We’ll Get Through It Together: Provide Your Employees Immediate Access to Emotional Support and Consultation
“Four days after Israel’s Black Saturday, we have decided to connect to ifeel’s platform and provide immediate personal and emotional help to our hundreds of employees and their families,” says Haim Taib, president of the Menomadin Foundation and Mitrelli Group. “We received distress calls from many of the managers of the companies and organizations we work with,” adds Merav Galili, Menomadin CEO. “The war triggered a myriad of understandably anxious feelings, and Human Resources managers were inundated with requests from employees in Israel and those who found themselves grappling with the horrific situation while abroad. We recognized the urgency of providing employees with a prompt solution, involving professional human assistance.”
Taib and Galili found the solution right at home in the start-up company ifeel, one of Menomadin Foundation’s impact investments. ifeel offers employees online therapy sessions with certified clinical psychologists, via chat or video. The workplace provides employees access to assistance and support under therapist-patient confidentiality. “Our platform makes it possible to provide treatment to thousands of people simultaneously and to do so in a matter of hours,” says Amir Kaplan, ifeel founder and CEO. ifeel operates in Israel in collaboration with Femi, a leading provider of digital health services. It has gained over a million patients worldwide in its six years of operation, and complying with the strictest cybersecurity regulations.
Clinical Therapist at the Push of a Button—via Chat or Video Call
“In light of the situation in Israel, we are committed and doing everything we can to reach out to as many large companies and organizations as possible so that they can provide their employees with the support they so desperately need right now,” says Hilla Huter-Yishai, ifeel’s Country Director in Israel. “As soon as a company signs up, its employees who choose to contact ifeel will receive a response from a mental health professional via chat or video within minutes.”
The ifeel user experience begins with a short registration form, setting a username and password, and logging in to the system. Upon entering, the caller responds to several focused questions and is then directed to a chat with a therapist for an introductory and initial classification. The response time at this stage is 3–5 minutes. At the end of this intake call, and depending on the need, the initial therapist offers to assign the caller with a permanent therapist with whom they can synchronically correspond twice a week while texting with them a-synchronically 24/7 in between sessions whenever they feel the need. “The biggest bottleneck in the Israeli mental health system is exactly this initial conversation,” explains Amir, “sometimes it takes even three months to meet a professional only to get to the stage of determining what to do next.”
To meet an immediate need and provide effective coping tools, the therapist can send the patient interactive exercises and tasks designed by clinical therapists. For callers using the service, these exercises are personalized: “AI technology learns from the exercises you have completed, tracks your progress, and provides you with additional tasks according to clinical classification,” Hilla explains.
The video chat therapy channel mentioned above also operates entirely within ifeel’s simple and user-friendly system. “The patient can request the video chat, but sometimes it is the therapist who initiates it, like when dealing with an issue which is difficult to resolve in writing,” Hilla says. “The system does not allow therapists to send automated messages and to our delight, the therapists are not interested in doing so because they understand the clinical benefit of human response. The therapist and the patient can also record messages to each other during the chat; this function immediately breaks down barriers and creates a more personal connection.”
“Human resources managers are calling me in a panic”
In these times, when children are at home and an air raid siren can sound at any moment, it is impossible to sit with a therapist on Zoom or attend a face-to-face meeting—a chat response is a convenient and readily available option. “In the Israeli companies we work with, the amount of support seekers has increased by more than 40% since the war broke out,” says Hilla. “Human resources managers are calling me in a panic. In light of the great urgency, we are working around the clock to ensure the onboarding of new companies even within 12 hours. We set each company with its own branded landing page and provide it with approved and secure access. In the meantime, our therapists are notified that a new company is due to start with us, and stand by to serve its employees.”
“ifeel’s contract contains only one sentence, and neither the patient nor the company will encounter further sales attempts in the system. Upon onboarding, our clinical therapist, Nava Sorek, and I hold a webinar with all the company’s employees. We explain how the platform works and send each employee a registration link. That is where the process ends, and the companies can have peace of mind that their people will be receiving professional treatment, now and in ‘the day after’.”
“In a webinar we held with one of the companies, shared one of the participants that while he is working in an African country, his family in the Gaza Envelope were injured in the horrific October 7th attack,” Hilla says. “He thanked both his workplace and ifeel for this essential help and support. We hear this a lot, but, in this situation, there was not a dry eye in the house. 50% of the company’s employees participated in the webinar, attesting to great need.”
When the war broke out, Amir, ifeel CEO, wanted to return to Israel and join his unit in the north, but Hilla urged him to stay in Spain at ifeel’s HQ and devote himself to an equally important mission. “I told him: ’I’m going all in. We have to do everything we can to help people in Israel, and we need your help to make it happen. This is our responsibility now,’” she states.
“We can handle hundreds of thousands of callers if we’ll need to”
Although ifeel’s human response is available from 9:00 to 21:00, the therapeutic process takes place around the clock, and the system allows callers and patients to write about what they are going through 24/7. It enables therapists to be continuously updated on what is happening with the patients, even between sessions, and to arrive at the online conversation with a lot of information. “Our number of therapists is large, depending on the hour and need,” says Hilla. “Currently, our clinical management is training therapists who normally treat in traditional means to work on our digital platform so that we can provide treatment to thousands of people simultaneously, and, if needed, we will be able to handle even hundreds of thousands of callers.”
Amir Kaplan founded ifeel during his studies at IE Business School in Spain with two of his classmates, Martin from Mexico and Gabriele from Italy. “We built a platform for therapist-patient correspondence via chat, which can service many different countries,” he says. “The idea and the platform we built gained success, and in 2017, we managed to recruit our first investors, including Haim Taib.” After the Menomadin Foundation was established, clinical psychologist Yair Mor joined ifeel’s board of directors and provided professional assistance in strategic decisions. Menomadin provided support in every funding round ifeel went out to, as did international foundations from France, Austria, and Spain.
In 2019, the company made a strategic decision to work through large companies and insurance firms around the world. “This transition allowed us to reach over a million patients so far, offering a fundamental product that companies provide to their employees, rather than a perk or a luxury,” Amir emphasizes. “This is the way to manage people today. Many realized this during the COVID-19 pandemic when ifeel’s demand skyrocketed dramatically due to the lockdowns, uncertainty, and fear that enveloped us all. Demand has not fallen since, even in countries where emotional care is still taboo, such as Spain, France, and Germany we have seen a dramatic change, and our product has become a fundamental component of the employment offerings. We have seen a rising use of our service also in England and the United States, where awareness and openness to treatment are already relatively well-established.”
“The need for access to emotional health care in Israel is enormous”
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Femi CEO Etel Molcho approached Amir to set up ifeel’s activity in Israel—and he immediately accepted the mission. “The need for access to emotional health care in Israel is enormous, and I would like to make an impact on my country. Israel is not a trivial market; it may be small, only about 2% of the global market, but it is one with a grave need.”
Knowing the importance of providing emotional health care in one’s native tongue, ifeel was required to produce a platform in Hebrew. “Building the Hebrew system involved some technological and content challenges, including text editing and localization,” says Hilla, who was in charge of the process. “At the end of the pandemic, we started onboarding our first customers in Israel, and we are currently working to establish agreements with HMOs, insurance firms, and private companies. The goal was to reach as many employees in Israel as possible,” she says, adding: “In addition, it was necessary to recruit local therapists and train them. The whole process required allocating plenty of effort and resources.”
“A 50% decrease in work absenteeism”
“If in other countries the service is part of the employee’s daily life, there’s no doubt that in Israel, such a service must be mandatory,” says Hilla. “Companies today understand that employees who get the help they need are more resilient and are more collaborative; what is good for the employee is good for the employer.”
This year, ifeel achieved two breakthroughs, one in research and one in the artificial intelligence field. “In research, we were able to prove a decrease of about 50% in anxiety and depression symptoms among our patients,” says Amir. “This was reflected, among other things, in a decrease of about 50% in the rate of absenteeism from work and an increase of 36% in productivity. In addition, in a study we conducted in collaboration with a large company, we found that our system can identify at-risk employees. We were able to prevent their deterioration and even prove improvement in their condition.”
“This is of great importance today, during the war, and in its aftermath,” Amir emphasizes. “In addition, by using AI tools on tens of millions of interactions collected in our system over the years, ifeel was able to create a recommendation system for patients at the initial classification stage. This unique data, which cannot be replicated, is essential to our ability to support our users,” he concludes.