In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about the benefits of therapy for a founder.

Running a startup comes with a lot of strain and stress, and if not managed properly, can affect your mental health. As a founder, if you feel you need help to get you over these trying times, it may be a good idea to talk to a therapist.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about the history of the startup chat, why the name was chosen, why the show is all about startup mentality and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About the topic of today’s episode

00:41 Why this topic was chosen.

01:25 Steli’s experience with therapy.

02:24 How we sometimes give the answers we want to give.

03:18 Why every therapy session is different.

05:05 More on Steli’s experience with therapy.

06:00 What makes a therapy valuable.

07:14 Steli’s thoughts on mental health.

08:39 How to find the right therapist.

09:00 Why it’s important to understand the you’re paying them to help you.

3 Key Points:

  • In some ways, a lot of our conversations borderline therapy
  • With therapy, some of us might give the answer that we want to give, not the answer that is true to us.
  • One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I can make some go around in circles in therapy.
  • You’re paying them to help you.


Steli Efti: Hey, everybody. This is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. Today, on The Startup Chat we’re going to talk about a topic that’s a little bit en vogue, especially in Silicon Valley startup land. But, maybe even further out than that, I would say. This idea of therapy for founders, particularly. I think it’s going to be an interesting topic, just considering how much attention it’s getting right now. It’s really about mental health. Right?


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, let’s talk about it. What’s your experience with therapy?


Steli Efti: I’ve not been in therapy as an adult. I mean, in some ways, a lot of our conversations borderline therapy.


Hiten Shah: Like what?


Steli Efti: Especially the ones we don’t record, for many reasons.


Hiten Shah: Very true.


Steli Efti: But, so in a sense, I do feel like I have had many, many therapeutic discussions with very special people. But, I’ve not been to a therapist as an adult. I have thought about it though, on and off, as like maybe this would really benefit me, but I didn’t … Nothing propelled me to push that though forward. Although, I don’t think that that’s something that maybe I’ll decide I’ll do that sometime soon. I don’t know. As a child, I went through therapy for a little while. Maybe that jaded me a bit, because after my … I think after my father died, maybe I was acting up a little bit in school. I think my mom brought me to some kind of a test doctor or something. They gave me a … They did a bunch of tests with me, and then they gave me this multiple choice questionnaire that was basically like trying to figure out if there’s something wrong with me. I don’t know why, but I remember very consciously answering those questions in a way that I was like, “They probably want to …” “Do you want to be part of a group or be alone, because you’re afraid that people won’t like you?” “They probably want me to say that.” I found like fucked up … I feel like I knew what I had to ask for them to say that it’s some psychology issue. I don’t know why I wanted that. But, I know that I followed that. Like I didn’t really honestly answer that thing.


Hiten Shah: I think, Steli, you just brought up a huge point. With therapy, some of us will give the answer that we want to give, not the answer that is true to us.


Steli Efti: Yeah, that is fair.


Hiten Shah: That’s what I’ve found in therapy, where I’ve … A few years ago I went to five different therapists. I did their minimum amount of sessions they’d let me, and I wanted to understand what that field was all about. I know friends who are therapists, multiple friends. I’ve spent time talking to them as well, and had sessions with them just to kind of understand it, but also see what value it can bring for me. One of the things I learned about myself is I can make someone go in circles in therapy, and the therapists know what you’re doing. I find that kind of fascinating. So if you’re somebody like that, it’s going to take you a little bit of time, or a bunch of tries to find a therapist where you’re not willing to do that to them.


Steli Efti: Yeah. That’s interesting.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, keep going.


Steli Efti: Yeah, no, that’s really good stuff. I do think, to jump to that conclusion before I go back for a second, I do think that, just like everything else in life, you cannot take a thing and overgeneralize it as if no matter who the therapist is, the experience of “therapy” will be the exact same “product” that you are consuming. It’s not true. There’s people that are therapists that I would never send anybody to, because I think they have massive issues of their own, and they’re not maybe in a position-


Hiten Shah: Most therapists did. No offense to therapists.


Steli Efti: No offense. I would agree with that. But, I would also say some of them that are having big issues of their own, still maybe are capable of being useful to others, and some aren’t useful to others. I think they are harmful. You cannot just say therapy, as if it’s like this unified product, that’s going to be the exact same experience for everybody. Right? Because, it’s people doing therapy. It’s like, do you like singing? Do you like songs? It depends on the song. It depends on the band. Not every band, not everybody, not every human on Earth that performs the action of singing is doing it at the same quality or the same liking or taste to you. So I couldn’t agree more with that. Coming back to my experiences, to wrap that up, as a child, they did put me in therapy for a little while, and I do remember that that therapist, and the experience we were going through, seemed very … It just seemed like somebody that was just racking up the hours. She was asking questions that were so leading, it was so obvious to me what she wanted me to say. So it’s just playing. I was playing therapy with her. I was telling her the things she wanted to hear. She was very pleased with herself. Then, we would play these games. But, I didn’t really … Nothing really was improving. I remember at some point, my mom after a couple of months, because this took a lot of money and a lot of effort. Both things my mom didn’t have much to give of. So at some point, my mom was like, “What are you doing in therapy, and how do you feel? Is this like … Does it feel good? Do you really like the person? Do you trust them? Have you …” Because, the behavior stuff that was bad was still persistent. Nothing really was changing about my behavior. So my mom, at some point, started thinking, “Is this shit working? Do you like it at least? Is this good?” Then, when I told her kind of my experience honestly, my mom was like, “All right, we’re taking you off of this then.” Nothing has changed, we’re spending a ton of money, and if this … If what you’re telling me is happening is happening, then why are we doing this? To me, I think that was a … That was an experience that made me think, “Maybe therapy is just a bunch of bullshit.” I’ve come today, after reading a lot of books, and being very interested in the topic, and having many friends, just like yourself, that are actually therapists. I don’t believe it’s bullshit, I think it can be incredibly valuable. But, I also agree and believe that it really depends on who your therapist is, who you are, and how you approach the topic, I think can make a massive difference. That’s the same way I feel about the whole issue of mental health, especially in the world of startups, or business, or entrepreneurship. On the one hand, I’m really, really happy that it’s being discussed more, and that people are more open about anxiety, about depression, about their vulnerabilities. I think that is incredibly valuable. There are times where I spot a bunch of bullshit around this. Like where, at least my interpretation is that people are now using this as a way to make themselves a victim, and to relieve themselves of responsibility. I’ve seen people that I know quite well, self-identify as having a mental health issue. I’m not a therapist, and they might very well be. But, sometimes it’s just also a very convenient thing to classify yourself as somebody that has a disease, so it’s this thing that you’re not really responsible for. So every good thing comes also with some bad. I think that [inaudible] it’s a really good thing that it’s being discussed more. Mental health is a bigger topic in today’s world. I think that’s a good thing [inaudible]. Sometimes, I do roll my eyes and think, “You don’t have PTSD because your startup that you were doing for six months ended up failing. You didn’t go to a war zone and kill a bunch of people and see a bunch of your friends die, and then you come back to normal society and you have a difficult time dealing with it.” To me, that doesn’t seem like a good framework to apply to yourself in order to deal with maybe your burnout, or your stress, or whatever it is. Maybe you do feel really beaten up emotionally through the experience. But, using heavy terms like PTSD after doing a six month startup just rubs me the wrong way, I think. But, [inaudible] I do think therapy can be really, really great. But, I think it depends so much on who you are and where you are in life right now, what you need out of it, and finding that right person. How would we even go about giving somebody advice that is curious about therapy to find the right person? Since we do know a bunch of people in that space, how would you go about finding the right therapist for you? One thing that you mentioned was finding somebody, and these are my words, it’s not exactly what you said, but, I think what I heard was, finding the type of therapist that you don’t want to deceive or play games with, that you are willing to be completely honest and vulnerable with.


Hiten Shah: You’re paying them to get help. You’re paying them to help you. That is really important to understand. You’re not paying them because they know better than you. That’s another important thing to understand. For me, I would do my best to talk to these people and ask them how they work. What is their approach? What are the things they’ve studied? How do they feel about helping somebody? Not just feel, but what is their method, because that’s a therapist. There’s other things that I know we’re going to talk about and publish about coaching. Right?


Steli Efti: Right.


Hiten Shah: Which is a separate thing. One of the reasons, I think, this got in your mind is I’ve sent a few tweets out about therapist and coach, I’m like, “What’s the difference?” One question I asked was, “What’s the difference?” Another question I recently asked is, “Do you go to one?” It turns out, most people don’t go to a therapist. I think it’s like 20% or less. My ultimate thing here is, you are usually going to be dealing with something in your life that triggers you to go to a therapist. That’s usually what I’ve seen over and over again, whether it’s some kind of stress, or some kind of event. Like in your world, where you started having some different behavior, changed behavior, and your mom decided, “Hey, check this thing out.” So to me, finding one has everything to do with interviewing them and figuring out who can help you. My opinion is you want to understand how they do it. Usually, a recommendation from a friend is useful, at least getting conversations. But, just because a friend recommended somebody doesn’t mean that you’ll like them or work with them. Another thing I’ve found is, you could research the different methods of therapy. There’s a number of them. You could see what works for you. When you research it, what do you gravitate towards? What resonates with you? Then, try to find therapists that specialize in that area.


Steli Efti: Yeah, and then the last thing that I’ll add to this is a tip before we wrap up this episode. I think, in general, the sentiment of both our side is that we are all for it, and we think that it can be an incredibly useful tool for people and for founders in startups, specifically, or any person or startup, to have a therapist. If you find the right one, it can be of incredible benefit to you in your life. So there shouldn’t be any stigma around this. But, finding the right one with the right approach is the most important thing. So my last tip on this, on my end is, trust your gut. I find that a lot of times, especially in areas that we’re not experts in, people doubt their own gut, their own intuition. If you try to see a few therapists to find the right person for you to try this new thing out, and there’s something that rubs you the wrong way, or there’s some gut reaction that you don’t trust this person, you don’t like this person, or you don’t feel secure or safe with that person. You don’t have to justify that. You don’t have to have any good rational explanation for that. Just trust you gut. If you feel unsafe, or not comfortable, or in any way like a person that you’re interacting with isn’t doing the right thing, then find somebody else. You don’t have to be an expert in therapy, and you don’t have to be a therapist yourself. I find, a lot of times, people might go to the first therapist, be in sessions, find them not of benefit to their lives. But, then have this inner voice that goes, “Well, maybe it takes a long time. Maybe I don’t understand it. Maybe I need to give this person a lot more …” like this self doubt, “Because, I have never done this before. I don’t know how it’s supposed to feel. I’m not an expert. I don’t know why I feel weird about it.” You don’t have to know. Trust your gut. I find that our instinct are much better than we give them credit for. So with this type of thing, where you really need to trust the person, to fully open up, for things to be able to be uncovered, and then for change to be able to arrive and happen, you need to trust that person. You need to feel good about that person. If you can’t get there emotionally, you don’t have to get there rationally. You don’t have to have an explanation for it. Make sure you to trust your gut on these things to avoid wasting a ton of time, energy. Or, maybe even, instead of benefiting from it, getting harm from it because you worked with the wrong person.


Hiten Shah: Yep. It’s just like everything else, right? Try stuff, see what works for you, and if it doesn’t work for you, move on. I think there’s a line. What is it? Take the best, leave the rest. Yeah, I think that applies to a lot of things, particularly helps you have a sort of better life when you think of things like that. Take the best, leave the rest. That’s what I’m going to leave you with.


Steli Efti: That is it. All right. That’s it for us for this episode. We’ll hear you very, very soon.


Hiten Shah: See you.