A conversation with Damayanti Dipayana, CEO and co-founder of Manatee, on how therapy technology can disrupt the industry
When a child needs therapy, identifying the right licensed therapist is only the beginning. Finding time to squeeze in sessions between extracurriculars, paying therapy deductibles and adhering to a care plan can make getting help daunting.
This gap between needs and positive outcomes led an industry outsider to develop a new approach to how therapy for kids is delivered.
Dipayana is originally from the Netherlands and has lived around the world. A job with a tech startup brought her to the United States 12 years ago. What she remembers most about her adjustment was how difficult it was to navigate health insurance. “I always joke that when I moved to the U.S., I had two really big culture shocks – dating and healthcare,” she says.
It didn’t take long for her to realize the industry was ripe for disruption.
But Dipayana’s career move to mental health wasn’t just about efficiency. She was personally motivated by her family’s challenges when her brother had various mental health issues. “I saw how hard it was throughout that whole journey to receive care that felt really good to him and my family.”
As a mother herself, Dipayana could imagine what that must have been like for her parents and started to think about ways to make a difference. She combined that personal drive with her business and technology acumen to launch Manatee with co-founder Shawn Kuenzler in 2019.
5 ways to disrupt pediatric mental healthcare with therapy technology
Today, Manatee is an award-winning practice operating in several states. Their rapid growth is a tribute to their hard work and innovation. Following are five ways they operate differently, according to Dipayana.
Focus on the whole family unit
Focusing on the entire family is a founding principle for Manatee. Dipayana recognized that kids are better served in mental healthcare when the family is the identified patient instead of just the child. “Two things are true: it’s really hard to be a parent, and they’re incredibly influential in the wellbeing of their kids.”
Overlooking the family while focusing only on a child often provides temporary solutions. “If you don’t actually fix the foundation and figure out how people interact with one another, it’s really hard to improve their emotional well-being.”
Telehealth makes therapy for families more accessible
There’s a lot of research that shows family-based therapy is effective, if not the most effective kind of modality to support children. The challenge is that families are complex.
That makes telehealth key to bringing the whole family to the proverbial therapy couch. This is especially true for blended families, extended family caretakers and parents in different locations.
Bringing these parties together in one physical space presents not only logistical challenges but also legal and operational challenges for therapists. “It’s like herding cats and something a therapist in a private practice can’t really do,” says Dipayana.
Therapy technology to support growth outside of sessions
While therapy typically occurs once a week, the hard work to make progress happens in everyday interactions. The Manatee app helps families outside of sessions.
The app gives users access to courses and sessions with licensed therapists. There are also parent coaches providing peer-to-peer support. “We recognize that there are so many things that you want to walk through with someone who’s been there before,” says Dipayana.
Focus on goals and progress
Goal setting is a key part of their therapy model, says Diyapana. Each family starts with a full family assessment. They use that data to build a six-week care plan. The plan typically has different goals for different people, depending on their roles.
Data-driven decision-making to track therapy progress
Having an app and goals make tracking and data-driven decision-making a natural next step to improve outcomes. Families can check in with their therapist on progress and stay accountable.
The team designed the app to be fun and easy to use. On average, a family will complete 12 activities in the app between every session. “We were really thoughtful about how to make it engaging, how to get kids on board and how to make it part of families’ day-to-day life.”
Improving therapy access and effectiveness through telehealth and technology is helping the team at Manatee retain clients. The retention rate is 93 percent. Compare this to one study of mental health treatment patient retention showing that approximately 35 percent of patients stopped therapy after just one session and approximately 50 percent stopped treatment by their third session.
“Having that high retention rate and engagement impacts our outcomes,” says Dipayana.
Technology will continue to change how therapy is assessed and delivered
The work that the team at Manatee is doing is only the beginning of an industry ripe for change. Dipayana points out that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was designed in the 1960s, a time when health and society were so different that people smoked on planes. “I think we’re going to be much more thoughtful about what evidence-based care actually means and how we assess that,” she says.
Dipayana thinks it’s only a matter of time before therapy assessment will expand beyond standard assessments like the PHQ-9 to also include voice biometrics, social media activity and biomarkers.
The need to think creatively about ways to provide better and more expansive mental health support continues to grow. There’s plenty of room for more disruptors like Dipayana to join.
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