I read an article a long time ago about a business in Japan where you could buy plates and break them to release aggression, and that is exactly what I wanted at that time.
Bea Arthur–Founder/CEO, Pretty Padded Room
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself; where you were raised and the most important things you learned from your parents: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
A: My parents moved to Houston, Texas, from Ghana so my father could get his PhD from an American university. Both of my parents were educators in Accra and had post-graduate degrees but knew they would need international experience in order to go further. They left their families and my older brothers and sister to achieve their goals, so education was obviously not something they took lightly; that same priority was passed down to us. They taught us their faith, which helped us through our inevitable struggles; and above all, to keep going despite everything. All of us went on to get our Masters degrees or more. I received both a Masters of Education and a Masters of Arts in Counseling and Clinical Psychology from Columbia University in 2008.
Q: Tell us a little about www.prettypaddedroom.com How does it work and what was the motivation for founding it?
A: Pretty Padded Room actually came about after my first business failed. I hadn’t told many of my friends about it and I was emotionally devastated and in debt. It was weighing heavily on me and I really needed to speak to a professional about my depression, yet even with all of my therapist friends and resources, I didn’t know where to turn and I didn’t want to ask my friends if they knew anyone. I wanted a place where I could vent and clear my head without anyone knowing what I was going through. As a therapist, I knew many of my clients had felt the same way so I wanted to make it easier for people to take that first step without too many barriers. By putting it online, I was able to make the benefits of counseling more affordable, accessible, and, most importantly, anonymous.
Q: Who are the people most suited for the services offered by Pretty Padded Room and the age range?
A: Originally we were targeting twenty- and thirty-something women with our branding and language, but we’ve had women in their forties and fifties, and even some men try our service so I would say anyone who has something they want to get off of their chest and needs an extra set of ears to help them work it out.
Q: How did you come up with “A nice place to go crazy”? And how do people react to this phrase?
A: I read an article a long time ago about a business in Japan where you could buy plates and break them to release aggression, and that is exactly what I wanted at that time. As I mentioned, this website was a solution to an actual problem that I was having, and at that time, what I needed and would have liked was a safe place to air out my grievances before having to resort to breaking plates or other household items! Most women immediately “get” the name of the business and our tagline, while others, especially men find it insensitive. I recognize that of course, but even without Pretty Padded Room, the stigma of therapy persists and I think when we
apply a lightness of touch to delicate subjects, it makes it easier to approach and accept.
Q: What are some of the most popular features: chat? video? per session? monthly?
A: The Digital Diary has been a runaway hit. Journaling is therapeutic in and of itself, so to write out your feelings and have an objective person give you feedback in a clear and thought-out way helps give perspective and answers. You can either buy a single session of this or three journal consultations for $50. Clients usually run through their first three entries in a week!
Q: Tell us about the demand for the kind of services and counseling provided by Pretty Padded Room and how you see the company evolving and growing. Is this the future of therapy?
A: I don’t know if “distance counseling” or telemedicine, as it’s known will ever fully replace traditional therapy. There are definitely people who will always prefer to go to a therapist’s office and leave their problems there. And of course there are things that you just can’t get through technology: nonverbal communication, the intimacy and bond of physically being in the same space. I like to think of what we do as “therapy-lite.”
It’s the same benefits but experienced in a different way. To expand on therapy-lite, I personally know there is a large group of people who, when already under a lot of pressure, it can seem like too much effort to research a therapist, go to his or her office, and take those first steps to relieving stress without too much commitment. With our approach, we make it that much easier to make things better for minor issues and circumstantial depression. As for the demand, we all go through ups and downs in our lives and there will always be a rough time that seems overwhelming, so I like to think we’ll be around for a long time.
In 2012, we’ll be expanding our online and off-line presence with a YouTube channel, creating a mini-talk show of sorts, and also with local workshops in New York and Seattle called You Vent Events, where our therapists are based and we’ll have workshops discussing topics that are important to women and also in-person therapy sessions.
Q: Talk about some challenges you’ve faced since founding the company and how you’ve worked to address them?
A: A very big problem at the beginning was the technical functionality of the site. My team and I are well-versed in psychological approaches but clueless when it comes to software and internet strategy. There were many growing pains with the video streaming server we originally used, we’ve since switched out to Skype; and our site was custom-built so there were a lot of unanticipated issues that required several rounds of modifications to make the service more user-friendly but people have been very understanding.
This is uncharted territory after all, and whether or not there have been video or audio issues, what our users are paying for is the expertise of my team of therapists, and they always bring the goods.
Q: If you controlled all the variables tell us where you would want Pretty Padded Room to be, say, 10 years from now.
A: God willing, this will grow to be a resource for people where counseling is considered taboo. One of our very first clients was a man in the United Arab Emirates who needed help figuring out why he was having trouble in his interpersonal relationships; so it would be great to be a part of that transition to help remove the stigma attached therapy and make it acceptable to talk to a professional and not be ashamed about not being perfect.
More than that, we have a sister site in the works to reach a broader audience, and we’ll be investing big time in our Pretty Padded Blog in the new year to make it the go-to resource for women’s issues and wellness. I’d also really love to have a talk show that mentors women in every life stage because what I’ve seen more than anything in my work is how resistant people are to change, even when it’s good for them.
Q: What’s the best way for people to learn more about Pretty Padded Room? How do you promote the company?
A: At the moment, most of our clients come through word of mouth and from the press features we’ve had. Since this is our first year, we wanted growth to be slow and organic so we could grow at the right pace and polish the service until it was perfect. Going forward, we’ll be doing more blog outreach and media to spread the word.
Q: What are your own favorite five websites?
A: I read Gawker and New York magazine’s blog daily to keep up on current events. The Times and Black Star News, of course!