Reducing Barriers to Therapy for Black, Indigenous and People of Color

— DISCOVERY

Background Research

There are several barriers that prevent Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) from getting therapy. Research suggests that these barriers often fall into three categories: distrust and stigma in healthcare institutions, cultural competency of therapists, and accessibility of mental health resources.

DISTRUST & STIGMA OF HEALTHCARE INSTITUTIONS

Black, Indigenous and people of color’s distrust in the health systems is due to the fact that there is a history of people of color being subject to medical experimentation and pathologization.  Stigma is also exacerbated by a lack of education about mental health.

CULTURAL COMPETENCY OF THERAPISTS

There is evidence that shows that when a BIPOC client speaks to a white practitioner about racial trauma, they are left feeling unseen, unheard and invalidated. Additionally, current definitions of trauma are based on European experiences and not those of communities of color.

ACCESSIBILITY OF MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES

Due to location, cost, lack of insurance, and quality of service, mental healthcare treatment is not always an option for Black, Indigenous and people of color.

— THE SOLUTION

Reducing Barriers to Therapy

Based on research I conducted, a teletherapy platform connecting BIPOC to BIPOC therapists could reduce many of the barriers discussed. Such an application would need to have the following: an educational feature to help reduce stigma and build trust; it would need to enable clients to specify the race of their practitioner, so that clients feel like they can feel safe with their emotions; and it would need to allow clients to call, message and video call their practitioners, in order to reduce accessibility issues.


Learn about therapy and mental health through simple educational videos.


Select your preferred race, language, sexuality, and gender and specialty for your therapist.


Easily message, call, or video-call therapists for a comprehensive therapy session.

— BRAND EXPERIENCE

Tone, Design & Visuals

I then created a brand experience for allay. I wanted to keep the brand experience minimalistic yet powerful. In terms of the tone, allay means to ease. Not only is the brand tender, but it also makes a promise to alleviate one's burdens. The language used throughout the platform is soft yet assertive to mirror this feeling.

In terms of design, the first thing I thought about was the color palette. I worked with forest green, teal and grey. These colors are often associated with healing and prosperity. For the typography, I used Garamond and Lato for a clean finish.

In terms of visuals, it was important to me to use imagery that represented Black, Indigenous and POC. Because BIPOC are often underrepresented in the media, there is an emotional connection many of us feel when we see ourselves in a product.

— USER RESEARCH

Does allay Fill an Unmet Need?

I then conducted some testing to validate the idea that allay would fulfill an unmet need for BIPOC. I aimed to recruit Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian participants, however I was unable to successfully recruit participants who identify as Indigenous. I was able to recruit 9 participants. All participants signed consent forms before partaking in the study.

Before the test participants were asked pre-questions. For the test itself, I decided to do an A/B test between allay and Talkspace which is a more general teletherapy platform. This enabled me to determine if my design decisions could actually draw more BIPOC to therapy. Participants were asked to complete similar tasks on each platform. These included checking out the Talkspace blog/ allay videos, getting matched with therapist, and examining the teletherapy options. After the test, participants were asked some post questions. allay was continuously iterated based on feedback from users.

— FINDINGS

allay Evokes More Positive Feelings in BIPOC

After the test, participants were asked to rate how likely they were to recommend each platform to a friend. The net promoter score was 3.77 for Talkspace and 4.55 for allay, which isn't statistically significant on a quantitative level. However, on a qualitative level, through the pre-questionnaire, conversation and the post-questionnaire, participants expressed more positive feelings about allay. Below are some specific insights that likely contribute to these feelings.

REDUCING STIGMA THROUGH EDUCATION

Talkspace has a blog with a section titled “Getting Started With Therapy” with articles about therapy-related subjects that people can read to learn more. allay has a “Why Therapy?” section which consists of videos where people of color who are experts in the field talk about mental illness. Participants found the Talkspace blog to be less accessible in terms of design and in terms of language used. They found the allay videos to be more engaging and comprehensible. They also found it powerful to learn about mental health from someone that looked like them.

CHOOSING A PRACTICIONER

Talkspace asks participants questions about their preferred gender of a therapist. Allay asks participants questions about their preferred race and gender of their therapist, if they would want a therapist who specializes in racial issues and gender issues, and if they would like a therapist who speaks a specific language. Participants expressed that it felt more tailored to their identity, and that the focus on race was uncommon yet invaluable.

MESSAGE, CALL AND VIDEO SESSIONS

All participants expressed that teletherapy is more accessible than in person therapy. Some noted that allay felt more affordable. That being said, 4/9 of the participants stated that they still believe in person therapy is more effective. However, given the current pandemic, teletherapy is the only choice in many cases.

— EVALUATION

Final Considerations

The results indicate that creating an intentional mental telehealth platform for Black, Indigenous and People of color may illicit more positive feelings in communities of color and create a space where individuals feel more comfortable getting help.

Conducting an iterative A/B test was extremely helpful. Each time I received important feedback from participants, I made changes to the allay and tested the next iteration on new participants. Each iteration enabled me to reduce user experience issues. The platform went through 5 iterations. Testing this way allows me to trust the validity of the platform as a whole.

However, there are limitations to this study. Testing a small sample group, can affect the reliability of results. Furthermore,  I was not able to speak to an Indigenous participant. This is an important perspective to have. Several more people would need to be tested in the future.

Ikea      HABC       CITS       Reunite