Gathering up a bunch of her friends who are also therapists, she launched Pretty Padded Room in February of 2011. All of the counselors on the team are state-licensed and certified by either the American Counseling Association or the American Psychological Association.
With no background in coding or technology, Arthur relied heavily on research and creativity, as the service she wanted to offer was uncommon. Pretty Padded Room is categorized as distance counseling or telemedicine.
Users can log-on and receive similar services to that of visiting a therapist’s office. After choosing between three pricing tiers ($100, $150, $200), “patients” then decide to document issues via video diaries or digital diaries, which receive feedback from a therapist on the Pretty Padded Room team. In four 30-minute video installments or one 2-hour session, a user can chat with a therapist face-to-face. The option of journaling receives a written response.
“The average therapist in New York is at least between $80 to $400 each session. As much as you may love your therapist, some people can’t keep up with that. So, I thought of doing it on a monthly model. It’s just like the gym, you can go as much or as little as you need to,” Arthur added.
Through word-of-mouth and Facebook promotion the site went from between 30 and 50 new weekly sign-ups to 500. The team has lent advice to men and women in not just the U.S., but Japan, Thailand, and England — the first a man working through an eating disorder.
Arthur is currently planning to launch a sister-site, which will be more “mainstream.” The name and purple color theme on Pretty Padded Room’s website she says suggests it’s a service strictly for women, particularly younger ones. Still, participants of all ages and both genders have given Arthur’s services a go. Six percent of the site’s regular users are men. The business model, Arthur said, also provides a service for her employees. Through the new site she’s hoping to expand that helpfulness to more people in the counseling field.
“Most therapists have a really tough time asking for $400 after you’ve told her everything about your childhood,” she said. “This fills a need for them; it saves people money on the user end and makes people money on the therapist end who may be having trouble building a private practice.”
With the new site, therapists will have the option of setting their own fees and price points.
“It’s a different way for them to set up their practice in a digital space,” Arthur further described it.
Thought to be an innovative approach in the counseling service arena, Arthur has strong opinions on what digital — or any form of counseling — is not.
“Someone who will listen to you, but secretly judge you,” she said. “I don’t think that’s what it’s about. As many kinds of people and personalities that there are, there are that many ways to do therapy and I want to do it this way. “
Ultimately, she wants to encourage those who overlook or who would never seriously consider taking advantage of the service to try it. Upset by naysayers or people who’ve made fun of the name and tagline of her business, Arthur knows success with Pretty Padded Room never would have come about had she not experienced depression or with an alternate business model tried and failed.
“A lot of people have been very resistance, but I’m proud to see how far it’s come. It’s only been two years. I really think this is the next step for mental health.”