1 in 5 Canadians struggle with their mental health. People of colour (POC) especially are underserved when it comes to mental health services and have a harder time finding therapists they can connect with. This is because mental health professionals can't grasp the cultural nuances that comes with being a person of colour.
For my undergrad thesis, I dove deep into this complex problem space. I conducted over 20 interviews with therapists and POCs seeking mental health help, ran participatory design workshops and designed Therapy Match; a product that aims to put mental health back into your own hands, giving POC clients the agency to choose their preferred therapist based on their individual needs.
Following the double diamond framework, I was able to diverge in my research and scope my problem space. After diverging, I converged and identified the specific "How Might We" and benefit sought:
People of colour would have agency over which therapists they would like to work with by matching with ones that better fit their cultural needs.
After identifying the problem space, I diverged in my thinking again and used participatory design methodologies to come to a solution.
Individuality: Allowing users to customize their individual experience to suit their specific needs.
Agency: Giving users control over their experience.
Design with Community: Designing for inclusion means designing with the users, not solely for them.
Behavioural Economics: People’s own biases impact their experiences and expectations of a product or service.
I conducted secondary research through journals and scholarly articles to validate some of my assumptions:
Assumption: POC feel more comfortable with therapists that share a similar cultural background as them.
Findings: Research shows that people of colour that share an identity with their therapist (ex: ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation) feel more comfortable opening up to them. Having a therapist that can empathize with them will allow them to work through this trauma and heal.
I conducted user interviews with 22 participants, all identifying as POCs, between the ages of 20-28. Interviews were conducted remotely through social media (Twitter) and video calls.
Assumption/Unknown: POC have a hard time finding the right therapist for their needs. What are the key pain points that people of colour experience when seeking therapy?
Findings: POC struggle with finding therapists that can understand the cultural nuances and identities tied to their mental health.
One of the hardest parts of therapy was related to the limited or non-existent cultural sensitivity from counsellors.
73% of participants said they would feel more comfortable talking to POC therapists than white therapists.
Next, I conducted expert interviews with 4 therapists that have experience working with POC clients.
Assumption: Therapists learn cultural competence and undergo training in their education.
Findings: Cultural competence isn’t something that can be taught in a classroom. It is something that is learned and developed through lived and shared experiences.
I conducted an environmental scan and competitive analysis of other mental health apps on the market, such as BetterHelp and TalkSpace.
Although these apps exist, users have to fill out rigorous questionnaires to be matched. Also, they don’t have agency over the matching.
I really wanted to include participatory design into my process and include my users in the solution formation. I ran 2 co-creation workshops where I asked participants to sketch and make notes regarding a tool that would help them connect to therapists based on their needs.
- Less use of clinical terms (depression vs. loneliness). People don't want to be diagnosed via the app.
- Establish trust through the onboarding.
- Set expectations for both the client and the therapist.
Taking all the insights from research and the participatory design workshops, I created a thorough user journey that highlighted the UX before, during and after downloading the app.
The in-app experience begins with a brief onboarding questionnaire. Users can identify mental health topics, preferred cultural background and methods of communication.
After submitting the questionnaire, the app serves various therapists that match the users' inputed preferences. They’re able to add or delete filters to narrow/widen their search results. This gives our users agency, rather than being automatically matched with one therapist, they can choose.
Once users have selected their preferred therapist, they’re able to book their initial appointment with them within the app
Prior to their first meeting, the therapist will contact the user through the app with an agenda of what they can expect during their appointment.
Future contact is up to the discretion of the client and therapist. It can happen through phone/video call or in-person.