Yuri Tomikawa ’12 launched a new website this fall that aims to help students find local therapists and obtain long-term mental health care, she said.
The launch of the website, Zencare.co, follows significant criticism of the seven-session limit for therapy at Counseling and Psychological Services. The Mental Health Community Council recommended extending the limit on the number of appointments a student can make at CAPS earlier this month.
After graduating from Brown, Tomikawa found the process of locating a therapist to be daunting and overwhelming. As a result, she assembled a team of Brown undergraduates and medical students to create a website aimed at helping students find therapists based on personality matches, insurance providers and specific needs. The website seeks to bridge the gap between the short-term care offered by CAPS and the long-term care students may require.
Eliza Lanzillo ’16, president of Active Minds — a student group that advocates mental health awareness — served as a student advisor to Zencare. Lanzillo said she was eager to help simplify the process of finding a therapist. “Finding a therapist is like dating” because a patient needs to like the therapist’s personality, she said, adding that the process of picking the right one can be “overwhelming and time-consuming.”
“Those three words, ‘I need help,’ are some of the hardest words to say,” Lanzillo said.
Zencare emphasizes the importance of finding the right care right away, Tomikawa said.
The website provides photos, videos and shared stories — all of which help students find therapists and provide the comfort of knowing that others have been through this before, Lanzillo said.
Ben Williams ’16, another student advisor to Zencare, said the last thing anyone would want when struggling with a mental illness is “to have to jump through hoops.”
Ben Johnston MD’18 and Nick Lemme MD’18, who also served as adivors for Zencare, both said they understand the importance of treating a mental health issue before it becomes a systemic issue. Last spring, Johnston and Lemme applied to the Summer B-Lab program and won funding for a project to help break down barriers to obtaining good mental health care. While they originally planned on pursuing their own project, they ended up learning of Tomikawa’s work and partnering with her on Zencare.
Those involved with Zencare hope the site will not only help students find therapists and treatment more easily but also diminish the stigma surrounding mental illness. “More people would share that they have a heart valve defect versus depression even though they are both physiological and both treatable,” Johnston said.
Williams said Brown students feel pressure to “conform to the notion that Brown is the happiest school.” Students feel that their “issues aren’t valid” because they were “selected from amazing applicants and have this amazing opportunity,” he said.
Through communication with student groups like Active Minds and Project Let’s Erase the Stigma, Tomikawa compiled references to find therapists that current Brown students already know and trust. Therapists are eager to work with the “inquisitive and exploratory” students at Brown, she said.
Zencare helps modernize the therapy process, as many therapists are “hesitant about technology” and have not yet transitioned online, Tomikawa said.
Students can reach out to Zencare anonymously, making it a “very welcoming” site, Tomikawa said. Zencare also accepts many different insurance providers, Medicare and Medicaid and continues to add more.
Though Zencare is not intended to replace CAPS resources, students may find the site approachable and use it to make therapist appointments more quickly, Williams said.