One of our interviewees, Abigail Klein told us about her experience with anxiety during her life and how she has learned to deal with it through. At the end of the interview she told us that she applies some of these principles with the people she works with. We told her our ideas about making anxiety tangible through senses and she loved it - ”I would like to try that with my patients.” - Seriously? - of course. We asked her if we could work with them and she said yes.

We were ready to take the world. A week later she told us her boss didn’t want strangers in the facility and that we had to go through the process of being interns for the organization. This represented a delay of 5 weeks that included tedious paperwork, orientations, criminal background checks, etc. But we did it! 

Community Access is an organization focused on housing services for populations in risk in NYC. One of their facilities is the East Village Access, where they provide mental health care for those  who have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness and have compromised effective behavior in society. They have been victims of several types of violence and trauma: homelessness, substance and sexual abuse, domestic violence, among other problems.  

Abigail Klein is in charge of an experiential therapy group called Embodiment and Recovery, where an average of eleven people learn tools to healthfully function in society. The approach is experiential therapy that consists of the use of their bodies and minds in controlled situations where they can learn and practice new skills before facing the world.

Each individual diagnosis is specific, but all of them are being treated at a certain level with the four kinds of anxieties: GAD, PTSD, OCD and or Social Phobia. Because of their previous problems with their behavior in society, their diagnosis for anxiety is connected with harmful experiences in their past.

Working with Community Access

Each session starts off with a regular exercise: Checking in with how they feel at the moment and what is their level of energy. People who have been in the program for a longer time mostly feel good, but a lot of them mentioned a certain level of distress related to their anxiety.  

We decided to follow this structure for our own session. Moreover, one of our thesis advisors, Tina Park, a partner at Diagram, a New York-based design studio that works to improve healthcare experiences, suggested trying to avoid to use the term “anxiety” during our sessions. People liked the sensorial experience so we decided for the participants of Embodiment and Recovery to explore their emotions freely.  

Incorporating the findings of the previous prototypes we created three workshops focused on the senses: Taste, Touch and Smell.