patient comes to see a therapist, he or she can check in on an iPad stationed at the ends of the waiting area. That will alert the therapist that he or she has arrived, and the therapist can let them know which room to go to.
The bookshelves decorating the waiting areas at Alma are filled with its members’ favourite books. It acts as a library that both patients and other members can browse through and check-out.
At the end of this waiting area, there are two meditation pods powered by Headspace.
At the meditation stations, patients can put on headphones and undergo mindfulness sessions. This is one of the ways Alma is incorporating technology as an offering its members can give their patients.
The halls are lined with a number of individual spaces where members can see their clients. Each space is designed the same, and the colour palette, furniture, and lighting in the space are on par with recommendations by the American Psychological Association.
The attention to detail extends down into even the tiniest elements in the room. All the rooms have the same paintings and the same books. The editions and volume numbers on the books correlate to the room number. The books below are a part of room 15. This is fuelled by the idea that consistency during the course of therapy sessions can be comforting and beneficial for patients, and this way, hosting patients in different rooms won’t create a huge disturbance in the process.
Members can also reserve group spaces for larger and multi-patient therapy sessions.
The end of the hallway opens up into a lounge space, where the therapists can come together and collaborate. Special events and networking socials are also held here.
The space also has two private call booths. That way, even if patients are travelling, they can stay connected to their therapists, Ritter said.
“The goal is to build a national community of therapy providers who are powered by our platform and by virtue of the connection, are being part of a more macro trend of de-stigmatizing access to mental health,” Ritter said. Alma is currently working on partnerships with employers and insurance companies to make its services more visible to prospective patients and more affordable for those who need it.