Behind the Brand with Carter Barnhart, CEO of Charlie Health

Trigger Warning for Readers Sensitive to Mentions of Sexual Trauma or Violence: This article contains references to sexual assault and recovery from traumatic events.

Many teens travel the world with a sense of invincibility. With few exceptions, teens who still live in the home of their parents and within the family are sheltered from the harshest realities of life. While they may be preparing for college and the life they will live when they leave the nest, it usually takes a major life event to take a teen out of the bubble of childhood and welcome him into the reality of the real world.

For some, this may mean minor trauma, such as getting fired or going through a breakup, but for Carter Barnhart, it was something much more difficult.

When she was just 14, Barnhart was at a concert with friends when she was sexually assaulted. So her life changed forever. Her innocence and childlike wonder shifted to a place of darkness, loneliness and pain.

Barnhart comes from a strong family and she is close to her parents and her brother, but none of them could reach her. She didn’t tell her what had happened to her, so she faced depression, anxiety, and passive suicidal thoughts on her own.

“My parents have spent countless years trying to find the right treatment for me,” she says. “And they finally did when I was 17 years old, and it saved my life. Then I became obsessed with helping other people and making sure everyone knew there was a treatment.”

Barnhart entered treatment at Newport Academy in California, which was brand new at the time. She tells me she was the second patient there and the program changed her life. There, after meeting other young women who were also survivors, she felt seen and her recovery began.

“The program is made for girls like me,” she says. “Who had intact, loving, supportive families…[who] had things that happened to them or had genetic factors, [who]had been bullied. I met so many different people from so many different walks of life at this residential treatment center, and for me that was what really cured me in the end.”

Barnhart doesn’t shy away from telling this story because it was the catalyst for the life she currently leads as the founder of Charlie Health. Her company recognizes an untapped category in healthcare and is about personalized mental health care for teens, young adults and families. Charlie Health aims to be a viable solution to the youth mental health crisis as it aims to provide patients with better outcomes using proven medical techniques and technology at affordable prices for families.

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“Senior year, I started at a brand new high school and everyone I met told me [my] story,” she says. ‘That didn’t make me the most popular. People really thought I was a little weird, but I wanted everyone to know there was help when they were struggling.”

After graduation, Barnhart contacted the man who ran Newport Academy, and for the next 11 years she helped him turn it into one of the nation’s leading residential treatment centers for adolescents and young adults recovering from trauma and abuse.

Barnhart tells me that from the moment she left her recovery program, she felt like she wanted to be an advocate and a beacon of hope for young people who have been through terrible things. For her own experience, Barnhart says the hardest part of the aftermath of her sexual assault was feeling alone.

“I think back to that 14-year-old girl with so much pain and so much fear, but my biggest feeling was that feeling of being alone,” she says. “Feeling that no one else understood me; feeling like I would never feel whole or OK again.”

Barnhart wants to make sure that anyone who has ever experienced trauma knows that there is a treatment and that it can make a difference.

It’s now clear that Barnhart is very comfortable talking about her trauma and advocating for others, which makes me wonder why she didn’t feel like she could tell the people in her support system what had happened to her. She tells me that feelings of shame and fear got the better of her and she couldn’t talk about it. She blamed herself, which she says is common among victims of sexual trauma. So even though she had always been expressive as a child, she didn’t feel like she could talk to anyone about this traumatic event.

“My parents knew I was really just having a hard time. I think they were really confused,” she says. “They didn’t know [what I was going through], and we’re in a really close relationship, so it wasn’t like they weren’t trying. I was really cut off with them and really cut off with everyone.”

Part of Barnhart’s job now is to normalize (for lack of a better word) the experience of having trauma. Making sure people know there’s no shame in having been through a traumatic event and that help is out there for them. She wants to fight for people, even in times when they can’t fight for themselves.

“I’ve always been a fighter. I’ve never been a wallflower,” she says. “I remember my mom saying to me, where’s my daughter? Where’s the fighter? Where’s that girl I know wants to advocate for herself and for everyone else? And that was actually the hardest part I did in the beginning.” During my healing journey “I am so grateful to have that battle back in me.”

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After working for years in Newport, Barnhart realized that while the treatment they offered was life-changing and, in many cases, life-saving, there was one flaw. They couldn’t reach enough people. There just weren’t enough beds and their services were priceless to most families.

“Residential treatment, while amazing, is only available to one percent of the population,” she says. “And what we know is that somewhere between 10 million and 15 million children struggle with some acute behavioral problem every year and 90 percent of them don’t have access to therapy, even once a week, or whatever. -based care that would help them recover. And so no matter how many residential treatment centers we built, we will never have enough beds for the number of children who really need access to care. My mission was to create something that was accessible and affordable and produces the same kind of treatment results.”

Barnhart wanted to find this way to offer specialized treatment to the masses, but it couldn’t just offer online therapy at an affordable price. Companies like BetterHelp and Talk Space already do. Barnhart is determined to believe that the most important part of her recovery was meeting other girls like her, which made her feel like she wasn’t alone, she wasn’t broken, she wasn’t. the guilty. Advanced therapy techniques like EMDR can really help reverse the damage of trauma, but the most important part is having a community.

“I lived in a house with five other girls for 45 days and we all started talking about our life stories,” she says. “I remember my roommate also had her own experience of sexual trauma. She told me about it, and it was this moment of mine [feeling] like, okay, i’m not the only one. There is another person who has experienced something similar. On the outside [she] looked like me, I thought she was really beautiful, I thought she was really cool. On the surface, it made me feel, okay, if she’s been through this, I’m okay. It’s okay that I’ve been through this too. And on a deeper emotional level, I had such tremendous respect for her that it helped me respect myself.”

Living with this girl she admired so much made all the difference. Barnhart’s own life-saving experience showed her that while therapy and therapeutic techniques make a huge difference, the most important part was sharing the experience with others.

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“I wanted to create a program that matched people based on their shared experiences, and that’s what we built at Charlie Health. It’s the first program that matches people based on their age, their primary diagnosis, their secondary diagnosis, but also their maladaptive coping mechanisms, as well as their preferences.”

By creating this kind of program that works remotely, Charlie Health can match children and teens with others who have had similar experiences and who are like them in the world. They give them a safe space and community with others who “get it.”

In addition to doing some pretty intense fundraising and starting Charlie Health with less than a million dollars seed funding, Barnhart and her partners also used the pandemic to their advantage. They took full advantage of the Covid insurance waivers, where they would be paid right away for virtual treatment. During that time, they were able to advocate for in-network contracts by demonstrating the effectiveness of their program.

Barnhart tells me it has taken a lot of work and she has also had to fight with insurance companies in recent years, but finally Charlie Health is available in the network for all the major insurance companies.

As for their reputation, they still occupy their place in the world of behavioral health. Barnhart says the company made a conscious decision not to publish how much money they’ve raised or how much money they’re worth because they want the company to be about what they do, not what they’re worth.

“It was a strategic decision we made not to share our funding in a world where people are constantly sharing how much they are raising…where people are constantly talking about their valuations. How many unicorn founders have we all read about? A lot And me I made the decision from the start that I didn’t want us to be known that way, and my two other co-founders and I spent a lot of time talking about that.

“From a hiring point of view it would probably be easier if people could google Charlie Health and see how much money we’ve raised, but that’s not how we want Charlie Health to be known. It was a strategic decision for us instead really time to invest in our clinical program, which is what we want to be known for.”

More with Carter Barnhart here:

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