BEIRUT: According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Joe Zaarour, who went through a similar experience, wanted to help. So, he partnered with five other people and created Sympaticus, an online psychotherapy and wellbeing platform based in Lebanon.
“When I was going through depression and anxiety, I had to experience the traditional way of therapy. Shower, drive through the traffic, sit in the waiting room and then meet with my psychotherapist. It was draining,” said Zaarour.
Searching for alternatives, he discovered a website for online psychotherapy based in the US. Amazed by the effectiveness of the treatment and the ease of receiving it, he decided to create a similar platform in Lebanon.
He established Sympaticus with five partners: Desiree Chbeir, Marie-jo Younan, Tiya Ahmed, Sara Butler, and Mijbel Al Qattan.
“We called it Sympaticus since it offers sympathy to people in need, and in resemblance to Sympathicus which is a branch in the autonomous nervous system that allows us to survive in life-threatening situations, to fight, to flee and to perform,” Zaarour told Annahar.
The team focused on solving three problems: the high cost of psychotherapy, the uncertainty of the therapy duration, and the search for a qualified therapist.
“Since psychotherapy is kind of a taboo in Lebanon, it’s hard to ask someone to recommend a therapist; they would consider you crazy. Psychotherapy sessions are also expensive, that’s why Sympaticus costs 40 percent less,” he said.
Sympaticus offers a subscription-based, six-step, 14-week personalized programs that are developed and delivered by qualified psychologists, therapists and medical doctors.
Its programs are based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques, which aim to help a person learn to recognize negative patterns of thought, evaluate their validity, and replace them with healthier ways of thinking.
Using technology to track and monitor progress, Sympaticus programs help users define their goals and teach them coping techniques. The user is also offered sessions with psychotherapists and is guided by a coach.
“We followed protocols of a method developed by London’s national health system; they have been clinically proven to be as effective as face-to-face treatment. Therefore, we are using a method that has been tested for years,” said Zaarour.
Apart from providing job opportunities to many Lebanese psychotherapists, the platform also offers the clients full confidentiality; they have the choice not to give their real name or show their faces.
“I knew that I was not living my best life. I am so grateful that I found Sympaticus,” said Fida R., a woman who uses the platform.
Sympaticus motivates users after a breakup, a job loss, parenting struggle, loss of a loved one, burnout, sexual identity struggle, refuge, eating disorders, depression and other cases.
“We don’t cure people with suicidal thoughts and I’m glad there’s a hotline in Lebanon for that. However, we treat minor cases and help them not reach that stage,” said Zaarour.
In 2016, Sympaticus was selected as a finalist at ArabNet Beirut’s Startup Demo and one of three semi-finalists in the Ideas Track at MIT Enterprise Forum.
In November of last year, Sympaticus won second prize at the Grow My Business competition, and, was chosen recently as one of the six touch innovators of the Innovation Program (TIP), where the founders spent six months taking their startup ideas to the next level.
The platform is now available in Lebanon and the UAE, and the team is working on expanding to reach the UK and other countries.
“Before launching Sympaticus, I went to coffee shops holding 12 pages sketching the app and I asked for strangers’ opinions. My advice to startups is to test their product before launching it and to have a long-term business model on how to make money,” Zaarour told Annahar.
An-Nahar is not responsible for the comments that users post below. We kindly ask you to keep this space a clean and respectful forum for discussion.