Fellow Portrait

Olga Kitaina

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Alter provides a science-based service that matches people with credentialed psychotherapists, providing access to care for patients and a turnkey solution for professionals.

03. Good Health and Well-being

05. Gender Equality

17. Partnerships for the Goals

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Europe

RUSSIA

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Finalist

2021

Poor mental health exacts a toll in dollars and suffering

The World Health Organization estimates that the global economy loses about a trillion U.S. dollars a year due to mental illness. Emotional conditions such as depression and anxiety make up approximately ten percent of the global disease burden. Beyond statistics, the suffering of individuals and families can’t be measured in dollars or percentages.

The crisis is particularly acute in Russia, where a past history of psychiatric hospitalization to silence government critics, as well as revolution, war, and economic crises, have created collective trauma around mental health. Russia leads the world in male suicide. Thirty-five percent of Russian women suffer mental health consequences as a result of violence. Yet Russians still stigmatize psychotherapy and other aspects of mental health. The Russian government does not recognize the importance of focusing on mental well-being. This discourages people from seeking help. And despite Russia’s grim past regarding psychiatry, anyone can claim a psychological degree. The market is flooded with so-called specialists lacking proper education.

Olga Kitaina not only observed this situation in her role as a practicing psychologist, she experienced it. Notwithstanding her credentials, she had difficulty finding a psychologist who matched her needs. She wondered: If it was hard for her as a practicing psychologist, how much harder must it be for the general public? “That was the starting point,” she says.

I was always interested in starting a business, but thought that my business ideas wouldn't be connected to psychology.

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Matching patients with qualified providers

Olga launched Alter to help people find the right psychologist for them. The company provides access to safe and effective psychotherapy, standardizes service quality, and offers legal protection and automation for both therapists and clients. Alter’s matching algorithm considers a client’s particular needs. The resulting selection of prospective therapists has been thoroughly screened based on the latest psychotherapy research. As testament to the rigor of its screening, Alter declines more than 75 percent of applicants.

For professionals, Alter automates administrative tasks, helping lower the cost of therapy and reduce administration time so therapists can spend more time seeing patients. “Even with the enormous number of therapists in the world, therapy still is inaccessible to a lot of people,” Olga says. “Qualified psychologists are too busy.”

Alter also brings legal accountability to Russia’s unregulated system and has created a professional community for psychologists and an educational site for clients.

In Russia we've had a lot of cultural trauma that makes people reluctant to show their emotions. They have no knowledge of how to express themselves. Now that’s changing. People are starting to think more about their emotions and their mental health and be more openly vulnerable.

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Increasing the world’s happiness quotient

To date, more than 490 psychologists in 30 specialties use Alter’s system. Clients are happy; assessments of the professionalism of Alter’s psychologists average 8.9 out of 10. In Russia, Alter aims to reduce mental health problems by 10 percent and support 6,000 jobs, while doubling psychologists’ incomes, furthering its mission to provide everyone with access to effective and safe psychotherapy—with the ultimate goal that everyone can live a happier and more fulfilling life.

In terms of business metrics, we are at breakeven and we have already served more than 17,000 clients.

PHOTO GALLERY

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