Dr. Sherry Benton, founder and inventor of TAO (Therapy Assistance Online), is a woman with a vision- one in which every person who needs mental health treatment is able to access it easily and affordably, regardless of geographical location or socioeconomic status.
After serving as the director of the counseling center at the University of Florida, which provides services to a population of 50,000 students, she was made starkly aware of the supply and demand problem for mental health therapy. University counseling centers are often under-staffed and under-funded and it is common for students to be subjected to a wait list before receiving treatment. The situation for access to traditional treatment is not much more optimistic for the rest of the country- 56% of US counties have no licensed mental health providers and over 90 million people live in federally designated mental health under served areas. Dr. Benton felt this disparity was “intolerable” and set out in an entrepreneurial pursuit to revolutionize the landscape of behavioral telehealth solutions.
Bob Clark, CEO
Dr. Sherry Benton, Chief Science Officer
The TAO platform-an online suite of tools accessible from any device with an internet connection- is designed to address this pervasive problem of access and affordability and bring effective treatment to those who have had limited access in the past.
The TAO product was first developed out of the University of Florida’s College of Education in 2012, and by August of 2013, the treatment was offered on UF’s campus for students suffering with anxiety. The overwhelming success of the treatment led to the roll-out of the beta product to nine additional universities for testing. Since then TAO developed additional treatments, grown the company with investments from prominent firms, secured two National Science Foundation grants for the development of a machine learning-based counseling system, and moved it’s headquarters from Gainesville to St. Petersburg, Florida.
TAO allows therapists to interact with clients via secure videoconferencing and monitor their progress while also providing their clients with engaging educational videos and interactives, daily “homework” and logs, artificial intelligence-informed tools, and the convenience of having treatment materials accessible to them 24/7.
Understanding the need for a business-minded leader at the helm, TAO brought on Bob Clark, former healthcare executive and software developer, as Chief Executive Officer in 2015. The TAO team is a harmonious balance of science, creativity and business savvy, with salespeople, developers, designers and administrative support all working to support the vision and mission of social justice through technology. Located on the bustling 600 Block of Downtown St. Petersburg, TAO fits in well with the entrepreneurial spirit of the locally-owned economy for which this city is lauded.
TAO is currently utilized internationally at more than 60 university counseling centers, in several private practices and in 1 EAP- and those numbers continue to climb as the platform gains traction as a viable solution for addressing the shortcomings of the current behavioral health system. With depression and anxiety becoming more prevalent in today’s fast-paced world, people are searching for a solution that they can fit into their busy lives. Using TAO, a patient can connect with a therapist from the privacy of their home, their office, a café- anywhere with an internet connection. Combining the videoconferencing capabilities with the breadth of online tools for accountability and progress, TAO’s treatments have been shown to be more effective than traditional face-to-face therapy alone. The TAO Connect mission is no small undertaking, but TAO is making huge strides in delivering a telehealth solution to improve the future of behavioral health.