When we talk with our Therachat users, we notice that each therapist has a story to tell that just about anyone can benefit. That’s why we decided to kick off a series of interviews around specific topics. Today we talked with Vivien, a motivated private practice clinician that fully embraced the power of technology and happily wanted to share tips and tricks. [Read more…] about How To Incorporate & Benefit Technology In Your Private Practice
At Therachat, we aim to avoid designing in a vacuum as much as possible. We involve our target users in the design process through what’s called a co-design session. Our target users — people with anxiety — are the experts in their own experiences, so it only makes sense to involve them so we can better understand and carry forward their mental models, goals, and needs.
A colleague and I ran our first-ever co-design session with our target users in March 2017. The kicker — I also have anxiety. I know what it’s like to walk alongside them on our respective journeys. I also know that due to an unfortunate stigma, it can be difficult to open up about your own mental health, especially in a room full of strangers. Until that stigma is vanquished, we need to take care in how we talk about mental health.
Here are some tips I collected from planning and running our first supportive, welcoming co-design session in case they are helpful for fellow UX practitioners designing their own:
Establish expectations before the session
We send every participant an email beforehand that outlines key details of their session — both the logistical (scheduled time, how many other participants will be in the room) and the objective. We also let them know it would absolutely be ok if they don’t feel comfortable answering certain prompts during our time together.
If you have phone numbers on hand, give them a ring before the session to check in. If I put myself in my participants’ shoes, I would appreciate hearing a friendly voice who can answer any questions as I’m getting ready for the session, especially if I have never participated in something like this before. (This tip can apply to any research method, not just co-design.)
Create a “Yes, and…” environment
One of the pillars of improv is “Yes, and…” It helps establish an environment of collaboration by building off of each other’s ideas. At Therachat, we embrace that philosophy. We introduced it to our participants by playing an improv game to break the ice at the start of the session. (See “0. Yes, BUT… vs. Yes, AND…’ within the article.)
The mindset of this game played out during the rest of the session. I saw heads nod as participants shared stories, heard ideas expand in the room, and felt apart of something special. These two hours offered a glimpse of camaraderie among strangers based on their shared experiences.
Have time for feedback
My colleague and I used a simple and valuable framework for gathering participant feedback at the end of the session: the d.school’s “I like, I wish, What if.” Being open to feedback can only help us iterate and improve on future co-design sessions.
Participate in addition to facilitate
As facilitators, we fully embraced the “co-design” philosophy. We chose to share our own experiences with anxiety and immersed ourselves in the activities we created, in part because we were walking the journey, too, and in part to make participants feel more comfortable opening up about their own experiences.
During our “I Like, I Wish, What If” activity, someone shared that they appreciated the facilitators participating in the activities. Doing so can help break down the dynamic in the room. This tip may not be applicable for every co-design session, though, depending on the focus.
Have any other tips for creating a supportive, welcoming co-design session? Please share them in the comments!
Before San Francisco-based psychotherapist Krishan Abeyatunge chose his current profession, he was helping people heal through his Bay Area practice of holistic medicine. It was during those years that he noticed an ever-increasing number of patients that would come in repeatedly for the same physical ailments or pain because of trauma.
His investigation to identify the culprit behind these chronic maladies led him to discover the connection between our psychological well-being and our physical health. This realization compelled him to make a career change so he could focus on exploring the core source of all our joys and sorrows – our psyche.
Trauma Can Result in Physical Pain
When we fail to work through our trauma, it manifests itself in other ways. Specifically, Krishan points out that psychological trauma and anxiety can frequently manifest as physical pain and illness. He shares an eye-opening experience he had with a former patient – a 275lbs former football player, who survived a car accident that ended his father’s life. During massage therapy, Krishan stumbled upon an old back injury the client suffered in the accident. Unaware of the injury or its history, Krishan applied pressure to the spot, evoking in his client an intense urge to cry. “Just let it out,” offered the doctor and the client did. He began to cry. When they spoke after, it became clear that the trauma the accident survivor has been carrying in that spot extended far beyond physical injuries.
Abeyatunge swears that this sort of physical manifestation of early, sustained or even acute trauma is more common than most people realize. What’s even worse, it can be self-perpetuating.
“If your mind is set to that channel, then there’s plenty to look at that’s not great in the world. We live in the paradox of lots of beautiful stuff and lots of suffering. So, depending on where your channel is set to, you can notice a ton of either,” says Abeyatunge.
He notes that major research institutions like Stanford and Harvard have documented the connection between emotional/mental wellbeing and physical health. Check out this book titled Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine if you’re interested in learning more about the phenomenon.
It’s a hectic, increasingly insane world out there. For the younger generations hanging on can be a challenge. To help us understand how Millennials experience and cope with stress and anxiety, we sat down with therapist Tara Griffith, who is also the founder of Wellspace SF, the San Francisco community of licensed therapists, nutritionists and certified coaches. In addition to psychotherapy, Tara’s organization specializes in working with young adults, providing life coaching, career coaching, nutrition and health/wellness coaching.
Describing the Millennial patients she frequently works with, Tara explains that many of their mental health stressors are tied to technology and entrepreneurship. “What’s really unique about millennials, especially in San Francisco, is there’s a lot of integration of socializing and work. There are bars in certain start-ups and you’re encouraged to do all these outside activities together, so the work/life balance becomes a little messy sometimes,” says Tara. “The quick growth of companies creates some stressors in how to work with your colleagues or be a good manager or employee. Many people that are in management positions are sometimes really young. They are learning to navigate a quickly growing industry.”
Tara feels that integrating or learning easy, yet effective stress management tools is important. And so is scheduling time for self-care, and being able to set boundaries. “For urban Millennials, the pace of life can be so fast today that we often just go, go, go. They don’t really schedule the time for self-care. They’re just reacting in the moment instead of sitting down and reflecting on the next step or who they want to be.”
Communication and feeling a connection with other people is also a unique challenge for Millennials according to Tara. “Technology has made it so much easier to disconnect from people. In the past, you may have to meet someone face-to-face or pick up the phone and have a difficult conversation. Now you just disappear without ever having to be accountable. The face of dating and communication is definitely changing.” That’s where Tara sees technology – and Millennials’ affinity for it – having the greatest impact, “And not necessarily in a positive way,” says Tara.
Tara lists a few essential coping skills that she frequently works on with her clients:
- Try to schedule time for self-care in your calendar. “If it’s not scheduled its often the first thing to go,” says Tara.
- Learn more about mindfulness and meditation and incorporate that into daily life.
- Identify one’s inner critic and understand how that contributes to your stress level.
- Learn how to speak with yourself in a nicer, kinder and gentler way; refocus perspective on the positive.
- Utilize tools like gratitude journals and affirmations.
While useful for everyone, Tara explained that gratitude journals are particularly helpful for Millennials. This forces them to take time out of the day to focus on what’s going well in their lives. “The way that we think about the world is going to contribute to your anxiety. It’s very rare that we spend time thinking about all the great things in our life,” explains Tara. “Spend time each day really reflecting on the positives in your life and what they mean to you. By doing that you reshape the way your brain works, and you start to notice more positive things in your life, instead of skewing toward the negative.”
Mindfulness and Living in the Present
Mindfulness and intentionality are traits commonly attributed to Millennials. “Doing my own work on myself and seeing the benefits – of particularly the mindfulness — and how that has significantly impacted my own life…I can be very passionate about it because it’s something that works. It’s not just something I’ve read about in a book.”
Explaining her own work, Tara notes that “I am not the type of therapist who’s just going to sit back and nod their head and say, ‘tell me how you feel about that.’ I don’t spend too much time in the past, which other therapists might. I’m really focused on the here and now. The present moment,” says Tara. “We can spend years and years sitting on the couch talking about how your mother ruined your life. My personal opinion is that we can talk about that but I don’t want to stay there.”
Tara’s personal connection to her work and her patients reflects the kind of purpose Millennials are hungry for. As Tara explains about her approach: “Sometimes people look at a therapist as an expert or a know-it-all, but we’re people with our own struggles and heartaches and challenges and most therapists get into this because they can really empathize with other people’s struggle. And I think that’s what I try and let my clients know about me. That I’m just like you.”
Sarah Korda is a San Francisco therapist passionate about using talk therapy, Drama Therapy, and creative arts methods to help individuals and couples cope in our increasingly anxiety-driven society. “There’s so much loneliness and isolation in the world, especially given the current political climate. Being someone who offers a little bit of peace to a small group of people who feel worried and isolated is very important to me,” says Sarah. [Read more…] about Drama Therapy: An Artistic Twist on Therapy and Self-Reflection