February 13, 2017

Auntie smoothens the curves of life

Auntie co-founders, Thea Forstén (left), Mikael Saarinen and Mervi Lamminen, are the driving forces behind Auntie.
Auntie co-founders, Thea Forstén (left), Mikael Saarinen and Mervi Lamminen, are the driving forces behind Auntie.
Auntie / Pekko Vasantola

We all go through a crisis every now and then, be it big or small. Finnish healthtech service Auntie wants to help tackle life’s issues before they grow too big.

Answering work emails at 2 am? Difficulties with the teenager in the household? Communicating with the spouse mainly by making snarky comments?

Auntie co-founder Mervi Lamminen wanted to do something to help people juggling with whatever trouble life has thrown their way. Auntie, a preventive therapy service that combines digital and live sessions, acts as a middle ground between booking face-to-face psychotherapy appointments and relying on self-help tools.

“Auntie isn’t for people with clinical mental disorders, as they require a different level of professional care,” Lamminen points out. “Whilst helping people, we also want to contribute to the availability low-threshold services and, in general, help remove the stigma that unfortunately can still surround seeking therapy.”

Measures of wellbeing

Tangled up in responsibilities? Auntie knows the feeling.

Tangled up in responsibilities? Auntie knows the feeling.

Auntie

Auntie’s focus is always on a particular knot in life that needs untangling, such as feeling overworked, having trouble coping with big changes at work or marital problems.

The user chooses a package that suits his or her needs, and after a couple of short surveys have been filled out, the first virtual meeting with a professional therapist is booked.

The different packages include a maximum of five live sessions each. On top of the virtual meetings, the user receives digital content and resources, such as articles, assignments and practice materials.

Digital renders geography redundant

The company’s main target is big companies with plentiful workforce. Companies buy a certain number of session packages for their employees. Their progress is measured through surveys and, if there are enough participants to guarantee the users’ anonymity, then the data is delivered to the employer to prove the efficiency of the service. Auntie is also interested in looking into utilising the measuring techniques wearable technology can offer.

Lamminen sees Auntie’s potential market growing continuously. She’s noticed that firms are beginning to focus their employee wellbeing efforts on prevention and early intervention.

“Unfortunately, humankind isn’t running out of crises,” she says. “What’s changing now is that people, including employers, better understand that doing situps and pushups doesn’t suffice to ensure people are well and fit for work.”

Currently Auntie has signed contracts with customers in Finland, the UK and the Netherlands. In Finland, the original trio of founders has grown into a team of about 10 owners, and Auntie is looking into expanding its team with sales professionals and service coordinators. Therapists aren’t directly employed by Auntie, but all freelancers and other service providers, regardless of their location, are always trained to ensure standardised procedure.

“Because we’re a digital service, our therapists don’t need to live in expensive London; instead, they can live in Thailand,” Lamminen explains. “They do need to be native speakers of the customer’s language, but with Auntie, geography doesn’t matter.”

Erasing the shame

Auntie’s offering is covering new topics all the time. Some of them are specific to the types of work people are doing, like helping call centre staff deal with the pressures of customer complaints.

“For example, nurses and other health workers have their own challenges,” Lamminen says. “You have to be empathetic all the time, even if you yourself would be in need of comforting.”

Lamminen believes that reaching out for help with mental health issues is getting more and more common, and hence it’s no longer a total taboo in all office coffee rooms. She points out that previously, having a personal trainer at the gym was seen as something special and luxurious, but now it’s normal.

“We want the same for Auntie and other preventive mental health services,” she tells. “People make it through a divorce alive, but with Auntie’s help, there’s no need to let yourself hit the rock bottom before starting to climb back up again.”

New Auntie session packages are developed all the time.

New Auntie session packages are developed all the time.

Auntie

Text: Anne Salomäki

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