little otter

Little Otter brings a new mental health resource to the Pittsburgh region

Photo above by Luemen Rutkowski used by permission via Unsplash.

Finding mental healthcare for kids and teens can be challenging: Not all therapists and psychologists are trained to work with younger people, and those that are may have months-long waiting lists for new patients. That can be frustrating for families who need mental health support right now.

Recently, though, a new option has opened up for Pittsburgh-region families. Last month, a company called Little Otter began operating in Pennsylvania. They offer virtual tele-therapy for children up to age 14, along with parent training and support, couples therapy, and psychiatric services including medication management.

mental healthcare for kids
Dr. Helen Egger. Photo used by permission via Little Otter.

How it works

It’s a holistic approach: Little Otter provides personalized mental healthcare for kids, but this care is designed with the understanding that family members all impact one another.

Parents are offered help with strategies to help their kids. And If those strategies aren’t working due to a parent’s own needs, the parent can also receive therapy to focus on things like alignment between two parents, co-parenting support, couples support and individual therapy.

Care is delivered through Little Otter’s app by licensed therapists, psychiatrists and master-level parenting specialists, some of whom helped design the app. At the moment, there is no waiting list for care.

“One out of five children has an impairing mental health disorder and we have to think about what a year is in a child’s life,” says Dr. Helen Egger, co-founder and chief medical & scientific officer at Little Otter.

“Today, it is not uncommon for a child who needs mental health care to wait for six months or more to get care — and often much longer to get the right care. Think of a 4-year-old child who must wait six months for help: that is one-eighth of that child’s whole life!”

Dr. Egger co-founded Little Otter in 2020 with her own daughter, Rebecca Egger, after spending 30 years in academic medicine as a pediatrician and expert in early childhood mental health.

“I was not seeing science-based knowledge about the identification and treatment of childhood mental health disorders translated into quality, accessible care,” she says.

So creating a virtual option seemed like the best answer to serve as many families as possible. At the website, families can fill out a mental health assessment quiz and get recommendations for possible care strategies. If it seems like Little Otter’s services might be a good fit, they can schedule an initial half-hour session with a therapist.

The services aren’t inexpensive. The initial half-hour session costs $90. If a family decides to continue with care, the cost is $200 for each 45-minute care session. But discounts are available if you’re buying several at once: Four sessions cost $680 (so $170 each) and 12 sessions cost $1,920 ($160 each). And families with insurance coverage can submit receipts to their insurance company for this out-of-network care, in order to receive whatever level of reimbursement their plan offers.

Along with Pennsylvania, Little Otter’s care is available in California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, New York, and Illinois. Their goal is to eventually offer care to families throughout the nation.