Startup Plays Matchmaker for Patients and Therapists

SophiaLeft to right: Sophia's Bowen Lu, Eva Breitenbach, and Chetan Jhaveri. Photo courtesy of Eva Breitenbach.

When Eva Breitenbach was in graduate school at MIT, a medical scare led her to seek a therapist’s help. She was vocal about the support she found in therapy, and before long people around campus started coming up to her and telling her about the trouble they’d had connecting with mental health therapists.

“People were telling me they called dozens of therapists and not gotten any calls back, that they were just really overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start, or that they’d gone in and after the first session just thought ‘This person is not a good fit for me,’” Breitenbach says. “I started talking to therapists and realized that for their part, they also struggle to find the clients who are the right fit for their expertise and for their interests. I started thinking there has to be a better way to match up the people who are looking for therapists with the therapists that are looking for patients.”

That “better way to match” became Sophia, a Cambridge-based startup run by Breitenbach that launched earlier this year. Sophia—the Greek word for “wisdom”—connects people searching for therapy with therapists that offer the right type of treatment and are accepting patients.

People looking for therapists often end up getting no response from clinicians’ offices, according to Breitenbach.

“Therapists are basically small business owners,” she says about small private practices. “There’s a lot of administrative work required. If a patient isn’t a good fit for the therapist, it can be pretty time-intensive for the therapist to call the patient back, play phone-tag with them, and actually connect them with someone who will be a good fit. And they’re not really paid for that time.”

To make the match, Sophia gives both patients and therapists questionnaires. Patients describe why they are seeking therapy and information on time and location preferences, while therapists answer a more extensive set of questions about their treatment style, their availability, and whether they take insurance.

Sophia follows up with patients after they see their recommended therapists to make sure that the match is working well. So far Sophia has connected about 70 people with professionals and no one has decided to switch to a new clinician, according to Breitenbach.

“You know what you’re dealing with, but you don’t necessarily know what to look for in a therapist,” Breitenbach says. “We do have a lot of experience knowing what types of therapy are going to be the best fit for what symptoms, and so we do that matching on your behalf. We’re almost like the translator between the patient and the therapist.”

Breitenbach and her team have learned that, contrary to their expectations, personality is often not the determining factor for whether or not a match works. Logistics like location, scheduling, and accepting insurance are often key factors in the match.

For now, Sophia is in beta mode and is completely free. Breitenbach is dedicated to keeping the matching free for patients, and is looking into having therapists or participating organizations pay for the service.