Podcast: Sondermind – Jolene Conway

Gina Thorne:                      Hi everyone, welcome to the Harmony Foundation Podcast Series. I’m pleased today to be joined with Jolene Conway out of SonderMind in … Is it Denver? You guys are in Denver?

Jolene Conway:                Yes, our headquarters is in Denver, yep.

Gina Thorne:                      Okay, great. We’re excited to hear more about SonderMind, but first we’d like to get to know you a little bit better. So can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the field of behavioral health?

Jolene Conway:                Yeah, so I am actually a licensed professional counselor. I moved out to Colorado about 13 years ago, and went to school to get my master’s in counseling psychology. Since I’ve gotten my licensure, and have worked in a lot of different atmospheres, from for-profit, nonprofit, community mental health centers, insurance companies, definitely a lot of variety in behavioral health. I’ve seen a lot of angles of what that looks like and have always continued my clinical practice.

Gina Thorne:                      What got you interested in doing behavioral health work? What specifically made you say “I want to go to school and do this for a living”?

Jolene Conway:                Yeah, great question, it’s one of those things that honestly looking back even to high school, we had some psychology courses that I always was really drawn to. Took some extra classes in it, had a professor I think that really just jived with me. And I was determined when I went to college, and just continued that lay of the land. Luckily it stuck for me, it always continued to feel passionate, I always found atmospheres that I felt my services were needed and I felt connected to.

Gina Thorne:                      Good, well it’s nice that it sounds like it’s a good blend for what you’re doing today. So that’s a good segue into our second question, which is talking about SonderMind. Based on what I’ve read on your website, SonderMind is about connection. Can you share more how the services work to help those needing help with mental health issues?

Jolene Conway:                Yeah, I love that you mentioned that word “connection”, that’s such a big part of why we started and our continued mission today.

SonderMind started about five years ago, our co-founders, I think the story of where we started is important, Sean is a clinical therapist by trade, and really came out of some agency work finding that himself and some fellow colleagues wanted to be in private practice, but there’s a lot of administrative aspects that are challenging. You’re really not taught how to be a businessperson. So he wanted to find ways to connect those dots from a professional counselor/therapist level.

And then Mark, our other co-founder, from more of the business lens, at that time from a personal level was finding therapy work for his family, and just was quick taken aback by how challenging it was, despite having insurance, to get to the right person who took his benefits. It was really an astonishing moment for him, despite being in healthcare and business healthcare for some time.

So they came together to really address both ends of that, wanting to support therapists from an administrative, taking that burden off of their shoulders so they can continue their clinical work and still remain private practice, and then also from an access area.

Knowing, unfortunately, not just in Colorado but really across the country, that people are unable to use their benefits, really unable to get connected even down to an out-patient level of care, for services such as therapy. Our continued drive and motivation is to redesign behavioral health to become more accessible, approachable, and utilized.

So at this point, we are a network, a behavioral health network, of about 150 different therapists, largely located at this moment in Denver and Boulder and surrounding areas, although we have really expanded to Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, and really continuing that across Colorado, and hopefully this year in our action plan to other states.

Anyone in our network under SonderMind is going to be under all of our contracts. It allows the access piece to be very able to be used for clients calling in, and when a client calls in our matching team is able to pinpoint the right match of a provider for them based on the things that are most important, payment type, location, schedule, what specialty areas they’re looking for, down to any other preferences such as gender that would be really helpful in logistically getting them to the right person. Because we know that therapeutic relationship is key to the outcomes that they’re looking to achieve.

Gina Thorne:                      It sounds great, and when you think about so many people who call their insurance companies, or they call their primary care doctor, they just feel like they’re caught in a quagmire and can’t really identify who is the right person for me, what’s the best person for me. But to have a central location of people who know how to vet, I’m guessing that you do a great job of vetting the type of providers that you’re gonna have as a part of this network, to make sure that they’re ethical, that they’re doing the right thing, that they’re providing the right kind of care, really does help the consumer.

Because so many people are in criss, and they don’t know what they’re looking for, and oftentimes insurance companies can serve a great purpose, but sometimes they may not have the right answer for those consumers.

Jolene Conway:                Absolutely. We’re very thankful to be truly partnered with insurance companies because we’re under contracts with them, so we’re very thankful to be part of that. But we also know, like you shared, there’s some roadblocks there. To get an exhaustive list of random names on a piece of paper, call 20, get one call back just to kindly let you know they’re not taking new patients, is a setback, and for a lot of people will prevent them from getting care. To try to take that burden off of the client is such an important piece of that.

And then also to continue that benefit back to the therapist, because we’re directing those referrals to the therapist’s provider in a way that is really congruent to the work that they want to do, and not just because they feel like they have to take any referral coming through. They’re going to get that business from us in a way that’s still rewarding and in line with their expertise.

Gina Thorne:                      Nice, very nice. Great service. I’m gonna throw something out, totally subjective of course, but what’s your prediction of mental health services and accessibility of care in Colorado today?

Jolene Conway:                Well, I think from a few standpoints I know that a general statement is it’s challenging still. I would love to think that we at SonderMind have solved it all. We can’t take that all on ourselves, but I think we are changing that, just like I shared, with our mission to redesign behavioral health.

But I think from a lot of different angles, from people looking to get connected via their medical doctor, it’s still challenging. Medical doctors don’t know where to turn to always, we talked already about insurance panels. Employers even, having benefits for their employees, employee assistance programs, medical benefits, and employees not knowing or not really understanding how they get connected in a way that’s meaningful.

So I think the combination of the access problem and, in my opinion, I think research shows this, there’s still stigma. So how do we really combat that? I think it’s gonna have to take a whole community effort, it can’t just be from a provider level or from a consumer level, it really has to be all forces coming together to challenge that.

And Colorado is ranked 43rd in the country for behavioral health, that really concludes from a lot of different ways that survey works. But from my opinion, looking at all of that, the conclusion is because of high prevalence of mental health conditions, including suicide rates, as well as that access piece that I keep going back to. Forty-third is not great.

Gina Thorne:                      That’s not a good number, and it’s one of those things where we of course see that here, where you can’t treat addiction in a vacuum. Mental health is always going to somehow play a part in addressing the addiction issues that come in here at Harmony. I think for years there were too many people that were trying to treat them separately, and of course that can’t be done.

Jolene Conway:                Absolutely, the whole person. We hear that terminology, but to really practice that work, and to be okay with that, might not always be in our sector. To go back to the community to find that connection is going to allow everybody to win, whatever “winning” means. Ultimately, equal a better state and a better country in terms of health.

Gina Thorne:                      So true, so true. So we like to get to know the person behind the program, so we’re gonna ask you a couple personal questions if you’re okay with that.

Jolene Conway:                Sure, shoot.

Gina Thorne:                      What new belief, behaviors, or habits have you adopted within the last five years that have most positively impacted your life?

Jolene Conway:                Oh gosh. I love that question, and it’s also one of those digging deep. I think there’s a couple different things. I think for me, it really aligns with work to be honest, from a professional and a personal level. Being able to really recognize that I can live a life that is rewarding, there’s always going to be sacrifices, but to feel that the work I do and the way I’m living can be congruent to my beliefs.

I think for a long time the hustle and what’s next, the constant growth-minded personality type, can be amazing, but also can be a challenge. So taking a little bit of a step back, that will always be my personality, but I’ve found a little bit more peace in the storm of that.

Gina Thorne:                      I like that, that’s really nice. And if I were to show or throw out the word “harmony”, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?

Jolene Conway:                I think it’s gonna ultimately be very personal. For me, I think that would really align physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. I think those are areas that have been compartmentalized, in the way that we talk, the way that we think about the person. Until, again in my opinion, those are all really being addressed in a way that we can feel connected to ourselves, we’re not gonna live a life of feeling connected to others or fulfilled or joyful.

Gina Thorne:                      Nice, thank you. I like to hear that too. And if someone wanted to access services at SonderMind, how could they get in touch with you?

Jolene Conway:                There’s two different ways that this can happen. Really easily, going onto our website, www.sondermind.com, that’s S-O-N-D-E-R-M-I-N-D, .com. And in the upper righthand corner, pretty easy to see, there’s a Match With Therapist button. What that allows someone to do is walk through some basic yet meaningful questions that will help our matching team specifically find a therapist, or multiple therapists, that would meet what appears to be the right fit of a service for them.

The same process would happen over the phone, it’s 720-330-3713, and we have an amazing team of matching specialists that personally answer the call. They’re the most lovely people, and they work through those same questions. Within usually 10 minutes, it’s a phone call, trying to address the most important areas without getting into the depths of the clinical information, to then go back to our network and find the right match without the client having to do that back and forth on their own.

Gina Thorne:                      Very nice. Well I really appreciate the time that you’ve taken to come up and visit us at Harmony, thank you Jolene. And for those of you that are interested in learning more about SonderMind, we invite you to visit them at their website. We look forward to you moving that needle from 43, and getting us hopefully farther down that list, or farther up that list I guess is how they say it, so that we’re better at taking care of mental health issues here in Colorado.

Jolene Conway:                Well thank you so much, thanks for having me out here today.

Gina Thorne:                      Thanks.

Jolene Conway:                Thank you.