By Solomon Gustavo
COKATO, MN - Psychologist Dr. Russ Morfitt’s career didn’t start in mental health care. He began in mechanical engineering before deciding to go back to school for psychology.
“I realized the elements of my job that I found the most rewarding involved helping other people, mentoring other people,” Morfitt said.
After receiving his doctorate from the University of Minnesota, Morfitt began his practice at Hutchinson Health, located off MN-15 in Hutchinson. The Cokato area resident (“we love the people here,” he said) has been a cognitive behavioral therapist, conducting clinical work on treatment for anxiety disorders in Hutchinson for 18 years. “A tremendous place to practice,” Morfitt said.
Along the way, Morfitt realized something else: Minnesotans, particularly in rural areas, do not have adequate mental health service.
“Hutchinson was busy with a long waiting list,” Morfitt said. When people “finally work up the courage to schedule an appointment,” he said, “they had to wait so long. Many had to drive a great distance . . . I recall a few times when people actually cancelled their appointments because the wait was so long.”
A former sufferer of mild social anxiety himself, Morfitt said he “began considering ways to help more people.” His mental health expertise and experience coupled with his technological background directed him to pursue providing services on the Internet.
Morfitt said he “learned that there is a strong basis already of evidence that people can learn cognitive behavioral therapy on the Internet,” more than a decade’s worth, even evidence that some like the Internet “as much as working face-to-face.” And so, Learn to Live was born.
Just over a year into his new venture, Morfitt and his team have been bestowed the honor of winning the Carlson School of Management Minnesota Cup for the Life Sciences/Health IT division.
The organization, which “provides online programs for anxiety, depression, or related problems that uses the fundamentals of cognitive behavioral therapy,” was one of 1,300 companies to apply, Morfitt said.
As gratifying a distinction as the Minnesota Cup is, Morfitt said it is “really gratifying to get the stories and testimonials from members” of Learn to Live.
“I can help one person at a time while in my office. We have had 2,600 people go through the” online program, he said.
The digital hub is needed, said Morfitt, not only because physical clinics are packed but because the number of anxiety sufferers who do seek help pales compared to those who don’t. The website’s content is designed to be another, more welcoming option.
“So many people who need it will never seek help,” Morfitt said. “Research shows there are well over 150 million people who will have a mental health problem in the US. One in four will never seek out traditional help for their problems, the 75 percent, we want to be available to help.”
The website also sidesteps any perception of “social stigma, perception of high cost of receiving care,” or “scheduling appointments, finding a partner, or knowing where to start,” Morfitt said.
Learn to Live has started with a social anxiety program and plans to add a depression, stress anxiety and worry programs to the general public, said Morfitt.
Through interactive and engaging videos, Morfitt has successfully extrapolated his clinical work unto an accessible online outlet for people to equip themselves with “tools for everyday life,” he said.
“It’s much more than a sedentary, inactive sort of experience,” Morfitt said.
The Amery, WI native said his team are “experts in learning theory,” and have helped him translate his clinical knowledge into “effective adult learning.”
For more about the organization, click here.