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All in a day’s work: Improving access to inclusive mental health care.

All in a day’s work: Improving access to inclusive mental health care.

Headway is on a mission to build a new mental health care system that everyone can access. Headway is the only tech company removing the barriers faced by providers, health plans, and the patients they serve.

One barrier to patients accessing the care they deserve? Finding culturally competent care.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the lack of cultural understanding by health care providers may contribute to underdiagnosis and/or misdiagnosis of mental illness in people from racially/ethnically diverse populations.

This summer, Headway launched a pilot with Violet, the first identity-centered care platform aiming to standardize culturally competent care for diverse communities. Together, we’re introducing a pilot for continued education that upskills cultural competence in Headway providers.

A Headway clinician's experience learning on Violet.

We spoke with Headway provider Tara Topper, LPC to learn more about her experience completing over 60 hours of Violet training. Tara, a self-identified BIPOC and queer independent practitioner in Colorado, has noticed a need for culturally competent training for clinicians.

“When I was in grad school, people were getting one multi-cultural competence class. A lot of the material was like, ’Here's a menu of stereotypes and generalizations about a group. Now, you're culturally competent.’ And that’s actually more dangerous. I definitely recognize the need for this type of education because so many people identify with being progressive and pro-social justice, but don’t know how to actually provide culturally competent care. It’s necessary to have a place where allies can learn, so that their sense of self matches their actual behavior and capacity, without being at the expense of marginalized folks doing all the labor of educating. What motivated me to complete Violet’s training was to learn, to receive the benchmarks that would help patients find me, and to be part of the solution.”

Violet closes the knowledge gap.

Violet’s platform starts by allowing providers to benchmark their understanding of BIPOC, LGBQ, and TGNC patient identities and care needs. Based on their benchmarks, Violet provides personalized pathways to help providers upskill and improve their cultural competence on Violet’s e-learning platform. Then, providers may have earned cultural competence benchmarks to display online. Eventually, this will allow patients to find providers most equipped to provide them with the care they need.

“That’s exactly why I opened my practice,” says Tara. “There are too many people who are members of my communities who go to people who don't get them and they're spending five, six sessions just explaining their life experience to them before they get to the point where they can be helped.

On the other side of the need for deep cultural understanding that helps foster a productive therapeutic relationship, when that isn’t there, there's often a great risk of someone getting care from a provider not properly trained to understand their unique needs. Clients can wind up editing aspects of themselves or leaving disgruntled and unhelped.

Reflecting on a past professional experience, Tara witnessed the impact that a lack of training can have—it can lead to care that misdiagnoses, micoaggresses, and retraumatizes patients.

“The way that my well-meaning former colleagues treated trans folks was not great, and they weren’t even aware of their microaggressions—I tried to advocate for appropriate housing and proper pronouns and stopping microaggressions, but I got a lot of pushback and fragility. It would be great if agencies had education that allowed them to provide the best care for their patients without mistreating allies or marginalized staff for advocacy,” describes Tara.

“In the module provided by Violet on ‘Behavioral Healthcare for Transgender Adults’, the information encouraged cisgender people to break down a lot of cisnormative thinking,” Tara said, “They presented extensive research that says gender affirmation at any age is going to prevent suicides, with the data to back it up. I can imagine that if the people I had worked with had access to this kind of information, they could learn while saving face without getting into conflict with staff advocates. They might listen to that and be like, ‘Oh, I need to change my approach a little bit.’”

Looking ahead to a more diverse future.

By 2045, half of all Americans will have at least one or more diverse identities, including race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and more. But, health disparities continue to affect BIPOC, LGBQ, and TGNC communities. It is time to change our collective practice to be mindful of cultural differences and their overlap with mental health.

We’re looking forward to continuing our partnership with Headway and providers, like Tara, to deliver more inclusive care.