The Indigo Project
Mary Hoang is one hell of an inspiring woman. She’s the founder of The Indigo Project, a progressive psychology practice based in Sydney that not only provides approachable, relevant and down-to-earth therapy, but also music healing, death meditations and more.

How did your journey begin?

One of my first jobs as a psychologist was working with street kids. They weren’t keen on coming to therapy and didn’t trust people easily, so I knew that I had to take a creative approach to connect with them. Growing up, I had my own issues with my self-worth, family, drugs and relationships and didn’t have a lot of people that I could talk to about my challenges, so I understood where they were coming from. I felt as though there are a lot of people who are also falling through the cracks: those who don’t align with traditional therapy, who had tried but hated it or who wanted to learn about themselves in creative ways – and this formed the underpinnings of The Indigo Project, a modern psychology practice and mental health organisation.

In 2012, The Indigo Project launched with the tagline: “We can help you get your shit together.” We’re all about helping people with the everyday challenges we have with our minds, emotions and relationships. Given how fast-paced life is and due to the complexity of the human mind, it’s understandable that we can find life hard at times. The Indigo Project is all about approachable, relevant, down-to-earth therapy, with therapists who have lived varied lives. It has less focus on “diagnoses” and “disorders” and is about the “whole human experience” – the intricacies of the mind, dealing with stress, gaining perspective, self-awareness and understanding what brings you meaning and purpose.

In a few years, we’ve gone from one practitioner room to occupying a beautiful three-level building with eight rooms, more than 20 practitioners and an incredible community. We have over 1000 people coming to see us each month and an ongoing program of courses and workshops. We also have a stable of corporate clients who partner with us for their counselling services and team workshops on stress and resilience.

How did you come up with the name The Indigo Project?  

The term “indigo” is often used to describe as person who is creative, curious, insightful, empathetic, freethinking and open-minded. I believe that we all possess these qualities. I’ve always wanted The Indigo Project to serve as a place where these qualities can be developed and appreciated and where people can meet other indigos.

Indigos also have a desire to create change in the world and our model of therapy recognises that altruistic behaviour is an innate human trait. Therapy is not just about the “self” – it’s about how we can connect with others and create change in our worlds, whether that be in our families, workplaces or communities. I’m proud that one of our ethoses is that we help people help people. We’ve seen our clients and community create incredible social enterprises, workplace initiatives and stronger relationships and families as a result of taking the first step to work on themselves.

How does The Indigo Project aim to be different from the current model of psychology? 

Therapy and psychological services have often been seen to be exclusively for the one out of five people who have a mental health disorder, but they’re not. We also work with the four out of five people who don’t have a disorder but experience challenges with relationships, unruly emotions and monkey minds. Many people also come to see us as part of their self-care routine and use their sessions to maintain their mental health or “check-in”. We also specialise in working with creatives and entrepreneurs who want to manage their minds while creating awesome art and initiatives.

Therapy is often seen as insular and supremely self-focused, but research shows that if you focus on the “self” too much, you end up unhappy. At Indigo, we create opportunities for people to meet, connect and make friends at workshops and events. We have music events, such as Listen Up, where people come together monthly to listen to music in the dark and connect over their experiences afterwards on a rooftop. We love developing accessible ways that people can learn about their minds and emotions and build a community at the same time.

What stigma, in your opinion, still needs to be broken down around mental health? How can we do this? 

Despite the fact that people are more aware of mental health these days, there is still a stigma around seeing a therapist – I think people don’t know what to expect and are afraid of what might come up. Spending time with a good therapist is incredibly valuable as you learn skills such as effective communication, trust, vulnerability and emotional boundaries. We like to see ourselves as helping people change their lives and not just professionals that deal with “problems”. The more that people talk about their positive experiences with therapy, the more we can shift this perception that it’s scary.

I think that with the rise of mental health awareness, we also need to be careful that we’re not pathologising normal behaviour – it’s okay to feel bad, anxious or down at times, it doesn’t always mean that you have anxiety or depression. I also think that there is too much of a focus on the onus being on individuals to change – it’s important to look beyond individual factors and acknowledge the impact of our environment and society on our mental health. I believe that larger-scale social change is vital to improving the lives and minds of every individual in our society – we need to look more closely at issues of inequality, discrimination and prejudice and educate people about the wider factors impacting their mental health.

Can you give us a basic intro into neuroscience and how it works in regards to your area of expertise? In particular, how does meditation alter our neuropathways? 

The human brain has the ability to change and adapt – this is known as neuroplasticity. What this means for us is that we can change, we don’t have to see ourselves as a product of our past, we can effectively shape our future – anything that we think, feel or do repetitively rewires the brain so we can carve new pathways and learn new habits.

Meditation is one of the best ways to reshape our brains, help us manage stress, anxiety and improve our focus, decision-making, emotion regulation and immune system functioning. Depending on the type of meditation practice we engage in, we can structurally change different areas of the brain – we can increase cortical thickness or grey matter in the brain associated with self-regulation, planning, emotional processing and memory, and we can decrease the size of the amygdala, which is known as the fight-flight centre. These changes allow us to be less reactive, more self-aware, less judgemental and more accepting.

Can you tell us a little more about Indigo X? What do you hope to achieve through these immersive experiences? 

Indigo X is our experience agency where we fuse the power of music with psychological processes to create deep, impactful art installations, rituals and ceremonies for the community. It’s about teaching people about concepts like death, forgiveness, emotions and psychological pain through art, music and modern rites of passage. I collaborate on Indigo X with my partner, Rich Lucano, who’s a music producer and creates original music for these experiences. Over the years, we’ve worked with companies such as Spotify, Audible, Facebook and festivals like Vivid and We’re All Going to Die as well as universities and corporations.

In a world with many distractions and a fear of delving into challenging concepts and processes, Indigo X’s experiences give people an opportunity to be immersed in their minds in a safe, impactful and profound way. Our latest experience is Death Meditation, where people are guided through the death of someone they love and their own. Far from being morbid, these experiences have helped people to appreciate life and their loved ones more and has helped them to figure out what steps they need to take to make life more meaningful. We’ve also held a public “funeral” (Transience) at the Art Gallery of NSW where people went through a psychological process of letting go of a past relationship – it was extremely moving and cathartic.

What are three things we can do right now to achieve better mental health and balance in our lives? 

  1. Stop trying to have it all and be perfect. Choose three priorities in your life and focus on them.
  2. Don’t just focus on your own happiness, take steps to improve the lives of others. Volunteer, send a friend a lovely text message, pay it forward and do something nice for a stranger. You’ll feel amazing.
  3. Be mindful of your emotional energy. Learn how to say no to others and let go of pleasing everyone. Define what you will or won’t accept in your life and set good boundaries with others (also known as “don’t put up with other people’s shit”).

The Indigo Project has really gone from strength to strength since its beginnings. We’d love to know what’s next for you and your team? 

We’ve just finished filming our first online course, Get Your Shit Together, which we’ll be launching soon. It will contain the teachings and processes that have really helped people that I’ve worked with over the years and we’re really excited about seeing it in the world.

I’m also in the middle of writing a book that will be published by Pantera Press next year. I’ll be writing about the power of being a messy human and how we need to go into our darkness to find wisdom, meaning and insight. I’m excited that the book will contain the immersive audio experiences that we’ve created over the years so that people can go really deep and actually get the how and not just the what in regards to transformation and change.

Finally, as an organisation, we’ll be looking more deeply into the role that psychologists play in social change. We’ll be looking to collaborate with organisations that focus on indigenous and refugees’ issues and want to provide pathways for our community to get behind these causes and offer their time, energy or resources to help.

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