UNVEILING INNER POTENTIAL: A JOURNEY WITH NOAH ROBINSON, FOUNDER OF INNERWORLD
Discover the captivating journey of Noah Robinson as he co-founded Innerworld alongside singer-songwriter Jewel. He shares his insights on mindfulness, self-discovery, and unlocking inner potential in this inspiring podcast episode.
July 26, 2023
Welcome to the captivating world of personal growth and well-being! In this inspiring episode, we have the privilege of delving into the fascinating journey of Noah Robinson, the visionary behind Innerworld. He co-founded this virtual world with Jewel, a singer-songwriter who, throughout her career, has sold over 30 million albums worldwide! Prepare to be amazed as we uncover the transformative experiences, challenges, and unwavering motivation that led to the creation of this extraordinary platform.
Join us as we explore Noah's passion for mindfulness, self-discovery, and guiding others toward inner fulfillment. Get inspired, motivated, and ready to embark on a path of self-exploration. This episode is a celebration of vision, resilience, and the power of turning dreams into reality. Tune in now and let the journey begin!
Noah Robinson: Well, what if you could open your app when just you're feeling anxious and you could just cue for a group of anxiety and there's like, you know, there are 20 other people out there who are also feeling anxious in the same moment, we know it's happening. I mean, millions of people right now in the moment are feeling depressed or anxious.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Hi, I'm Dr. Chloe Carmichael, clinical psychologist and author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety, and of course your host for the High Functioning Hotspot. Some of you may remember the singer Jewel from the nineties and early two thousands. She has some huge hits. She's still making music and has a great book as well, and she has gone ahead and actually partnered with another psychologist to start an online virtual reality mental health platform. And so of course I just had to learn more.
So in today's interview I had the opportunity to sit down with her co-founder, his name is Noah, and learn about this virtual reality mental health community. And it really is amazing. He actually showed me a video of it during the interview and it really does look pretty incredible.
I love, as a psychologist, seeing when people in my community step out of the box a little bit and are not afraid to cast to a wider net and broaden the tent a little bit, and that is definitely what Noah and Jewel have done. So without further ado, I'm excited to share my interview with Noah Robinson.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Noah, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me. I just have to check and confirm. I believe I read that you are a clinical psychologist. Is that correct?
Noah Robinson: I am about one year away from graduating, so I'm technically a clinical psychology doctoral candidate right now.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Wow, that's amazing. So if you don't mind sharing, I'm always curious when people go to become a clinical psychologist, there's usually a story behind that. I don't mean to just jump right off here into the deep with you, but do you mind sharing what drew you to the field?
Noah Robinson: Sure. Yeah. So I am actually the youngest of four boys, and I think the first thing that drew me to clinical psychology is that my next oldest brother had a disease, meningitis, when he was a baby and was left with permanent brain damage. And so he has an intellectual disability and basically when I became around the age of 10, I started to notice that I was becoming his older brother. And so that's what, that was kind of the first experience that led me to be noticing that there's a difference between, you know, what we see and what might be happening in the brain.
And after that experience, kind of around that age is when I really wanted to go into clinical psychology and was just really interested in learning how to help people by talking to them and understanding their psychological states. And then the other thing that really motivated me to pursue clinical psychology, was my own personal background and history, with my own mental health struggles.
When I was 13, I realized I was gay and I became depressed, and I actually escaped into a virtual world, it's called RuneScape. It's similar to World of Warcraft, you know, with like avatars and other people in the world and things like that. And I spent almost 10,000 hours living in that environment, throughout my teenage years because I was depressed and anxious about the idea of coming out in the closet. Ultimately that saved my life, but it also sucked me into this alternative reality. After a long time, I felt comfortable coming outta the closet to my clan because I was an avatar and was anonymous and could connect with other people and felt more comfortable, and after coming out in the virtual world, I came out in the real world when I was 18.
And that experience led me also to be very interested in pursuing clinical psychology with a focus on how can we build virtual environments that actually could help people instead of, you know, being designed by psychologists to suck people in and get those dopamine hits going to get them, you know, dependent on using the game to fuel social validation and reward.
What if we could use similar principles but actually help people come back to reality more empowered than they left it? So that combination of experiences with my brother and then also my own struggles as an adolescent, you know, being suicidal and finding virtual worlds as a refuge. The combination of that is what led me to be interested in pursuing clinical psychology.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Wow, that's amazing. As you said, a lot of times we hear more the negative side about, you know, the virtual world, and so you're trying to open and use those same principles to create something positive because you had some of that experience to yourself. Do you mind sharing how you got through that transition yourself from being kind of, as you said, a little bit isolated in this virtual world. And then was it, you said the act of coming out online that somehow springboarded you into a real world where you felt more yourself?
Noah Robinson: Yeah. You know, I mean, I think throughout my adolescent years, I knew that there was something different about myself. I actually, I knew that I was gay. Like I knew that I wasn't attracted to women and I was attracted to men and things like that. But I was so ashamed and so anxious about coming out that I just escaped into this virtual world, and I could level skills and gain experience and go on quests and I led a clan of 400 people.
So I like, basically it was kind of like a startup, basically, you know, group to, and especially I would say in some ways it's harder than a startup because getting 400 adolescents to do the same thing and be on the same page was even harder in some ways than starting a company. But you know, basically it was a refuge. It was a place where I could have an identity where sexuality wasn't really a factor. I felt more comfortable in this group, in this social group and in the real world I barely had any friends. I was failing my classes. I was waking up at like 3:00 AM each day, just so that I could play RuneScape. Actually RuneScape is run-escape put together, which is, I didn't even realize that after 10,000 hours until much later that it was the words run and escape put together.
So yeah, that experience really was, it was this simultaneously an escape and something that was helping me cope with this horrible thing that was happening with my anxiety and depression. I think also, you know, that's what a lot of substance use. I've done some research in substance use and we just published a paper on, using our virtual world for substance use disorder, but really any kind of maladaptive behavior, you know, cutting, eating disorders, substance use disorders, non-suicidal self-injury, things like that.
All these attempts, I think, for people to self-regulate and deal with their pain and they find they kind of stumble into these maladaptive, self-regulatory tools. And that's what kind of RuneScape was for me. I was kind of using it as an escape. It was helping me avoid my pain, but it wasn't necessarily the healthiest way to do that.
And yet coming out to my clan, I felt empowered. You know, I was testing the grounds and then I felt empowered to come out in the real world. And it really helped with that transformation. And once I made it, I really flourished. I really was able to go to, I went to University of Maryland as an undergrad, and I really just, I remember wanting to come out before college because I wanted to be myself. I wanted to have that experience and it was incredible. It was magical to have that first time of being social. And I even got a piercing in my ear, you know, to try to tell everyone that I was gay and that, you know, I just didn't want to be back in the closet. So, yeah.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah, so now obviously I can see the, you know, personal reflection skills and empathy skills and things that, you know, make a good psychologist. And then I see the story and the reasoning as to how you wanted to blend technology with psychology. I'm curious, how you came to have the technical chops to do this? I mean, are you the psychologist behind this as well as the technical chops, or did you outsource that part?
Noah Robinson: Yeah, it was interesting. I really got, so I knew I wanted to use technology in, you know, psychology and build an app or something like that throughout college. But before I started my PhD at Vanderbilt, I went to the International Institutes of Health as a postdoc, and I was there for two years and I got exposed to virtual reality. And virtual reality is incredible. I mean, when you put on a headset, it's so experiential to be transported to this other world.
And I remember putting it on and experiencing, you know, I was in a lab, but I put on the headset and then I was on a space station and it was just absolutely incredible and transform my whole environment. And, you know, so I got really excited about that. Bought my own headset, started going in and it really, I stumbled into social virtual reality, which were, you know, worlds with avatars where I could talk to other people and be a part of those worlds.
And so from then on I just started learning how to build environments, virtual environments. And it's actually, building a virtual world is kind of like using Photoshop where you can put the pieces together and then you can go in, except you can actually put on a headset and be in the thing that you just created.
So there's a really cool kind of cycle there. But ultimately I did need to hire, full-time software engineers. That's actually why I started my company. In my first year at grad school, I worked with computer science undergrads at Vanderbilt and we built an experiment and put it on an app store and collected data.
But I realized that it really, to build something that's clinically effective, that feels smooth and good, like a product that people can use and it helps people, what we're doing is pretty complex. And so that's what led me to start a company so that I could get the funding to hire full-time software engineers and, you know, kind of lead the company to building the product that we have today with Innerworld.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Right. So I went onto the Innerworld website and you know, it looks pretty interesting, and if you could just help me understand, like do people put on a VR headset when they then sign in? And then I saw that you have, for example, like these classes, like there was one going on called Icebreaker. When I logged in, obviously I couldn't join into the group because I'm not a member of Innerworld, but, I mean, if I had a login, would I put on a headset and then I would feel like I was actually in a room with everybody there?
Noah Robinson: Yeah, so the cool thing about Innerworld is that it works on any device. So you can go in on a computer, on a phone and it's kind of like playing a video game. But the basic idea is that these are group experiences, social experiences that are led by non-professionals.
We call them guides. You know, the literature refers to these folks also as lay therapists or peers, because a lot of 'em have lived experience. But we call them guides, and we train the guides to lead these groups that are, you know, in a virtual world, you become an avatar, you can choose your outfit, you're anonymous, and attend groups and people communicate with their voice and you navigate around the virtual world. And each class or group is on different topics like you mentioned.
So really when you see, if you go to our website and see all the different app classes and things, first you have to download our app on the computer or phone, wear a headset and then, yeah, basically you log in, you start off in an offline home, that's a safe space, and you can go to any of the events that are happening. And we have over 150 events every single week right now, and it's just growing from here. So people are able to come in. And I'm happy to talk more about kind of why we're utilizing guides instead of therapists. I think that's an interesting conversation as well. But that's kind of the overview of, you know, what the experience is like.
Then one other thing too is that you can also just hang out. There's just worlds where you can go in to a hiking trail or a meditation maze or, a cool abstract world or a campfire and just hang out and talk with people to get social support, even if it's not in a structured group, led by a guide.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: And when you say talk with them, do you mean like, talk by chatting, by typing words, or is it vo vocal communication?
Noah Robinson: It's vocal communication. So I actually just published a paper last week, which is our first Innerworld peer review publication, which I'm really excited about, and in that paper I created a figure that basically plots on the X axis is how anonymous the technology is, like how much an anonymity we have. And on the Y axis is the sense of presence that we have. So how much do you feel? How much do we feel like we're actually with one another? And so right now for example, we're on a Zoom and you know, we're seeing each other.
So we're really not that anonymous because we see who you know each other are. And the presence is okay. It's more than text, chat, probably it's more than a phone call because I see your facial reactions, things like that. But if you think about something like text chat for example, it's less presence and more anonymity because you don't, you know, when you're texting someone, you don't feel like you're with them, but you're really, you can be fully anonymous or you know, if they don't, if you have a username, things like that.
And so the cool thing about virtual environments is that they're simultaneously, there's that sense of presence because everyone's an avatar in a shared spatial environment. So you kind of see other people represented and all that kind of stuff, but it's also very anonymous because you're not showing your real face and things like that.
So people use voice chat to communicate, to have that sense of presence. While at the same time having that anonymity, that something like text chat would typically confer. That's part of what we see as, one of the mechanisms that makes Innerworld effective is that people open up more and it's easier to open up in a group.
We know as therapists that when someone opens up and feels more comfortable doing that, especially in a group setting and feels that acceptance of others and things like that, it creates such an incredible platform for learning evidence-based tools from cognitive behavioral intervention. So that's kind of the basic idea behind the fact that people are talking, but they're also behind these avatars. So they feel that sense of safety and anonymity just like I did in RuneScape.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah, I was thinking about that. So I would love to, you know, if you want to share, I would love to learn about why you chose to use the guides. I mean, I can sort of imagine why, but I would love to hear, and I'm also curious, how many users you currently have.
Noah Robinson: Sure. So in terms of guides, you know, one of the things is that right now in the United States, for example, this is a bigger problem around the world. But in the United States alone, we are short about 500,000 therapists. So there's a huge demand and there's a not enough therapists out there who can help everyone who needs it.
If everybody who actually needs help sought help, we would be short 5 million therapists in the United States alone. And again, it's an even worse problem globally. So part of the reason that we're training guides is that there's a growing area of literature and research that shows that non-professionals can actually be as effective as therapists for many, many folks, not for everyone. And therapists are very important, and especially the more serious the mental illness. Oftentimes people do need therapy and we have, some of our Innerworld members are in therapy and they're coming into Innerworld an additional support.
But for a lot of people, it's possible for non-professional lay folks, who we call guides, that with some training in how to do like motivational interviewing, asking open-ended questions, being non-judgmental, being supportive, and then teaching evidence-based tools of what we call cognitive behavioral immersion, which is a variant of cognitive behavioral therapy, the leading, you know, evidence-based modality for psychological intervention.
By teaching the guides these basic tools, and scaffolding on top of that, our technology, like artificial intelligence, we're able to create an atmosphere where these folks are able to lead groups. And once you are able to train everyday folks, I kind of compare it to, I mean, it's not the same as driving a taxi because it's a lot more complicated, obviously, in terms of we're talking about people's mental health and we need robust safety systems.
But if we take a second and put that aside, if you think about Uber versus taxi drivers. The taxi medallion was keeping the cost of taxi rides pretty high. Kind of how licensure right now is keeping the cost of therapy sessions really high and it's inaccessible for a lot of people. And Uber came along and said, okay, well there's a lot of other people who could also be driving cars, who could be doing this maybe for a little bit lower price.
But also just more accessible, you know, that's, it became like, you can just open your phone and order a ride. Well, what if you could open your app when just you're feeling anxious and you could just cue for a group of anxiety and there's like, you know, there are 20 other people out there who are also feeling anxious in the same moment, we know it's happening. I mean, millions of people right now in the moment are feeling depressed or anxious. And you could start off and do a group together. You know, what if accessing a therapeutic intervention was as accessible as ordering an Uber?
So that's the kind of direction that we're trying to head. And there are a lot of really important ethical and safety considerations that I'm happy to touch on that are, again, it's very different than only driving a car from point A to point B. There's a lot of really important safety. You know, topics and this is people's mental health, but the basic idea is the same, where there are a lot more laypeople out there who are empathetic, who are caring, and we've trained about 80 of them so far, and have a wait list of hundreds of people who want to become guides. We're able to basically scale up a mental health intervention to get help to everybody who actually needs it.
In terms of the number of users, we've actually had over 85,000 downloads of our application. So we're just so excited because there are so many people out there who need help, and we're really trying to scale something that can truly help every single person who needs it without the bottleneck of access. And we can also refer people to therapy if they need that as well. So we're not trying to replace therapists or any, that's where the metaphor of Uber kind of ends there because we're not trying to replace taxi drivers or anything. We're trying to add a step in the system that's a lower level of care, easier to access, and then we can get people to therapists or inpatient or hospitalization if they need it.
So that's kind of where we see ourselves and why we're utilizing guides, instead of therapists where there's that kind of lack of, the workforce, basically a supply problem on the therapy side.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah, that actually makes a lot of sense. I can understand that. I mean, you probably know the study better than I do. I'm sure you're more familiar with this literature, but I'm thinking of a study about the therapeutic alliance being actually for, as you said, people who are not suffering from severe mental illnesses, but who have mild to moderate mental illnesses, that the therapeutic alliance was actually a stronger predictor of a positive outcome, a stronger predictor than even the modality of therapy that was being used.
And for people who don't know, the therapeutic alliance is essentially the bond of the relationship that you have with the client. So I think the three main components are, mutual agreement on what the goals are, mutual belief that these goals are attainable and rapport. So essentially, as you said, it's not really necessarily for someone that has a severe and persistent mental illness, but for many people that are struggling with mild to moderate symptoms, just having a really good, strong relationship with somebody who's a positive force in your life can sometimes be more important than any specific therapeutic intervention that that person might be using.
Noah Robinson: Yeah. It is so funny because right now in our app we can send out emojis and I love that we have the hundred emoji, you know, the 100. And if we were in there, I would be sending those out as you were talking because yes, Pim Kuipers has a really good paper on this as well. And you know, they refer to it, I think it's non-specific effects as well, which is the same, the therapeutic alliance which are these things that are, they're kind of difficult to measure, but it's these abstract concepts that are really important like that.
Interpersonal connection and rapport and that sense of connection that we feel accounts for over half of the outcomes of therapy. So we can reproduce that with these lay professionals, these guides. And we can add on top of that the tools that are evidence-based and science backed. I think it can really get us a lot of the way there for many people who are suffering from depression or anxiety, and other kinds of mental health struggles.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah, so I'm a big fan of self-help. In fact, with my book, it's Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety, part of the reason that I wrote the book is because with anxiety, specifically, self-help has been shown to be very effective for people with anxiety because that tendency of double checking and completing directions and attention to detail, they apply all of that in the help environment and it can be really good for them. I've also been a big fan of things like Better Help and Talkspace, you know, these types of online interventions where people can get support on demand.
I personally think all of that is really good. I'm just a big fan of giving people the tools and then if they have the capability that they may be able to use it themselves. And it can even be more empowering, I think, with their self-efficacy and their sense of control. You know, fighting feelings of helplessness that they're not even dependent upon some particular therapist or something like that.
So I just wanted to preface my question with everything I just said because I want you to know I'm truly a big fan. However, I personally have encountered sometimes a fair amount of pushback from people that maybe in my view can not really quite take the perspective that you and I are taking here. And it can feel sometimes as if they want to be gatekeepers to that, as you said, the medallion, the taxi drivers with their medallions, they were actually not very happy about Uber.
Just like the hotel industry was not very happy about Airbnb. So I'm wondering if you experienced negativity or pushback from within our very own psychology community. How did you deal with that on an intellectual level and how did you deal with it on a personal level?
Noah Robinson: Yeah, it's a really interesting question. I think, well first I just want to respond, it's interesting about these things like Better Health and Talkspace, because when we think about this problem, the supply problem that we have of therapists, good therapists generally are able to have a private practice because of the demand that there is for psychological intervention. And so the platforms like Better Help and Talkspace that often take a huge percentage of the revenue, you know, cause therapists, by the way, are in business, they're for-profit, they're trying to make money, and they're also helping people as a profession.
And so you end up on these platforms, a lot of people, have negative experiences as well with the providers on these platforms because sometimes they're newer therapists or they're not as trained, or they're just kind of, every session they might just be talking and they're not actually bringing in tools. It's just kind of like checking in every week those non-specific effects. But you're not getting that extra, you know, half of what makes therapy work with the tools and things.
So it's interesting because technology so far has tried to solve the problem of mental health access, but really it's just kind of, it's increased access, but it hasn't necessarily increased access to effective and evidence-based mental health intervention. It's increased access to some therapists, but they're not necessarily the most effective therapist, which I think is interesting.
And again, I'm not, I hope anyone listening, I think there's a great therapist on all these platforms. It's possible to find them. I always worry about the folks who try one of the platforms, they try one therapist, you know, they pay, it doesn't work well, and then they think, oh, therapy isn't for me.
You know, and then it kind of like they don't continue that search because they're discouraged. But yeah, coming back to the kind of element of what we're doing. I mean, I almost got kicked out of Vanderbilt actually, in my first year of grad school. I got accepted to Vanderbilt to work with someone who left, but I wanted to stay at Vanderbilt. And so I was, I had a mentor who, basically didn't support what I was doing. He thought that it wasn't traditional, I shouldn't be doing it. He said, you need to, you should go do computer science, you know? And basically I almost got kicked out.
And my current mentor, Steve Holland, who's a protege of Aaron Beck, who created cognitive behavioral therapy, saw what I was doing and it's, you know, he's the most senior person in our department, but he saw what I was doing and saw the need for scalable mental health interventions and took me under his wing.
He hadn't had a student in 15 years, but he took me under his wing and has mentored me and really allowed this to grow and flourish. So having his support has been a really important component and you know, he's a famous clinical psychologist. And then also I think we are doing this from within the community. You know, I think a big difference between Innerworld as a startup and a company and most other mental health startups and companies, is that I'm the founder and CEO and I'm also, hopefully, about to be a clinical psychologist in the next year or so. So we really are trying to be diligent about data collection. Testing what we're doing, you know, we're using all the validated clinical measures that a clinic might use, like the PHQ-9 to track depression or the GAD-7 to track anxiety. We're publishing a paper showing significant decreases in those symptoms of depression, anxiety, for folks who are using our platform.
We're hopefully about to get a grant to do a randomized control trial as well, testing the efficacy of what we're doing. So I think it's really important that I don't think the strategy of Uber, Airbnb, where you just deploy it, ignore the regulation, and get lots of people using it. I don't think that will work, for, you know, a mental health intervention and scalable platform. I do think we have to work within the system to some extent in terms of collecting evidence and making sure what we're doing works.
However, at the same time, we don't have to use every component of the system. We don't have to have necessarily licensed therapists as long as we don't make claims that we're treating anything, which we make sure, you know, there's a disclaimer when you actually come into Innerworld that we're not therapy, we're not crisis intervention. We really make sure people know that.
And the other part of the system that we aren't utilizing is the health insurance system. Because that's kind of broken right now too. And a lot of the digital mental health startups are focused on things like digital therapeutics, where they want an app to be prescribed that you have to go to a psychiatrist and get a prescription for those anxiety, self-help apps. And then they can charge, you know, the company can charge a health provider, or health insurance company, you know, $4,000 a month to provide like a basic CBT app. It's completely, I don't think it works in actually paratherapeutics, one of the largest, I was on an advisory board for them, for just a little bit, and they were the first prescription digital therapeutic. They just folded. They just, you know, the company has basically failed because it turns out that a way to solve the mental health crisis isn't through making everyone have to get a prescription for an app kind of thing.
So I think there's elements of the system that we need to make sure we're incorporating. I think those most important ones are the ethical elements of, you know, what is the American Psychological Association set of ethical guidelines that they have, and how can we take those and translate them to non-professional individuals and make sure that we're doing things in an ethical way.
What do things like dual relationships look like for non-professionals who come into a community as end users and then become a guide? Can they have existing relationships outside of those sessions and things, there's so many ethical questions that we do want to use the system and the professional guild to make sure we're answering these, testing the efficacy, things like that.
So yeah, I think it's been a really, you really keyed in on an interesting kind of balance that we're trying to strike where we are trying to scale, make something accessible and we're still trying to go through and collect the data, be science based, and make sure we apply the ethical guidelines in the best way possible.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah, that's really interesting. It's a different worlds that you're straddling, you know, in so many different ways. And again, as clinicians, we know that social support is so important for people's resiliency and their mental health, and in a way it almost feels like what you're doing with Innerworld is a bit of a hybrid.
It's almost like a ultra strong social support network where there's this extreme emphasis on mental fitness and mental wellness, and you have guides there that are trained with knowledge that they're sharing with people, but at the same time, it's ultimately a peer to peer situation. And so there is, you know, it's seems tilted on the social side, which is actually, again, pretty cool. It's where a lot of people are going online right now, anyway they're going to social media where they're getting, you know, God knows what sometimes from, you know, different people that are hanging out a shingle, you know, online.
And so with Innerworld, it feels like you're really truly creating a community that offers that feeling of support and the fact that the guides are actually peers, I know you said the reason was in part because of a supply issue, but I actually think as well that there's something about learning from your peers that makes something feel even more accessible and even more relatable that you say, well, this person was sitting in my shoes six months ago and look, here they are now.
It just makes people, I think, on some level feel like this is more relatable. So I know that we don't have all day. So I did just have one more pressing question. I almost, of course have to ask the obvious, how on earth did you come to partner with Jewel in all of this? Like how did that happen?
Noah Robinson: Yeah, it's really exciting. So Jewel has an incredible history and background where, you know, she went through her own mental health struggles as an adolescent, and unlike me, where I got sucked into this video game and was kind of distracted in that experience, she used introspection and reflection to develop her own tools to help her get through that situation.
It was absolutely incredible and really powerful, and she went on to, I mean, she had an incredible music career and still does, and as releasing new music. And she also co-founded a foundation, 22 years ago called the Inspiring Children Foundation, where they actually teach evidence-based, mental health tools.
They're not necessarily, the same as CBT, but they're basically variants of that, where they, you know, instead of cognitive distortions, they might call it your list of lies and things like that. And for 22 years, they've been helping adolescents overcome their mental health issues with no therapists, you know, in their group. This is an in-person experience, where adolescents come to live and thrive in these incredible setting, and she wanted to bring that into virtual worlds because she saw that, you know, she thought that avatars in virtual worlds could be a really, really powerful way to scale what they were doing with their peer-based mental health intervention.
Because all the people delivering the intervention in this program are folks who went through it. So it's really this peer-based program. And she decided she was going to build her own platform with avatars and virtual worlds. And during her due diligence process, she wanted to see and kind of see would she be the first one to do this, and she found Innerworld and me and what we were doing. And you know, we met and I read her book called Never Broken. That's absolutely incredible. That talks about the journey that she went through, which very few people, I mean, it really reminded me of Marsha Linehan who created dialectical behavior therapy or, you know, some other, like, I mean, Aaron Beck also through his own experiences was reflecting and kind of came up with CBT, and other psychologists had done this too.
So it's very rare for someone to be able to come up with tools like that. And she found Innerworld, we connected and really just, we have the same exact vision and goal. And she joined as a co-founder about a year ago, and it's been absolutely incredible, and she's also our chief strategy officer, so she's helping us strategize and how can we scale effectively and make sure what we're doing can reach everybody who needs it. So she's a brilliant business person, entrepreneur, and just really grateful to have her in the company.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yes. I mean, do you like provide her book to users or anything like that?
Noah Robinson: We don't currently provide her book to users, but that's a very good idea that I would love to explore with her, because it's called Never Broken. It's absolutely incredible. It's a really incredible.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah, I've actually seen it. I'm a big fan. I'm a big fan of her work. You know, I actually as well was an emancipated minor and left my home and I was 15 and all these things. And I'm on the advisory board of Women's Health Magazine, which is how I was able to, you know, get in touch through this because of her recent feature there.
So, you know, I would certainly love to send you guys a copy of my book as well in case you guys ever decide you want to host book clubs or you know, anything along those lines. But, I do understand that you have a video that you want to share. Is that right?
Noah Robinson: Yeah. I'd love to share my screen and share this video because I can talk about Innerworld and how it's affecting folks, but I'd much, much rather just share this because you can see and hear from folks who've actually had their lives changed.
So I'm going to go ahead and try to share this video. It's just about three and a half minutes, but hopefully the listeners can kind of get a sense of the experiences that people are having in the platform. All right. I'm going to go ahead and do it.
evaaaahh: I'm a person that I live alone, don't have a partner, I don't have kids.
CaptnDan: I've been on the road to recovery for quite some time now.
Nithmund: Being bipolar, ADHD and anxiety.
Shmamber92: I have really bad anxiety.
EsotericStudent: Autistic ADHD. Anxiety, social anxiety, mobility issues, heart and lung disease. I have all those diagnoses.
Roxanne88: I joined Innerworld last week, and my biggest struggle is that I have not left the house alone in six years. And just in the past several days attending meetings, I actually had the courage today, thanks to the support that I received from this group. I left the house by myself for the first time today in six years.
Cogit8: Having been a 13 year combat veteran, having some struggles of my own, it's hard to relate with people in the civilian sector. And mental health is a crisis throughout our veterans. The VA struggles to maintain a mental health platform that can help everyone in its system. When I came here to Innerworld, everybody's very friendly, very accepting, very non-judgmental, and I found a good place for me to share my experiences. Becoming part of a family is what veterans like and that's what they're looking for, and I think they would definitely enjoy this platform if they knew about it some more.
Em89: So I'm a stay at home mom of five very young kids. The past couple years have been really tumultuous and they were really traumatic, involving a really complex and high risk twin pregnancy. I found myself drowning in postpartum depression and anxiety constantly. I started feeling downright desperate, and honestly, I was feeling really hopeless, like I had nowhere to go. It was like one minute I was alone on a deserted island of hopelessness. And before I knew it, my island stretched out into a peninsula of people that were standing there with welcoming arms wide open. I don't know how else to explain how I ended up here besides it being a literal divine intervention for me.
Eclips: I don't currently own a VR headset. I went through a really bad breakup last weekend. I moved across the US to be with the person I was with. I don't know anyone here. I decided I was going to download and see what it was about. I attended my first meeting that night and just that one meeting like made me feel so much better. Just being able to talk to the people here, hearing everyone else stories, it's really changed and helped me a lot, even though I'm still going through a lot of emotion. It's really helped having this place to come to.
Mystyk: I grew up in an abusive home and I left home at 16 as a high school dropout and got married and learned how to survive. And the whole time when I was younger, I was alone most of my life. I kind of had to fend for myself and figure things out. Eventually got involved in behavioral health. I’ve been in it for about 17 years, and my oldest daughter who had autism committed suicide eight years ago. The thing is, the people that are giving those support end up the ones that don't have a support system in the end. And so when I came here, I felt supported for one of the first times in my life.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Wow. That is so cool. I mean, for anyone who's just listening to the podcast and is not seeing the video, it was super cool. It was like these little avatars and they were all sitting around a fire and you know, they were sharing, and I love that combination, Noah, that you described of having an avatar paired with their actual human voice. It's really a neat blend.
I think another benefit actually to this setup that I hadn't really thought of until I just really saw it is I think it's probably also good for the members' own sense of self-efficacy and self-worth to realize that their own presence helps other people. That their own supportiveness is empowering to others. I mean, so they give and receive support.
Noah Robinson: Yeah, I think it's so powerful that not only can folks get help, but you can give it too, and it's the way that we can scale because you know, so many of the people who shared stories are now interested in becoming guides, and that's how we can scale to kind of see one, do one teach, one model where folks come in with a problem, they get help, and then they realized, wow, I can tap into this whole source of meaning and purpose in my life and help transform the lives of others.
Even Roxanne, who started the anonymous username, Roxanne, who hadn't left her house alone in six years and after one week was going out, which is just such a fast turnaround. She was helped by another member that we have, Moon Goddess, who hadn't left her house at all, even to go to the mailbox in four years. And she was in therapy, but not till she came to Innerworld was she able to learn, the fear form, basically the worst case, best case, most likely scenario. She used that, she practiced it and then she started going out of the house for the first time, bringing Innerworld with her on her phone.
And she went to the grocery store and logged into Innerworld and everyone was there cheering her on to go into the grocery store for the first time. And she became a guide and helped Roxanne, who was in this video, leave her house. So it's just this kind of, one of our members called it viral healing, and that's really what we're trying to create here, is that scalability so that we can really help every single person who needs it.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yes. That's so cool. Again, it's called Innerworld and Noah Robinson. Thank you so much for sharing about this. Is there anything that I have not asked you about that you wanted to share?
Noah Robinson: Yeah, there's two things I'd like to touch on real quickly. One is that we did start in Innerworld 18 and above, and we now have a 13 to 17 year old version of it with completely separate servers so that adolescents cannot interact with adults. They can only interact with our guides, and they can only interact with each other when a guide is online in the same world, they can hear what they're saying. So it's a very closely supervised, experience. And the other thing is I just wanted to touch on the importance of safety. I mentioned before that we have consents in our app about the fact this is not therapy, it's not crisis intervention.
We have crisis resources that we can pull up at any time. We have a 24/7 safety team that can be paged by our guides or by our AI based system in case it detects something like suicide or curse words or like trolling and things like that. And then we also have 24/7, we have someone online in the hub, which is kind of our central area, greeting people and kind of screening them a little bit to make sure that they're not trolls.
So we really take, you know, with the anonymity comes the kind of price tag of folks feeling more comfortable being mean sometimes to each other. And so we really pride ourselves in our robust safety systems that we've built over four years of beta testing to make sure that we are catching trolls and other kind of folks often within about 30 seconds of them coming in and being mean and things like that. Because I think it's so important to, you know, if we're going to have something that is helping people with their mental health, we need to protect the community and the culture to make sure that we can scale and grow and keep that empathy and viral healing going.
So I'm just really proud of our engineering team and community, and Jewel as well, who's been helping to design these systems to make sure that we can create a safe space for as many people as possible.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: That is so cool. I love the idea of a greeter person that not only, you know, screens people, but also I just imagine what a warm and welcoming experience that is, that, you know, your first point of contact is a real life person who's just noticing you and seeing you and ushering you in. I mean, how amazing is that?
So, Noah, cheers to you and Jewel for bringing this to the world and I'm happy to share about it as well. So Innerworld, it really sounds special.
Noah Robinson: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Anytime. Thanks again. Take care. Bye.
- The High Functioning Podcast Homepage - https://www.drchloe.com/podcast/
- Dr. Chloe’s Homepage - http://drchloe.com/
- Noah Robinson’s LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/psychnoah/
- Noah Robinson’s Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/psych_noah/
- Innerworld website - https://www.inner.world/home/
- Innerworld’s LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/company/innerworldinc/
- Innerworld’s Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/joininnerworld/
- Innerworld’s Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/joininnerworld
- Innerworld’s YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/@joininnerworld
- Innerworld’s Twitter - https://twitter.com/joininnerworld