Therapists in Tech
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Therapists in Tech

Therapists: Welcome to Industry

A guide for mental health experts entering digital health, tech, and corporate worlds

We’re defining the digital mental health revolution together. Credit: Shridhar Gupta.

I interviewed at a major digital health start-up years ago and in the final loop, I was asked a series of questions by a VP like, “Give examples of ways you could blitz scale a team? How would you roll-out this feature and what might be your roll-back plan?” I was then asked, “What are your preferred tools for product road mapping?” Amazingly, despite having sat across from high-level tech executives as their therapist for years here in tech-centric Seattle, I had no idea how to respond. WTF was a roadmap, blitz scale, or roll-out? I thought for sure that watching all seasons of Silicon Valley would have prepared me better for this moment.

Had I not felt so defeated by the questions themselves, I could have directly asked what those terms meant. Then I could have responded that I had scaled teams quickly to roll-out a digital product at 20 Level 1 trauma centers as part of a randomized-control trial I helped coordinate in my 20s. That actually I did use a Kanban system but I didn’t know it was called that, and that, yes some roadmaps are similar to grant timelines. But alas the jargon was the final barrier to my entry to tech and I couldn’t hack it. I don’t know what I said in response. I could hear shuffling and the beep of the VP unlocking his car door and he interrupted me with, “Okay, I just need to understand your skills. Like what you can do. Thanks for your time.” Sweet.

My experience is not unique. As a leader of Therapist in Tech (TnT), an organization dedicated to defining digital mental health by amplifying marginalized voices in tech spaces, I’m encountering many clinicians who have felt this way. Many with over ten years of direct service or graduate education under their belts are feeling intimidated and confused when entering tech and corporate spaces.

And, it’s not just the lingo that intimidates clinicians. Breaking into tech and corporate industry can feel like walking into a minefield. The culture, norms, and rituals are the antithesis of what most of us have experienced in our educational and professional growth.

If tech startups are all about “move fast and break things,” clinicians have been socialized to “slog slowly and risk mitigate.”

I brought this problem to Lauren Lee of Headspace (ex-Calm), we had met during one of Therapists in Tech ‘Techspert + New to Tech Meetup’ events, where she shared her own experiences of breaking into tech. Lauren shared that she had no mentorship or guidance, but nevertheless found herself reading between the lines of job postings to see if her skills could match with what these tech companies were looking for. While she had interviews for UX Researcher and Lead Scientist positions at companies like Facebook and Netflix, she realized she was totally out of her element and did not know enough about industry to support her desires to work in the space. Confidence dashed, she retreated to full-time clinical work, until she could no longer ignore the tech-bug and found the perfect fit at Lantern.

What we’ve learned so far …

First, we both agreed that the cultural divide between the traditional Clinical realm and tech is wide. Second, given our collective experiences within tech, we noted how much value clinicians and therapists can bring to the space.

Let’s get real, tech has all the tech-folx it needs! Clinicians offer skills that address gaps in culture, equity, and representation, in addition to their analytical, communication and user-focused design expertise. Lastly, as leaders of Therapists in Tech, we don’t want to just stop at identifying the gaps, we want to actively address them.

Barriers to access for those transitioning into tech are numerous, we’ve heard from clinicians within Therapists in Tech that they are unsure of what most job titles and terms within job descriptions even mean. This is a need we can fill, this is a need Therapists in Tech is in the optimal position to address.

We believe this is an important and timely endeavor, because it’s no secret that startups and tech have long suffered from a homogenous culture where privilege is embedded within the very fabric of what is considered ‘success’.

Even recent attempts to subvert this culture that are demanded by Millenial and gen Z employees have been found to be performative at best. Unfortunately, this has become an unnecessary deterrent to bringing women, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, LTGBTQ+ communities, and many other therapists from diverse backgrounds into tech roles.

For those of us who have made the transition into tech, we are waiting for more of us to join. We have seen the impact of not having clinical voices represented in product, operations, and strategy development. And, given the state of the world in the wake of COVID, healthtech is a booming market.

If you are a clinician interested in merging your clinical background with this innovating space, we will provide a real-terms helpful resource to guide your journey. (Also you should join our Slack group if you’d like the real deal — we’re happy to have a virtual coffee with you!)

In this series, Therapists in Tech members will cover topics like:

We will not aim to be exhaustive, as we acknowledge each clinician has different goals for transitioning to tech, and each company will have its own idiosyncrasies.

Our hope is for this series to leverage our collective experiences and learnings so that others can enter their explorations with greater insight than we did!

Lauren Lee, PhD is a tech-focused clinical/coaching operations and product specialist, a Clinical Psychologist, and Founder of Linchpin, a consulting firm focused on the digital health space.

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