Using design to help more people access talking therapies

Acknowledging how you feel and seeking help isn’t easy. Finding your way around services can be even harder.

Thinkaction Hannah
Aug 22, 2018 · 5 min read
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We know the statistics: one in four of us experience a mental health difficulty each year; in England one in six of us experience a common mental health problem in any given week; people with a long term health condition are two or three times more likely to have poor mental health. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. But behind the headlines are people. People who are looking for help because they’re feeling alone, depressed or worried and aren’t getting the help they need.

Acknowledging how we feel and seeking help isn’t easy. Finding our way around services can sometimes make it even harder. In this context, helping more people to access ‘talking’ therapies (like CBT and counselling) could be life saving. We wanted to make sure more people knew how to get help, and that this help would be designed to suit them and would fit in with their needs. We knew we needed to make our services more accessible, efficient and help people feel more in control of their own treatment.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve worked with Snook — a design agency based in London and Glasgow — to rethink and redesign our mental health ‘IAPT’ services (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, funded by the NHS). We ran an intensive two week ‘design sprint’ to explore new ways of working to improve the experience for service users.

What did we do?

We knew we needed to work quickly. We only had two weeks for the ‘design sprint’; IAPT is a complex system and we wanted to try as many different things as we could. We also wanted to end the design sprint with a clear plan of what to do next.

Understanding what needs to change

We started by mapping the current user journey. We thought about the activities that take place and the different touch points between clients, staff and the service. We reviewed client and staff feedback and open data from NHS digital to identify the areas we would like to work better, and started gathering our hypotheses of what would work better. The process helped me to understand that what worked for me as a manager didn’t necessarily work for our staff, or for the people using the services. We got an insight into some of the creative work-arounds people had developed themselves.

From these workshops, we started testing some of our hypotheses about how to improve people’s experience of the service. One of the challenges I anticipated was how we could safely test these within a ‘live’ service within a short period of time. But speed worked in our favour; it allowed us to be more creative than if the work had been over several months. We focussed on trying a broad range of solutions, but made sure the feedback we asked for was as specific as possible and that we didn’t over-burden any one area of the service.

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We were also honest about why we were doing this. It took courage to say that we needed to improve because we know the service isn’t as good as it could be. But this honesty was liberating. By being honest about what we wanted to try and change, staff and clients were more open about what they felt would work better. We were able to engage with our service users and staff teams in a new and invigorating way.

Collaborating to test and find solutions

We built ‘prototypes’ (physical sketches) of possible solutions — including new booking systems, referral forms, website changes, triage and phone systems, automated lists and communications. We looked for quick-fire feedback and monitored results. We understood the limits of what the data could tell us in the timeframe but more importantly we were able to try new things and build confidence.

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Mapping a way forward

We worked together to build a road map. We looked at what we had learnt over two weeks — which was staggering — and where we want to get to in the future.

The road map is helping to guide us in what we want to achieve. It’s also designed to help us understand what our future IAPT services look like. The roadmap gives us a clear way forward about how we can improve now as well as ideas for how we can make our service one of the best in the country.

So what was the impact?

We learnt that one of the most important things for our clients is knowing what is going to happen next and what they can expect from our service. So we’ve changed our phone systems, our website and communications to make the journey clearer and to help clients feel more in control. We’ve made changes to our online registration form to make this simpler to complete and more intuitive. We are also introducing a new booking process to reduce waiting lists and assessment time.

We learnt that our current systems are opaque — and not only to our clients but often to our staff. User research and feedback helped us to listen, adapt and be responsive to people’s needs. We need to not be afraid to hear that we could do things better.

Working at pace can be tough — particularly when we’re juggling so many operational and management issues at the same time. But it also meant we could be creative and open minded about what might work. Rather than keep running down the same track, if we look up we might see another route. Of course, that new path may take us straight back to where we were before. But sometimes it leads us somewhere new.

Addaction is one of the UK’s leading mental health, drug and alcohol charities. We work with adults and young people, in community settings, in prisons, in residential rehab and through outreach. In 2017 we supported 140,000 people.

We believe that everyone can change and we support them to do it.

Our services include Mental Health, Alcohol & drugs, Young persons, Friends & Family.

Since 2009 Snook have been helping organisations put radical change in place — designing products and services that work for people.

Bringing together voices from drugs, alcohol and mental…

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