Yuri Tomikawa: CEO of ZenCare

                                                                            ZenCare’s CEO: Yuri Tomikawa, courtesy Yuri Tomikawa


Yuri Tomikawa was ready to take on the world. But where would she begin? After graduating from Brown University in 2012 and working for McKinsey and Co for two years, Yuri found herself pondering exactly this question. Would she move on to do government work? Would she try to join another company? Would she try to start something of her own?  Feeling stuck, she decided to seek out a therapist to talk to. The only issue? It wasn’t as easy as she’d hoped: the search for her ideal therapist created more problems than it solved.

“The providers sort of sounded all the same. There wasn’t anything that educated me as an early therapy seeker on what was different about them--what made them unique.” The compatibility of therapists and mental health professionals with their clients is incredibly important, but amongst a sea of generic credentials and short biographies, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly the right one for yourself. The trouble didn’t even start there: Yuri met obstacles long before she ever even met with a therapist.  

“I went online and did a search and found the process to be cumbersome and just a logistical hassle,” she described, “...I would call multiple therapists, they wouldn’t pick up--nobody picked up, and I wouldn’t hear from them, or if I did hear from them, they would tell me that they were full practice, and only about half of them would get back to me at a given time.”

After surveying friends about their experience, Yuri realized that she wasn’t the only one left flustered and disappointed by the process of therapy-seeking: her friends were unanimous in confirming the difficulty in finding a therapist, let alone the right one. She realized the even bigger implications and stakes in the game of “phone-tag”: “...For someone who is depressed, that is the last thing you want, and it can cause the stopping of the search process.” Understanding the potential repercussions in the inefficient system at hand, Yuri decided to be the change she wanted to see, and she founded ZenCare, a platform that provides easy access to the best mental health professional for you.

“I wanted the process of finding a therapist to be smooth, joyful, and overall comforting. That’s very Zen, and so that’s where the ‘Zen’ comes from. And obviously, the care part comes from self care, and health care.”

ZenCare’s presence diminishes the logistical hassle and much of the needless waiting. Whereas traditionally there might be a month-long wait for a therapist following a referral, ZenCare makes it easy to book appointments with therapists close by.

Providing a service that is both easy and comforting isn’t easy, and ZenCare has seen its share of challenges. Today, they are still trying to reconcile the discrepancy between what their clients want, and what therapists are comfortable with.

Many of their users are millennials, who “want as much information as possible...college students or young professionals--people used to on demand services, getting as much information as possible online, and being educated consumers.” To try and best accommodate the needs of the users, ZenCare provides photos of the therapists, videos where the therapists introduce themselves, and a way for the client to schedule a free initial 10 minute call--all of which is online.

“Those are all things that therapists are traditionally not used to,” Yuri explained, “Therapists are usually very camera shy, and have pen and paper when managing scheduling. Getting our providers comfortable with this new method of reaching clients is something we’ve put a lot of thought into, and helping educate them that is is something that millennials really love, and something that will really help them as well.”


                                                                             ZenCare.co’s user interface, Courtesy Yuri Tomikawa

It’s this comfortable, nurturing, and adaptable dynamic in ZenCare that helps the company thrive and evolve.

ZenCare was first founded specifically for Brown University students, and because of this, they have a very strong campus referral cohort--40% of the current users are college students and graduate students, but the remaining 60% are working adults and the general public. “We do have a mix of clientele that doesn’t just focus on college students,” Yuri summarized, “And different life stages...present different challenges.” For instance, college students often suffer from impostor syndrome. “[They] were really smart--the best in high school, and now that [they’re] in college, and everybody’s really smart, it’s easy to feel under a lot of pressure.” In addition, college often marks the first time a student is being independent, and there’s a lot of pressure from the added responsibility of looking after more than just their academics and immediate social life. Anxiety and depression, while very common across all ages, can definitely wiggle its way into the stresses of the new experiences in college.

With the fortunate decline of the mental health stigma on campuses, more and more students are ready to look for help, but that also means an increase of pressure for the on campus counseling services. “The reality is that on campus counseling services aren’t exactly built for long term therapy for twenty percent of the student population; they’re built for short-term therapy, and so, that’s where ZenCare has really resonated with a lot of students” by expediting the process of transition from short-term to long-term counseling so that it is as effortless and seamless as possible: “If you can get an appointment at the time when you first encounter an issue--the consequences are going to be much less than when you wait a week or two weeks from the initial moment of stress. If for example, something happens in your family, if you could address that today, or tomorrow, or even within one week, it’s going to be so much better than waiting two to four weeks...we really bridge the gap between on campus students and off campus providers.”

Yuri found her next step as CEO of ZenCare, which has now expanded to Boston. While she’s not sure what will happen in the next ten years, she knows one thing for sure. In her own words, “The most rewarding thing is when users tell me that they had great experiences, and found a therapist that they love. The more I can do that, for the greater number of people, the better.”


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