Alok Kanojia, 37, is known as “Dr. K” to his fans, 370,000 of whom tune into his monetized Twitch livestream “Healthy Gamer GG” where he discusses issues like online harassment, depression and self-criticism with popular gaming guest stars. He also runs a YouTube channel with the same name that’s monetized through ads.
“I got into streaming not to be a streamer,” he said. “I wanted to meet the gaming community where they’re at.”
Kanojia and his wife, Kruti, 35, run Healthy Gamer, a company they founded in October, which pays and trains a network of video game coaches, largely through funds raised on Twitch. Kruti Kanojia is CEO.
Anyone interested in being a video game coach can sign up online, but they must go through an interview process with program administrators and recruiters to qualify for Kanojia’s training. The interviewers look for good communicators who are motivated to help others, familiar with games and willing to learn psychology.
Gamers can hire the coaches, who act similarly to life coaches, for individual or group sessions. They offer non-medical advice on issues like video game addiction, relationships and motivation.
“What our coaches help people do is build a life that they want for themselves, and how can they understand the influences of gaming on their life.” said Alok Kanojia. There is no charge for the coach training.
The company, Healthy Gamer, raised $125,000 in May from Twitch fans who donate to Kanojia’s livestreams, purchase his merchandise and pay money to subscribe. They haven’t had to raise more funds, said Kruti Kanojia. She declined to share 2020 revenue figures.
On his show, Dr. K talks to dozens of fellow Twitch streamers with large followings, including Pokimane, the biggest female Twitch streamer with over five million followers, “World of Warcraft” streamer Asmongold who talked about laziness, and Alinity, who said she has experienced significant cyberbullying.
Kanojia emphasizes that his livestreams are no substitute for therapy and that viewers who need help should seek counseling from a therapist. Rather, his aim is to spread positivity, he said.
“[I] was basically failing out from playing too many video games,” said Kanojia, who added that he had a GPA below 2.0 after his sophomore year at University of Texas, Austin.
His father suggested that he visit an ashram in India, a religious retreat, to clear his mind.
Far from the stress of school, Kanojia said he was able to receive clarity from his Indian teachers, who advised him to finish his degree rather than join the monastery, which he had been considering. He spent a month in the ashram in 2003 and returned every summer until 2010.
He graduated from UT in 2007 with a biology major, and received his medical degree at the Tufts University School of Medicine in 2014 before finishing a residency in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in 2018. He left Harvard’s McLean Hospital last year to focus on his private practice and Healthy Gamer.
Kanojia continued to game online throughout his studies, balancing his different interests with newfound skills. In his interactions with other gamers he saw that some could use counseling, too, describing traditional mental health experts as frequently unfamiliar with gaming culture.
He decided to bring these conversations to Twitch so others could benefit, taking what he learned in India, and he now includes guided meditation in his livestreams for streamers who may have trouble sleeping or staying calm.
Kanojia declined to say if he sees Twitch streamers as patients in his practice, citing doctor-patient confidentiality.
“Mental health needs to be disrupted,” said Kruti Kanojia, CEO and co-founder with her husband of Healthy Gamer.
Video game coaches trained by Alok Kanojia are paid $20 an hour to provide non-medical advice on issues like avoiding work by playing games. The company currently has eight coaches, with 22 more scheduled to complete their training by September, and a goal of 60 by year end. The pay rate rises up to $37 an hour depending on a coach’s seniority, ratings from patients and if they’ve kept up with additional training requirements.
Healthy Gamer charges gamers $40 to $50 for an individual session, and $24 to $30 for a group session. There are discounts for multiple sessions.
A typical coaching session starts by asking about a person’s challenges and goals, and what might motivate them. Some include meditation. Group coaching sessions work similarly, with the gamers supporting one another with the coach’s guidance.
At the center of gaming
“Speaking with [Kanojia] did help a lot,” Ng told CNN Business. She said she “felt a lot of closure.”
While the doctor helps streamers on his show discuss issues they are going through, he can’t help everyone. A well known Twitch streamer who regularly went on the channel to discuss depression, World of Warcraft streamer Byron “Reckful” Bernstein, died by suicide in early July.
Kanojia addressed Bernstein’s death a few days later in a somber Twitch livestream. He wanted people to “be aware that now is a really, really important time to engage in mental health treatment” because suicide can be contagious, he told CNN Business.
Streaming from his home in Houston, Texas, Kanojia said he often doesn’t know what his guests will say.
“Usually my first question to people is, what do you want to talk about today?” said Kanojia. From there, streamers branch off into their personal lives, family, upbringing, how they react to online comments and more.
Kanojia uses gaming analogies “because I think they actually fit very well,” he said. “They help our community understand complexities about themselves because they understand those complexities in the video game.”