Inside Coa, the new mental health gym

I had my first panic attack in college a few months before graduation. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love had his in front of millions of viewers during a televised game against Atlanta. The stakes were slightly different, but the symptoms were remarkably similar. “It was like my body was trying to tell me, ‘You are about to die,'” Love wrote of the experience, adding, “I ended up on the floor in the training room, lying on my back, trying to get enough air to breathe. As for me, I was on the beer-stained campus toilet floor, convinced I was having a heart attack.

We had both waited for a fit to finally seek treatment, which is the second (and probably the last) thing I have in common with the NBA star. While it’s good to know that waiting too long for help is a man’s business, according to Emily Anhalt, Psy.D., who advocates for a more proactive approach to mental health. “It’s like waiting to be diagnosed with early signs of heart disease to do cardio,” she says.

Anhalt is the co-founder and clinical director of Coa, a Bay Area start-up that bills itself as the world’s first ‘Gym for Mental Health’, which is exactly what it sounds like. Coa offers small group emotional fitness classes starting at around $ 25 each. While the pandemic has forced the company to take a break from its brick and mortar plans and move its courses online, a SoulCycle’s appeal to mental health can be seen. Group classes are more affordable than traditional one-on-one therapy, and the camaraderie of a passionate nurturing section keeps you coming back. It’s not your average community support group, it’s support with licensed therapists and smart branding. If that sounds like a gimmick, it might be, but Silicon Valley is all in on; Coa raised $ 3 million in an initial funding round last fall and counts Kevin Love and Casper Sleep founder Neil Parikh among its backers. “We spend so much time talking and working on our physical health,” Love told me when I asked him about his investment. “If mental health received the same attention, we would make tremendous progress in helping those in need. ”

The boom in mental wellness care

The wellness area has gained more and more attention – and money – from VCs and professional athletes. Who better to break long-standing stigmas surrounding mental health than high-performing gladiators in touch with their feelings? American football star Megan Rapinoe and Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks are both investors in a startup called Real that has raised $ 16 million; it allows users to stream eight-week courses on topics such as anxiety and communication and live events for as little as $ 28 per month. Michael Phelps, who has voiced his battle with depression and drug addiction, is a spokesperson for the speech therapy company Talkspace.

With stretched access to care and therapists reporting growing waiting lists, these apps meet a very real need. But it’s not about overloading a bot with your problems. What Coa offers is online group therapy (in a stylish package) from an action-oriented approach. “The world wants a quick and easy solution to a problem that is neither quick nor easy,” Anhalt said. “Who we are as people is nuanced, it is layered. And the only solution that will work is one that honors that complexity. Do you even lift, my brother?

Coa’s curriculum is grounded in Anhalt’s Seven Emotional Form Traits, which she developed from her own research into emotionally capable individuals. (These people practice self-awareness, empathy, mindfulness, curiosity, play, resilience, and communication; Coa classes help you strengthen these areas of your own life.) Coa offers classes in Eight-week targeted line such as Emotional Fitness for Mental Well-being, Emotionally Adapted Leadership and Emotionally Adapted Leadership for BIPOC Leaders for $ 240. (It also provides matchmaking services with individual therapists in California and New York, with plans for nationwide expansion.)

In class, clients (patients?) Are asked to leave their cameras on and prepare to share. Classes are less focused, for example, on childhood trauma and more focused on questions that challenge patterns and offer concrete steps to improve confidence, reduce stress and strengthen relationships. Company CEO Alexa Meyer said: The name Coa comes from coalescing, “Growing Together. This is what we help people do.

Put me in it, Coach

I took the 90-minute Intro to Emotional Fitness virtual class, which promised an appetizer – “a little taste,” our host said – of Coa’s philosophy. About 40 minutes later I wondered if I could go with a timeshare to Aruba. Or at least a tote bag. But the tone was informative and authoritative while not shying away from internet slang. I’m a professional skeptic, but I’m also a human who suffers – say it with me – from crippling self-doubt. And it was both scary and empowering to tell 20 strangers about Zoom something I love about myself. I can’t believe I’m putting this on paper, but I could actually take Coa’s advice and start a ‘self-esteem dossier’, a place to put every positive feedback you received, to skim over. on the days when you feel like garbage.

In fact, that would be the third thing I have in common with Kevin Love, who told me he keeps a journal. “For me, self-awareness is the key,” Love said. “I write things down and have a routine that involves different journals for specific topics that I want to immerse myself in or explore that day. The journal is a form of therapy for me. I also constantly practice mindfulness by listing gratitudes and have been a part of my daily life. Sometimes putting something on paper can help simplify and help you run.

But seriously, a newspaper? “I am in a hypermasculine sport and I never wanted to be seen as weak or lose the confidence of my teammates and coaches,” Love said. “Fortunately, speaking my truth has been incredibly liberating and has helped me settle down both on and off the court. Share your story. Nothing haunts us more than the things we don’t say.

Chris Jones, 39, was on the verge of starting his own development and production company in Los Angeles when the pandemic struck. Son of a therapist, he already had a regular practice of meditation and considered himself on solid ground. Still, he signed up for Coa’s eight-week course on Emotionally Adapted Leadership, seeing Coa’s proactive approach as another tool in his arsenal. “It’s more resources to keep me grounded, to keep me present, to make me do the things that I was already doing to be healthy,” he said.

Through classwork, Jones recognized role models in himself, such as excuses he would find to get on the defensive. He had struggled in the past to “be comfortable with discomfort,” he said, especially when forced to give negative feedback to people who worked for him. The Coa host raised questions like: When discomfort arises in conversations, what do you do about it? What are you doing to protect yourself? What are the story lines that could be limits? “Then we would go into breakout sessions and talk about it,” Jones said, likening that job to “bringing reps in” to the gym.

“This type of intervention can be a good gateway to a more evidence-based treatment program, like meeting with a psychiatrist, or a good place to get support,” says psychiatrist Gregory Scott Brown, MD, a MH to advise. He calls the idea behind Coa “a step in the right direction”, but warns that “serious mental illnesses – major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia – would require a higher standard of care with a doctor.”

With the pandemic perhaps finally under control, Coa aims to open physical locations in 2022 – in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco to begin with. (New courses are also in the works, including courses on dating and parenting.) But the online shift has made Coa courses more accessible and, in a way, has helped potential clients overcome their fear, you know, of going into a gym. . Even a mental gym. While Coa intends to evolve, as all budding unicorns must, when it comes to growth, management is (you guessed it) intentional.

“We want to be big,” says Anhalt. “But we are not going to move faster than we can do with integrity. Our investors know that in the long run what’s best for the bottom line is something that actually works.

This story originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Men’s health.

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