My Conversation With Erin Barbossa and Intuissa: Where Therapy Meets Employee Productivity

May is Mental Health Month and I have committed to writing several posts around this topic.

I said I would feature an organization that is trying to break the stigma of mental illness in the workplace. Much of what companies do for mental illness and mental health is very reactive. We need to do more.

I’m excited to introduce you to Erin Barbossa, the founder of Intuissa, a company that combines therapy and productivity to help employees be their best.

Full disclosure: Erin and I worked together at our time at Harpo Studios and The Oprah Winfrey Show. We both went our separate ways and she recently reached out to me about her new company. It was amazing timing because I have always felt companies should be doing more for their employees around mental health and providing better resources. Her company is doing just that.

(I am not being paid to run this post, but if I were to ever try to get sponsorship for this blog, Intuissa would be one of my top choices.)

Erin was kind enough to answer some questions I had and tell me more about her organization. The following captures our conversation.

Tell me about your journey? How did you become the founder of Intuissa? 

When I first graduated from Syracuse University, I had a dual degree in Psychology, and Television, Radio and Film… my first career focused on the latter and I ended up working for 4 years at The Oprah Winfrey Show (TOWS). When the show ended, I took that severance and used it for grad school to get a Masters in Social Work. After years of working to become fully licensed, I started my private practice in 2015.  

I get the question a lot: “How did you go from working for the Oprah Show to being a therapist and founding a company?” Really, when I was at the Oprah Show, I saw how peak performance and mental health are so intimately related.  I wouldn’t have survived my tenure there if it wasn’t for good therapy that kept me grounded and healthy. 

EBarbosa

What made you launch Intuissa?

Once I started working as a therapist full time and I built up my private practice, I was so frustrated that people, especially working professionals, were waiting until they were very sick by the time they would seek help.  By the time they got to my couch they were in really rough shape. We would spend a year stabilizing them before we actually had sustainable growth. I thought, it doesn’t it have to be that way.  

I realized there’s a major problem with the state of the way we treat mental health. We don’t have any professional routine care. Think about it, we go to the dentist twice a year but we have no such comparable screening and cleaning for mental health. We wait to go to a therapist until we have a problem. Our culture has a system of crisis care and I wanted to change that, so I took what I learned about peak performance from working at TOWS and married them with my clinical skills. That’s how Intuissa was born. 

The paradigm is shifting. More and more we understand that mental and emotional health is a key part of our behaviors and quality of life. Yet, the system to take care of mental health is completely outdated. 

What’s the difference between therapy and executive coaching?

I like to use a river analogy to explain it. If you think about a river, the flow and direction of the water is what a coach can support. But a therapist can talk to you about the boulders, rocks and pebbles underneath that block the flow of the river. Everybody has boulders, and with individualized care, we can shape the boulders in a way that assists the flow instead of blocking progress. The rigid old system is not preventative mental health care. It waits until you have a problem and you’re sick to take care of the issue.  

Many coaches have training or certification however, they are not bound to HIPAA compliant confidentiality the same way therapists are.  Our therapists are fully licensed which means they are held to the highest standard of clinical training and ethical boundaries.  We believe Intuissa mitigates risk of using coaches, who are experts in their field, but may not have the background in clinical assessment that guides effective intervention. Therapy provides differentiated assessment, intervention, and referral that only licensed clinicians can provide.
Why Intuissa versus the EAP?

The way the system’s set up now, employee assistance programs and they work like this: 

Life coach, if you don’t have a problem. Therapist, if you do have a problem. But it doesn’t have to be that way. That rigid offering doesn’t provide a proactive approach.  As a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in proactive treatment, I can tell you that coaches and therapists provide completely different services.  
Intuissa therapists are different from the EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) for a lot of reasons. First, in their name, they assume you have to have a problem that needs “assistance.” We believe in care not repair, so our philosophy is fundamentally different.   
Intuissa therapy is proactive and convenient. We don’t wait until there is a problem, we work to help prevent problems from arising. Employee Assistance Programs were born from the concept of providing mental health services when an employee needs helps.
The stigma of EAPs creates a heavy burden on employees, and the system is cumbersome to the company. A report in 2012 showed that a mere 3% of employees actually used their employer’s EAP counseling services, even though the company was paying for every employee to utilize it. Intuissa can actually increase the ROI for your EAP by providing direct referrals for employees we see who demonstrate significant persistent mental health issues.

Are Intuissa’s services confidential?

No Big Brotherhere. Everything is completely confidential and secure, as mandated by the government regulations of HIPAA compliant standards. That means employees can have honest conversations with their licensed therapist, without fear of their privacy being violated. 

Each individual Intuissa participant signs a consent to treatment and a HIPAA policies and practices agreement which explains their protection and confidentiality. Our rule is: what happens in the session, stays in the session. The employer does not receive any information, feedback, or even aggregate data about what happens in the therapeutic setting. It is this layer of protection which gives our client’s the confidence to truly utilize and maximize the therapeutic process.

Is this covered by insurance or what is your business model/cost?

To use your health insurance benefits, you have to have a diagnosed problem, and actually an impairment in functioning. This can be a barrier for treatment for high functioning individuals because that diagnosis will be recorded in a mental health record. This can potentially be considered a pre-existing health condition, and many employees are afraid to engage with mental health services because they don’t want a mental health condition in their record. 

With Intuissa services, our records are completely confidential between the Intuissa thearpist and the employee. Nothing is recorded or shared for an insurance company or the employer.  
We also don’t need a diagnosed problem to provided a preventative level of care.  Intuissa says why don’t we be proactive, to build up mental resilience before there’s a debilitating problem. Our business model is based on companies contracting a therapist per day. We help companies assess how many days a company needs depending on their size and culture. This is a non-mandatory offering so culture plays a large role in engagement.

How many sessions does each employee get?  

As a rule of thumb we suggest twelve 50-minute sessions per employee. However we don’t provide cookie cutter treatment. Each employee has unique needs and we have a system that allows that to unfold naturally without the employer’s direct knowledge of session attendance. 

Will you tell my boss or HR about my issues?  

Absolutely not. The company does not even receive any aggregate information about the participants as a whole.  Even an employee’s attendance is not not shared with the employer. The employer only knows how many sessions have been utilized from their contract, but not who attended the session.  

Do you ever involve HR? What about ADA and HIPAA? 

We only work with HR in the implementation of the program. We do not work with HR regarding any individual employee. The communication about scheduling and other clinical needs is directly between the employee and the therapist. Meaning if there is a serious issue that comes up for a client, we treat it as though we would in an outpatient mental health agency to maintain compliance with HIPAA, providing utmost privacy for the employee.

If ADA becomes a concern, our consent for treatment specifies, if clinical determination is made by my therapist that the participant has a significant mental health concern, they will be referred to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or an equivalent community resource. This includes a mental health condition that qualifies for Disability, Worker’s Comp, or FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). These requests will be better served through a traditional psychotherapy practice. 

What else would you like to tell me about Intuissa?  

We believe deeply that what we’re doing can be a game changer. We know it’s good for the individual but also serves the business. Therapy is clinically proven to reduce stress, increase concentration and sleep quality. It only makes sense that companies want their employees to be mentally healthy. Ranging from reducing healthcare costs to increasing productivity, preventative mental healthcare is good for business. Any leader who knows how useful, and frankly transformative, professional therapy can be will understand the mission and vision of Intuissa. We are raising rock bottoms by providing individualized psycho-education and proactive treatment.

If you would like to learn more about Intuissa, please visit their website and contact them. They are one of the first companies I have seen that are reallytrying make an impact on mental health in the workplace. It’s well worth your time to give them a call to learn more.
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