When you spend over a decade in the field of psychotherapy, you learn a lot of things. Ulvia Avidan, the Chief Executive Officer started her journey by realizing that a lot of people need therapy. However, their weak moments are captured by companies who are trying to capitalize.
At some point, she stopped waiting for a positive change and began to take real action. In 2020, she joined together with people from IT, business and psychotherapy—to launch Tokitus, an online platform that would unite qualified and experienced therapists worldwide.
In an interview with Insights Care, Ulvia shares her journey of establishing an online therapy that each one of us deserves. Therapy that is affordable. Therapy that connects you to someone you could trust.
Following are the excerpts from the interview:
Kindly tell us the source of inspiration. What led you to venture into healthcare?
Growing up, I had a childhood filled with a variety of events and emotions. I was always fascinated by how my own emotions and behaviors were shaped by my experiences and those of the people around me. My mother, a medical doctor, had a lot of books related to health at home. While at first, I was scared of those books, later, I became more and more fascinated by them. This exposure to the healthcare field piqued my interest in the workings of the human mind and body.
As I grew older, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the traditional education system. I felt that it didn’t fully capture the complexities of the human mind and I was seeking more. I started exploring alternative ways of learning and understanding the human mind and eventually discovered the field of mental health.
Throughout my childhood, I observed my grandparents go through dementia which had a profound impact on me. I witnessed firsthand how dementia can affect a person’s ability to function and communicate, and how it can be distressing for both the person and their loved ones. This experience solidified my desire to help others navigate their own emotions and behaviors which eventually led me to pursue a career in psychotherapy.
Another source of influence was a book about Jack the Ripper from the library in my teenage years. I was surprised and shocked at what a human being is capable of and how upbringing can influence the psyche. This further added to my curiosity and desire to understand the inner workings of the mind and how it can lead to such actions. It also led me to believe that understanding the root cause of such actions is necessary to prevent them. These and many other emotionally enriched events directed my professional path.
Brief us about yourself and shed some light on your journey towards becoming a part of Tokitus.
My journey began at a private university in Estonia where I studied psychology in my first year. On the second I was accepted into an Erasmus program and transferred to a university in Lithuania to study forensic psychology.
However, upon my return to Tallinn to finish my undergraduate degree, I was faced with unexpected challenges. The university had closed the psychology department and the group of around 15 students was transferred to Tallinn University. There, we were met with an unwelcoming reception and disrespectful treatment from the department of psychology. One example was a professor who would come to a lecture with a book covered so that students would not know the source and read from that book a theory of psychology for hours. By the end of my fourth year, I made the difficult decision to leave the university without finishing it as it became apparent to me that it was a waste of my time. Despite these difficulties, I remained devoted to the field.
My next stop was Vienna, Austria where I started my undergraduate studies from the beginning at Sigmund Freud University. There, I was astounded by the welcoming, professional, dedicated and inspiring environment of like-minded people. After three more years of hard work, I finally obtained my long-awaited Bachelor’s degree. I then went on to obtain my Master’s degree and I am now in my 3rd year of a Ph.D. in Psychotherapy Science. Through my studies and research, I can continue to make a positive impact in the field of mental health, which was and is my ultimate goal.
As I progressed through my experience in the field, my dedication grew stronger. I learned that many people didn’t have access to therapy. This realization, paired with my desire to make a positive impact led to the idea of creating an online therapy platform known as Tokitus. Fortunately, I found support from two other co-founders of the platform who are not from the healthcare field but understand and value the demand for more accessible and diverse mental health care.
Today, I am a trained Gestalt psychotherapist with over 15 years of academic and 10 years of professional experience. Throughout my career, I have worked with a wide range of clients and settings including international schools, foster homes, psychiatric hospitals, clinics, university lecturing, and private practice.
What roles and operations do you play at Tokitus daily? How do they contribute to delivering the type of care that patients need?
As the CEO and Co-founder of Tokitus, I have a variety of roles and responsibilities that I handle daily. These include setting the overall vision and strategy for the company, managing the day-to-day operations, building and managing a team of professionals, communicating with clients, and continuously monitoring and analyzing the platform’s performance to identify areas for improvement.
Apart from being engaged with every team member behind the scenes, I dedicate some of my time to counselling as well. Other than that, I work closely with therapists on Tokitus to onboard and conduct thorough background checks to ensure that they meet the platform’s criteria for professional standards. I make myself available for our team of therapists in case they need support or want to consult. We currently have 24 international therapists who care deeply about the quality of the service and provide therapy in 21 languages.
What is your opinion, does the healthcare system in your area need to focus on improving the healthcare measures for its patients?
Well, let me put it this way, if a healthcare system were a party, Europe’s would be a fancy soirée with gourmet hors d’oeuvres and the most tremendous wine selection, but the guests are still standing in line for the bathroom. Sure, the atmosphere is great and the company is top-notch, but the practicalities of the party still need some work.
In short, yes, the healthcare system in Europe does need to focus on improving healthcare measures for people. While there are certainly some strong points in the European healthcare system, there are also areas that need improvement in terms of accessibility, efficiency and outcomes.
Our mission is to improve the quality of the party to make sure everyone has what they need to truly enjoy it and feel their best. Imagine a world where, just like purchasing a gym membership or stocking up on nutritious foods, investing in therapy is a regular part of our monthly budget. But this isn’t just a dream, it’s something that can become a reality if we start spreading the word and promoting this initiative.
If we want to see real change, we need to start at the root of the problem. By speaking out about mental health and educating the next generation, we can create a culture of acceptance and understanding. It’s time to break the stigma and encourage children to take an active role in their mental well-being. In doing so, we can help them grow into adults who are mindful and are more likely to seek help when they need it.
What role does compassion play when interacting with and encouraging patients to live healthier lives? How do you manage to deliver the same to them?
Compassion plays a crucial role in the healthcare field. When healthcare providers exhibit compassion towards their clients/patients, it helps to create a positive and supportive environment that promotes well-being.
At Tokitus, we strongly believe in the power of compassion. Throughout each session, our therapists foster positive and supportive relationships rooted in compassion. We have also recognized the impact of engaging with our community through means of social media as an avenue for sharing this message. As activists inspired to spread the word of kindness, empathy and compassion, we take into consideration our content and the message we are sharing with the world.
Recently, we have started creating short reels that provide more insights into the therapeutic process in terms of how it looks from the client-therapist perspective.
What specific R&D operations are you leading at present? Why do you find those essential?
As the leader of the Research and Development operations team at Tokitus, I am excited to share with you our ongoing research project on the impact of online therapy. As part of my Ph.D. dissertation, the research aims to discover how online therapy has been beneficial to therapeutic outcomes and to understand its influence and role in making therapy effective. As part of this research, we conducted a thorough literature review to understand the current state of development in the field of online counselling. While there has been a growing interest in the topic, there were still gaps in knowledge that this study aims to fill.
In what way do you consider technological advances to be a pathway in conducting your operations?
I will share with you an insight into a new project our team is working on. It is called, Zen Shapes, an innovative virtual reality platform that aims to provide users with immersive therapy, wellness and meditation experiences. It is the first of its kind, offering unique and interactive ways to promote mental and emotional well-being.
The VR technology allows users to fully immerse themselves in calming and serene environments, while guided meditations and therapeutic exercises help to reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood and overall well-being. The project is intended to be a one-stop solution for users looking to improve their mental and emotional health and wellness. Zen Shapes solution will be used in conjunction with Tokitus online therapy to create a more immersive and interactive experience for clients. This will allow therapists to create a virtual environment where clients will be able to interact and explore, this is especially useful for working on conditions such as anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What are some of the challenges you face when conducting operations and how do you turn them into opportunities for growth?
Once upon a time, there was a growing field of online therapy. The founder of the company, Tokitus, saw the potential for helping people from the comfort of their own homes. However, they soon realized that not everyone was aware of the benefits of therapy or was comfortable seeking help in this way. They knew that they had to work hard to educate the public and overcome the stigma around therapy.
One of the biggest challenges they faced was building trust with their clients. People were hesitant to share personal information and concerns with someone new. To address this, the founders made sure to only hire fully qualified therapists and invest in top-notch security measures to protect their client’s privacy.
Despite these challenges, the founders of Tokitus remain determined to the idea. They continue to educate the public about the benefits of therapy and work hard to overcome any obstacles that come their way.
What advice would you like to give to budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts who desire to venture into the healthcare sector?
- Do your homework: Research the market, understand the needs of your target audience and identify gaps in the market.
- Network: Build connections in the healthcare industry, attend events and conferences, and seek advice from other leading professionals.
- Be prepared for a long-term commitment: Starting a business in the healthcare sector can be a long and difficult process, but the reward is worth the dedication.
- Embrace challenges: Expect obstacles and be ready to adapt and find solutions.
- Be passionate about what you’re doing: Having a genuine passion for healthcare is essential in this industry.
- Continuously educate yourself.
How do you envision scaling your services and operations in 2023 and beyond?
At Tokitus and Zenshapes, we plan to expand our services and operations in 2023 and beyond by connecting the worlds of online therapy and the meta-verse industry. We believe that by combining these two areas, we can create new and innovative experiences for people that will make therapy a modernized tool for self-improvement and daily routine. Our goal is to use virtual environments to help people explore and work through their issues while also continuing to raise awareness of mental health and attracting competent professionals to join our team. We want to break the stereotypes associated with mental health and help people understand that therapy is not just about suffering, but also about discovering joy. Our vision is to provide innovative ways for people to access and benefit from therapy.
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