“We need to have new ways and new tools to be able to help actually tackle the effectiveness of the therapy.”
— Emmanuella Michel, Founder of CogniXR Health
TW: This episode contains mentions of mental illness and suicide.
In this episode
Meet SheEO Venture CogniXR Health! Founder Emmanuella Michel joins SheEO Activator Faryn Jacobs to tell us more about what led her to found the company, how the B2B2C model looks for patients who want to access care, and what it was like applying as + becoming a SheEO Venture.
They also discuss:
- Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) and how the virtual environment can support patients
- Her WHY in transitioning to digital health and experience working in the field of mental health
- Supporting patients and families where they are at
- Using new tools to support remote + digital therapy
- Her ASK for the SheEO community
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The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).
Emmanuella Michel 0:00
We need to have new ways and new tools to be able to help actually tackle the effectiveness of the therapy.
Vicki Saunders 0:11
Welcome to SheEO.World podcast, where you’ll meet women and non-binary folks who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable.
Faryn Jacobs 0:23
Hello, everyone, my name is Faryn Jacobs, and I’m an Activator. I’ve been an Activator for about one year now. And it’s been one magical year. My passion is sustainable textiles. I’m inspired by people who are allergic to the phrase, ‘That’s not how things are done.’ And I love people who love what they do. And joining me today is Emmanuella Michel, PhD candidate and founder of CogniXR. Thank you for joining me this morning. We’re gonna go jump right into it and tell us what CogniXR does.
Emmanuella Michel 0:58
Before I start, I wanted to actually maybe like give you a little context. So I’ve been working in the health and social services for over 15 years, I’ve managed, you know, like a group home with around 10 years, I would say. And I decided to transition to tech, after you know, like developing programs and helping youth actually leverage technology back then we used to leverage technology to help them deal with their anxiety in school, and also in the community. After like, I would say 10 years, we were faced with different challenges, financial challenges, there was a big change in the health and social services in Quebec. So I decided, you know, what, let me do the transition to tech and see how, you know, leveraging technology can help me efficiently help, you know, more clients. So I decided to actually send a lot of like, application, participate in contests. And I got actually a Google grant that allowed me to participate in a big conference in California called Afro tech for blacks in tech. And from there, I said, Okay, I want to know more. So Facebook had a program called, well, it has a program called Oculus Launchpad. And I got selected among 100 content developers, what I had was programs in the health and social services sector that I had been, you know, testing on the field with clients. And they were going to offer me you know, like a boot camp where I would learn about this new tool called virtual reality, although virtual reality exists for years, but it wasn’t really used in the context that it is used today. So from that program, I actually got to create a project. And that project was my startup, which is CogniXR Health. So CogniXR Health, you know, purpose is to help therapists deliver effective therapeutic experiences to their clients. So therapies for clients that suffer mostly from PTSD and co-occurring disorder with virtual reality.
Faryn Jacobs 3:21
So run me through that. If I am a patient, how does the session look like for me?
Emmanuella Michel 3:29
So our platform right now is B2B2C, meaning that as a patient, you will not be able to directly request services from us. But that your therapists let’s say, you’re a client, and you’re suffering from PTSD, or anxiety, depression, and you’re like, know what, it’s time for me to go to therapy. So you will search for therapists or if you have already one, and that therapist happens to be a CogniXR subscriber or a member, then what they will do is after the first initial screening, they will send you a link for your first appointment. So your first appointment will happen in our video conference that is the cognitive meet and to cognitive needs. They will start doing the assessment and evaluation and helping you through the first phase of your therapy session. And then after what we have, we have a tool that is actually assisted with AI that will help the therapist measure the nonverbal communication within the therapeutic experience that sometimes clients will say, well, people will say that they want to go to therapy and they want to get better but the minute that they are in front of the therapist, they get anxious and they don’t necessarily feel safe sometimes to share the true reason or the problems that they’re truly facing, because of sometimes its judgment, is this person, you know, judging me? If I tell them this, what will they say? What would they think of me? So, we have a tool in our platform that actually help with that scenario where now we’ll have the patient or the clients with the therapist will be able to get you know, data on all the nonverbal emotions that they haven’t talked on. And from there, the therapist will get outcomes, the outcome of that, that session, and then decide with the client. Okay? Are you ready now to go to the virtual world to actually start your exposure therapy with the true reason why you came here.
Faryn Jacobs 5:51
So let’s talk about exposure therapy, what it is, in general, and how virtual reality can enhance what exposure therapy aims to do.
Emmanuella Michel 6:01
So in a way, exposure therapy is a type of therapy that we call it VRET. So Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy, it helps actually, we use virtual reality to be able to bring the patient in a virtual world that is really, really close to the reality. It’s like there’s two types of therapy, when you go to the office, there’s the traditional therapy. So what we’re doing is kind of like taking the traditional therapy to a virtual environment that is assisted by with computer. And then in that environment, you know, there’s two principles, you have the interaction that you want to control, how does the patient interact with different objects. For example, if the patient has a phobia, and they fear a spider, for example, then we could recreate a spider has an object or virtual object that will be in that environment, and follow the interaction between the patient or the clients with that specific object. And the client becomes in control now to decide, you know, am I ready to phrase that fear? Am I not ready? What happens like when the object which is the spider comes next to me, during that therapy, we evaluate how they interact with it, they get anxious. So sometimes some, some therapists will use IoT device like different device to be able to measure if their heart rate is going faster when the object is coming next to them. There’s different ways to do it right now, we do not use IoT, but we use AI to be able to get measures of, you know, how the patient interact with those objects. And what are the emotions that come out of that experience?
Faryn Jacobs 7:48
Very cool. And I guess that offers a sense of safety that are a barrier of safety, that regular exposure therapy doesn’t have, because with regular exposure therapy, you would be with a spider. Whereas in this case, you still have that sort of protection and safety to to experience that before having to experience this is fascinating. So talk to me a little bit about the exposure in terms of phobias makes total sense to me. Let’s talk about it in terms of something a little more nebulous, like PTSD. How does VR help you in that sense?
Emmanuella Michel 8:23
Right now we have an environment that we’ve developed that is that we call self mastery. And what we did in design, actually, I’m the one that specialized with educational technology, I’ve learned to conceptualize different environments, and I decided to make all my environments for VR in those in that environment when the client comes in, they’re in a cave, and now they need to make a choice, do I go right or left? If I go right, then it’s to face your challenges, your challenges of trauma. And the thing is, when we think of PTSD, we have to also think about all the different challenges that comes out of the fact that we have that, you know, PTSD. So, therefore, anxiety, we have substance abuse that can come out of it. We also have the traumas that comes out of it. And for some cases, it could also go up to suicide. So when they go in that environment, your objective is to take the client, with the therapist takes the client and then the therapist could just join the client via the camera, we have camera integrated in the environment, or they could join them has an avatar also to support them while they’re going through that experience of trauma. The environment has you know, it’s darker. It has different houses and in those houses, the therapist could decide to bring in different objects and those object is for the client to start actually talking about the trauma. It’s like sometimes when people if you’ve ever had an experience on going into hypnotherapy, and they tell ask you to close your eyes, and imagine, you know, first to get you in that state, they’re asking you telling you different things so that you could get in that state and be able to allow your subconscious to take you to that traumatic experience. So now we’re doing almost a similar thing, but in a virtual environment. So while they are in that darker environment, the client gets to re experience certain things, and still has control on when they want to stop and go to the other environment that is within that same experience, where it’s more pinkish, does waterfall where they could do mindfulness activities, while they are in in the experience. So it’s like you go to a cave, you have to choice, you face your trauma, when it’s too much, you go to the other side. And you could do mindfulness as a coping strategy to decrease whatever anxiety that the other space created.
Faryn Jacobs 11:13
One of the things that that just popped into my mind is that this would be fantastic for — I just learned last year that there’s a percentage of the population who when you say to them, close your eyes and imagine cannot picture things, and I just looked it up, it’s two to 5% of the population. So that’s a big chunk of people who could really be helped by being given the images as opposed to having to create them for themselves, which is something that never even crossed my mind before.
Emmanuella Michel 11:45
And there’s like one, over 1 billion people in the world, according to WHO that actually said, you know, that they are living with a mental health disorder, which is a lot of people. And in like, in North America alone, there’s over 141 billion. So it’s a huge market. And it’s sad to know that so many people are at risk, and suffer so much. So the problem was bad before COVID. And there was not enough therapists to be able to support people with ensuing the needs and ensuing the request for mental health services. During COVID it was you know, even worse and post COVID. Like, it’s gonna be even worse. So we need to have new ways and new tools to be able to help actually tackle the effectiveness of the therapy. And although like there’s accessibility challenges, there are still people when they have a therapy session that don’t show or that just quit from the therapy because they don’t feel that it’s helping them.
Faryn Jacobs 13:06
I will self identify as someone who has been in therapy forever, and has definitely found it useful. And I will say that while COVID has been difficult, the moving of therapists online has been a blessing. Because it does allow for for those days when going outside does seem impossible, or travel does seem impossible, especially with COVID anxiety, transit anxiety, etc. I’m wondering, I mean, the big thing is you need glasses, what is the price point for those these days? And my question is always, how are things accessible? Are things accessible to the greatest number of people? How do you sort of deal with accessibility with a expensive, question mark? piece of tech?
Emmanuella Michel 14:00
Yes. And that’s, that’s a good question. Because that is one of the big barriers of, for Cogni. And how we are actually facing that barrier is we we started actually with video conference. So already there half of the therapy is done in video conference. And then they go in and out in the virtual world. Our platform is compatible to the web dekstop laptop, iOS, so if you have an iPhone, if you have an Android phone, you could use it. But you need a headset that is the degree of freedom. So like the Google Cardboard, for example. So that those are more affordable, I would say and we’re trying to see how we could leverage maybe some of those and then the the more expensive ones, like I would say the PICO spiral is one that is actually FDA approved. And they’re really good. But then we have to find a way to get it approved so that it could actually be part of a treatment and paid by insurance company. So since now it’s being approved by FDA, eventually, I hope that we’ll be able to get it approved by Health Canada. And can we like it that it becomes part of a support a health support for clients that decides to do virtual reality exposure therapy.
Faryn Jacobs 15:37
Let’s switch gears again, and talk about how things have been since you were announced at one of our Ventures this year, and how your experience of the community has been so far.
Emmanuella Michel 15:50
Oh, my God, the one word I can say is energy, positive energy and a flow, the flow like really, since they’ve announced I really felt the love from the whole community, it’s like, we have a whole system around us, protecting us and helping us grow our business. And this is wonderful. Because, you know, as an entrepreneur, it’s sometimes you feel lonely, you know, you’re creating, and especially during COVID, you’re like at home working from home, and you’ve been lonely. And with all the support of SheEO Activators, they’ve created a circle of Activators, that are helping us grow our business, I was able to get in touch with around 10 women that wants to help, one of which that’s going to become one of my advisor. So I’m kind of like creating my advisory group with SheEO Activators. And I think that if I was not selected, it would have been what would have take more time. And sometimes you often feel, you know, shy or, you know, I don’t want to bother people, which SheEO, kind of, like eliminated from me, because of the way they from the beginning. They’ve supported us and kind of like, help us learn about SheEO, and also how do we connect with other Activators? All those sessions that they need about how do you connect with Activators? I’m participating in, you know, like, how do you go internationally with a group that, again, are helping me with my ask, which is, you know, to to get therapists and more constantly testing the platform. So I think it’s been such a wonderful ride so far. And the coaches, MJ and Loren, are phenomenal. And they actually help us see things that we don’t see. And I think that I’m very grateful, and humbled to be part of this group. I also submitted this application within like an hour before the deadline. It’s because I was questioning myself. I felt like okay, am I good enough to apply? Should I apply? Back then there was Renee that was part of the organization. And I remember knowing her from a different program. And she said, Oh, my God, I remember you when you’re an entrepreneur, you should apply. And my friend Kai, actually, two years ago was a SheEO Venture. So I was like, I’m not sure I’m not sure. So then an hour before she said, You should really apply, this is the length, go under length, and do your application. So I did so and then at like 11:59. I said, ‘Renee, I got it in!’
Faryn Jacobs 18:51
Fantastic. And to any Activators and entrepreneurs hearing this, The answer is, Am I qualified? Or am I ready to apply? How about you let the Activators make that decision for you? Because we know what, what inspires us and what we want to see come into the world. And if you’ve got it in your pocket, you know, let other people make that decision. Don’t self select yourself out of the running because what you’re doing is fantastic. And the community is here to back you for it. I’m going to way way way back, I said can you just talk a little bit about how you mentioned that you moved into this sector from education. Can you talk a little bit more about your time in education?
Emmanuella Michel 19:39
Yes. So it’s education and health and what’s best for special education and health and social services. So when I started my career, I started at the Women’s Y of Montreal. So I’ve worked with women and young women for I would say probably throughout my whole career. And what I did in the beginning is from the Women’s Y, I used to manage a program called Leadership and action. So we would go to high schools, community centers and offer kickboxing, and self awareness workshop. So I’ve always believed in programs that actually help people improve the way they feel, through workshops, through learning about themselves to improving their self esteem to improve into self love. So we provided that program to young women from different backgrounds. in Montreal and at risk communities. From that program, I was able to actually develop a second phase, which was okay, now that we’ve helped throughout eight weeks with the kickboxing and different workshops, self awareness workshop, how can we help them now take their place within their communities? Because most, a lot of the girls will say, Well, I’m not being treated equally, as my brother, my brother can go out whenever he wants, and I’m not allowed to. So we would tell them, Okay, so now, how do you change that? And how do you transform your own narrative. So we created a program that was called action makes a difference. And then we kind of like guided the girls to create a declaration of young women, and this is what we want. And then from there, they were actually able to stay different things that they want to change in their communities starting from home. So I did that for a good, I would say, three years. And then I said to myself, You know what, I’ve helped the girls like that. So now I was curious about knowing about mental health. Because sometimes when I went to those communities, some of those girls were suffering inside deeply. But I didn’t have the mandate to support them. So I would leave by telling the school administration, please watch on this kid. And I felt awful. And I remember telling my boss back then, you know, we are going for eight weeks, but some of those girls are really suffering inside, and we have nothing to offer them. So when I left the why I went to learn about mental health. I worked at the Douglas Hospital, which is like really mental health, but I worked in administration so that I can observe, what does mental health mean, how do people that suffer from mental health? You know, what do they look like? What are their challenges? So I worked at the Douglas. And while I was working in the Douglas, I was actually creating my path where I would actually open a home, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Services and a rehabilitation center. And that’s where I worked with youth and families that have mild intellectual disability, mental health challenges that have cheat, we call them TGC. That means severe behavioral challenges. And some girls also work within the autism spectrum. But not only they had autism, but they had a mental health, and they had a mild intellectual disability. From there, I had to receive those girls, and make sure that I myself, had treated everything I had to be able to move forward with them and create a wall where I could receive whatever they had whatever the needs was. Some of them were from the First Nation community. I’ve worked with Cree girls, and Inuit girls. And this is really a story when I said, I always get chills, because they come and they are angry, they’re mad, they feel that society has abandoned them. And all they want is for someone to guide them. All they want is for a routine. They want to know that they exist and it’s okay to exist. Throughout the program, I would say that we’ve been able to, to help many families, we’ve been able to send some girls back home. And sometimes they came back because you know, they weren’t ready, or they’re so afraid of messing up that they actually create a scenario where they have to go back with the failsafe. And that’s what we gave the provide to them. We provide a safety net to them. Our health system. I’m in Quebec, I don’t know how it is for the rest of Canada, but our health system is, you know, has a lot of bruises that we need to fix. And I think that with remote therapy, and helping parents, helping individuals, before they get to that low part of their life is a must. And that’s where the effectiveness of the therapy tools that we use is very important. And I also think that’s how virtual reality comes into place. Because the first time I was at at the Facebook, Oculus Launchpad boot camp, and I was introduced to virtual reality. And I said to myself, Oh, my God, this is it. If I had dad back in the days for the girls, a would have done so much, you know, transformation, and help them go through all different challenges that they face.
Faryn Jacobs 25:30
Very cool. It’s interesting to see how those those lessons earlier in life come back and inform what we do moving forward. Let’s go back to your ask. Are you looking for therapists anywhere specific background? Who are you looking for to test?
Emmanuella Michel 25:48
Right now? I’m doing pilot projects. We’re focusing first on North America. So if you are if anywhere in the US, we’re, we would like it to be around New York, as you said, California, Philadelphia or even Florida, but also for Canada. First, we are in Quebec, and we’re in Canada, Vancouver, Ontario. We want to make sure that we’ve covered all Canada, and then has recovered Canada who actually go to the US. So and then eventually, Europe, for sure. But right now, if you’re an Activator and know a therapist, or you are a therapist or a counselor and you would love to actually try a new tool to, you know, improve the experience with your clients, that therapeutic experience with your client, improve the engagement of your client during the therapeutic experience, get better health outcomes. I’m your girl. You could go under Slack, send me a message. You have my email, you have all my information. And we will be pleased to actually do a pilot project with you and your clients.
Faryn Jacobs 27:04
Is there anything else that you want to talk about before we wrap it up?
Emmanuella Michel 27:09
Well, I want to thank you. And I want to again, thank SheEO for providing me with you know, this platform to be able to share my story and talk about CogniXR ealth, we are actually soon going to be raising money. So if you know any investors that are actually that have knowledge of the health, healthcare, industry, specialty mental health, and that could be a great fit for us. Let us know also. Thank you.
Faryn Jacobs 27:47
Thank you very much. Thank you for joining us on SheEO.World today. If you would like to reach out to Emmanuella please feel free to check the show notes and find out those contact details.
Vicki Saunders 28:02
Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe, and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women and non binary folks at SheEO.World.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai