TAO Connect, Inc. is committed to reducing mental health disparities by bringing, affordable, effective, and accessible treatment to people who have had limited access in the past.
THE PARADIGM NEEDED SHIFTING
In 2012, Dr. Sherry Benton, as the director of the counseling service at a very large, public university, faced the problem of waiting lists for students to see counselors at the counseling center. She had added four counselors to the staff, which only provided two additional weeks without a waiting list. It occurred to her that the university’s counseling center was never going to hire it’s way out of this supply and demand problem. It needed a whole new method for providing effective treatment with the available resources. It needed a paradigm shift that would completely change how counselors provide psychotherapy. Other countries had experimented with online educational modules with very short video-conference or telephone contacts with a counselor. These modules were successful, but no one had ever tested the model in the United States. Dr. Benton believed this would be worth trying at the university’s counseling center.
“Throughout the development process, the relationship with the counselor was always the cornerstone of the treatment program.”
– Dr. Sherry Benton
STUDENTS DID NOT WANT “JUST ANOTHER ONLINE CLASS”
Dr. Benton’s first conversation was with the dean of the College of Education, Dr. Glenn Good. Dr. Good, a psychologist, enthusiastically embraced the idea and offered to help using the large, public university’s Creative e-Learning Lab. During the next year, Dr. Benton, the College of Education instructional designers and programmers, and the counseling center’s IT, web, and counseling staff began to develop the program. The development team produced materials and gathered formative feedback from students. Students did not want “just another online class”- they have enough of those already! They wanted engaging, realistic content with plenty of examples with which they could relate. The team developed online education modules with high-production quality, including animations and scenes with actors portraying highly relatable situations interspersed with highly thought-provoking interactive exercises. The higher production quality materials better captured and maintained students’ attention. The team added positive, encouraging, and personalized text-message reminders to remind students about what they should accomplish and moved homework to an app on smartphones. Throughout the treatment development process, the relationship with the counselor was always the cornerstone of the treatment program.
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF TAO WAS BEYOND THE TEAM’S MOST OPTIMISTIC HOPE
In August 2013, the TAO team began offering TAO as a treatment for anxiety for the large, public university’s students. The effectiveness of this treatment was beyond the team’s most optimistic hope. Students treated with TAO (100 at the end of May 2014) showed much better improvement than students treated with traditional face-to-face psychotherapy. Clearly, TAO is a treatment with tremendous promise for helping supply and demand problems in many mental health care settings. After the first students showed dramatic improvement early in the treatment’s pilot test, the TAO team began to receive inquiries from other universities about acquiring and using the TAO platform.
“We are never going to hire our way out of this supply and demand problem.”
– Dr. Sherry Benton