Our mission at Modern Health is to make evidence-based mental health care available to everyone. As the need for mental health care increases, this means that we have to be thoughtful and creative about how we proactively get effective care to more people. One challenge in addressing the need for mental health services is that mental health care is often assumed to mean one-on-one therapy. This assumption doesn’t work for many reasons. For one, there’s a dramatic shortage of licensed therapists worldwide, which means therapy is expensive, it’s hard to find a provider, and therapists that do have availability often have long wait times before an appointment.
While we’ve solved for many of these problems at Modern Health—we connect members with clinical needs to our global network of therapists with an average wait time of only two days for an appointment—the reality is that not everyone wants or needs one-on-one care, even when it’s affordable and within reach. While we know that everyone has mental health, our research shows that individuals want varied types of care; in fact, more than half of our members express that they prefer something other than one-on-one care. There’s also great evidence that other forms of care—digital care, group care, and more—are effective.
For more than a year now, we’ve been offering Circles—our community-based mental health care offering. Circles are online group sessions run by licensed therapists and certified coaches, and are free and open to all Modern Health members (some are even open to the public). They’ve been hugely popular, which we think in part stems from how easy they are to access (it can be intimidating to start one-on-one therapy, for example), and their emphasis on culturally centered care. We offer Circles in three distinct formats, designed to meet our members where they are. In some Circles, we engage in active discussion—while members can speak (or type in chat) as much or as little as desired, these sessions are best suited for members seeking community. In our workshop-style Circles, therapists and coaches offer actionable tools that members can put into practice right away. Finally, some Circles are designed for members in the mood to listen and learn while absorbing expertise on a new topic and thinking about how it might apply to their lives.
The content of Circles is as varied as our members, and ranges from ongoing mental health series like Managing Stress & Burnout and Getting Better Sleep to seasonal topics like Navigating Holiday Stress and Coping with Political Uncertainty. Beyond these topics, a core objective of Circles is to provide safe spaces that uplift and support diverse communities across topics like Celebrating Black Greatness, Combating Anti-Asian Racism, and Celebrating Transgender Stories. These series are thoughtfully developed by providers who specialize in evidence-based, culturally centered care across these areas; we have an enormous range of diversity in our provider network and we partner directly with providers who identify with these communities to develop the content for each session.
Diana Liao, a licensed clinical therapist in the Modern Health network and the provider behind many of our Healing Asian Communities Circles, describes the thinking behind it: “As a Taiwanese-American, I have encountered my own share of microaggressions and racism both in the U.S. and abroad. Because Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals may have difficulty opening up due to feeling invalidated in the past, I believe it’s particularly important for the Circles session content to reflect an understanding of their lived experiences. As an Asian provider, I draw on and share my own experiences as appropriate, which can be helpful in creating the psychological safety for others to share their own pain.”
It’s also important that our members interact with and learn from providers they can identify with. As one Circles attendee described, “Thank you for having a healing circle for the Asian community to be able to come together and process. It is a safe space for individuals to participate without judgement and discuss mental health; especially when it is such a taboo subject within the Asian community. I have been seeing a non-Asian therapist for several years now, and while it is helpful, I have a hard time connecting about experiences with racism and cultural identity. I felt like I was seen for the first time when I attended today's healing Circle, knowing that I am not alone in my emotions that have stemmed from past and present experiences.”
While providing an accessible pathway to culturally centered care for members was our primary objective in designing Circles, we’re also proud of the degree to which Circles support our human resources professional customers. Over the past trying year, HR professionals have been expected to know how to support their workforces through myriad straining experiences, including a global pandemic, a disruptive U.S. election, and numerous instances of race-based violence. But HR professionals are not mental health professionals and they aren’t equipped to help employees through distressing world events. That’s why we made our Circles series nimble and reactive from the outset—in fact, our first session was on Coping During Stressful Situations, held in March 2020 in response to the recently declared global pandemic. Responsiveness is in Circles’ DNA, and we now spin up sessions to support global events, seasonal topics, and social justice issues within days.
We couldn’t be prouder of our Circles offering and are elated to share that Circles are now available directly inside the Modern Health app. We encourage you to give Circles a try— whether you’re a Modern Health member, an HR professional looking for ways to support your teams, or a member of the public interested in bolstering your mental health—we think you’ll find something that’s of interest and useful to you. If you need any more encouragement, I’ll leave you with the words of Dr. Erica Simon, a licensed clinical therapist in the Modern Health network and one of Circles’ founding providers: “Circles provides a way to not feel so broken in our daily struggle with the realities of the human experience. We often feel like it's just us who's having difficulty and that everyone else must be so much better at managing this thing called life. By attending Circles, you get the benefit of evidence-based guidance from a Modern Health provider while connecting with others who are feeling similar to you. The experience helps you realize you aren't alone, and connecting with our shared humanity in this way is remarkably powerful.”
Dr. Myra Altman is a licensed clinical psychologist and the Vice President of Clinical Care at Modern Health.