You may have noticed that things have been a little quiet on this site lately. That’s because we’ve been very busy collaborating with the University of British Columbia running a Randomized Control Trial. Our work has just been published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research (Impact factor 5.1). It is open access, so you can check it out here:

This is a pretty big deal since the trial shows that AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety has approximately triple the mean effect size of 6 stand-alone, internet-based CBT treatments for anxiety and depression (Cohen d=0.24) found in a meta-analysis!

Another amazing was that comparing AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety to 19 therapist assisted computerized intervention, was that AI-Therapy showed comparable results. In other words, even though therapist support appears to contribute substantially to the effectiveness of computer-delivered CBT for anxiety, our findings indicated that Overcome Social Anxiety is comparably effective to therapist-assisted interventions when delivered as a stand-alone treatment.

We have known for a long time that AI-Therapy is highly effective, since the program administers pre-post data for its users. But this trial adds to its credibility, since independent researchers at the University of British Columbia tested the program in a randomized control trial. We have lots more in the works for 2018, so please keep an eye on the site! Also visit our Publication page for more information!

 

fdh2Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD is AI-Therapy’s director and co-creator of AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety. Twitter: @drfjola. Dr. Helgadottir has worked as a clinical psychologist in Sydney, Australia, Oxford, England and Vancouver, Canada. She will be opening up a new service in Iceland in 2018.

Last week was an interesting one, to say the least. It seems like there was non-stop stories about the havoc in the White House. One story didn’t get as much attention as the others (for obvious reasons), but it caught my eye because it made me think about cognitive behavior theory (CBT). I’m talking about Trump’s theory that the body works like a battery. He believes that people have a fixed amount of energy for their whole life, so we should avoid exercise and not overexert ourselves. To back up his theory, he points to all of his friends who exercise and need to get hip replacements and other medical procedures. Trump believes this theory, and he “feels” it is correct. Therefore, he decides to not exercise himself.

What does this have to do with CBT?

Post-event rumination is a central feature of social anxiety. This means that after a social event someone with social anxiety analyzes the interactions in detail to try figure out if they have done or said anything wrong. The problem with this approach is confirmation bias. If we try to uncover evidence for our “social errors” we will find it. This is not because something bad happened. Often we “feel” like we have said or done something that has upset someone. However, just because we feel or BELIEVE we have done this, it isn’t necessarily true. We are looking for supporting evidence after the fact, just like Trump and his exercise theory.

Evidence, evidence, evidence

What can we do to help make better decisions in life? One of the key ideas behind CBT is to become an evidence based thinker. For the exercise theory, a single google search would find scientific articles contradicting the theory. We don’t need to understand the importance of peer reviewed science to understand the many compelling arguments for cardio exercise, such as longevity, mental health etc. In some situations like this we need to trust our gut instincts less, and our brains more.

The same idea applies to looking at post-event rumination. Rumination can become a habit. One may believe it is a useful strategy to make sure they didn’t “slip up” in a given situation. However, this is not productive, and we need to work out a way to limit the time spent ruminating after social situations. We have to understand that most of the time we simply have no idea what another person is thinking. In other words, when we feel they are thinking poorly of us, this is usually without any direct evidence.  It is just a product of our own minds, and is best ignored, just like Trumps theory on exercise!

 

fdh2Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD is a registered psychologist at the Vancouver CBT Centre, who has previously worked in Australia and at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. She is AI-Therapy’s director and co-creator of AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety. Twitter: @drfjola

The Journal of Abnormal Psychology has just published an interesting study that addresses this very question. The researchers asked people with social anxiety to rate themselves at how good they think they are at being friends. Not surprisingly, most people with social anxiety didn’t rate themselves very highly. However, the study went further and asked people from their social circle to rate the subject’s “performance” as a friend. The result confirmed what psychologist have suspected for a long time: the friends liked them a lot more than those with social anxiety believed.

Woman Looking At Self Reflection In Mirror
People with social anxiety often have a negatively distorted self-image.

Psychologists know that the way people with social anxiety see themselves does not always reflect reality. In particular, they see themselves through the eyes of others in a highly negative way. This is a complex phenomena, but for many learning to correct these biases can lead to a major improvement of life.

This phenomenon is addressed in Part 6 our Overcome Social Anxiety program. Since a distorted self-image is the creation of the mind, it can be modified and replaced with a more positive and accurate representation. This is an important step towards curing social phobia!

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, who has worked in Australia and at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. She is AI-Therapy’s director and co-creator of AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety program and the creator of Overcome Fertility Stress. Twitter: @drfjola

Stop mental health stigma, and start seeking help
Stop mental health stigma, and start seeking help

A recent study has shown that living with an untreated mental illness lowers life expectancy. Therefore, not only do suffers get less enjoyment from their day to day life, but their lives are shorter. Why is it that people continue to suffer in silence?

Perhaps the main reason that people do not seek treatment is the stigma surrounding mental health. Sadly, this is widespread in today’s society, and there are several reasons for it. For example, we’ve all seen movies where someone commits a horrific crime, and the text at the end tells us that the person is now seeking therapy. This creates an association between anti-social behavior and therapy. This is outrageous, as the vast majority of people who seek therapy are normal, kind and caring people. Some people are genetically predisposed to having mental health problems, while others struggle with negative life experiences. In both cases, seeking help can be a life changing experience, and in neither case should it be something to be ashamed of.

I think it is time to start thinking about mental health problems in the same way as medical problems. If you had a friend or family member who was physically unwell, telling them that “you need help” would be kind and supportive advice. Why doesn’t the same hold for encouraging someone to see a psychologist?

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of AI-Therapy.com, an online CBT treatment program for overcoming social anxiety

A lot has been written about the use of smartphones in social situations – it is the pet peeve of many. People often find it irritating to have a conversation (or eat a meal, watch a film, etc.) with someone who is constantly tapping away at their phone. In this blog I will look at the issue from a slightly different perspective. For those with social anxiety, smartphone use may actually be maintaining their problem.

AI therapy Woman With Smart PhoneA safety behavior is an action taken to manage one’s anxiety by exerting (perceived) control over a social situation. It is a behavior or action that is taken in order to prevent the core fear – being negatively judged by other people. Checking your smartphone is a perfect example that seems to be becoming increasingly common. People may do it to avoid something they fear: uncomfortable conversations, meeting new people, awkward silences, etc. In many cases they are worried that they won’t be able to “perform” in the social situation. In other cases, they may want to look important by being online and connected 24/7.

The problem with safety behaviors is that they tend to make the problem worse. On one hand, since it is an avoidance behavior, anxiety is maintained since it is never challenged. Sometimes uncomfortable conversations turn into interesting ones, sometimes awkward silences are followed by deep and meaningful comments, and sometimes when you meet new people you find a friend for life. Being on a smartphone can take away these opportunities. Also, if the social situation goes well despite being on a smartphone, one might wrongly attribute the positive outcome to the smartphone!

To illustrate another point, consider the following scenario:

Alice goes to a party where she doesn’t know many people. She is very anxious, and is worried that the other people at the party will not like her. She spends a lot of time sending text messages, as she hopes this will demonstrate that she is a social person with a wide group of friends.  The other people at the party make no effort to engage with Alice, as it looks to them like she has no interest in being there.

As you can see, the safety behavior (checking the phone) is the very reason why people are judging Alice negatively.

I should note that not all smartphone use in social situations is a safety behavior, as it depends on the reason why people are using their phone. There are many other reasons why someone may use their phone, such as bad habit or addiction (I will save that for another blog).

Our social anxiety treatment program can help you identify and challenge maladaptive safety behaviors. I encourage you to think about your actions, and try turning your smartphone off next time you are at a party. Not only are you less likely to be perceived as uninterested in the social situation, I guarantee you will have a richer experience, and you are a lot more likely to make a good impression on other people!

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of AI-Therapy.com, an online CBT treatment program for overcoming social anxiety

It seems like every time I open Facebook or LinkedIn I see some tips from celebrities or entrepreneurs how to be more confident or successful. In reality, a little talent, a lot of hard work, and some lucky breaks are the key ingredients to success. Yet, successful people have a tendency to attribute their trajectories to a handful of tricks people “must do” in order to succeed. Unfortunately, these tips aren’t always as helpful as they seem. In fact, they can even lead to safety behaviorsIf social anxiety is a problem for you, it is important to learn about the role of safety behaviors, and see if you are using them to “play it safe” socially.

This blog post is the first in a series where I will give some common tips, and explain why they are actually counterproductive.

Tip 1. Pretend to be interested in other people

The self-improvement writer Dale Carnegie recommends that people pretend to be interested in what others are saying during conversation. While this may sound reasonable when we are trying to impress someone, it can actually backfire. First, the other person might sense a lack of genuine interest in the topic, and find it uncomfortable that the listener is pretending to be interested. Second, if the social interaction results in a positive response, the pretender is likely to attribute the success to their pretense of being interested, not that they were liked for who they are. Third, this sort of behavior can maintain unhelpful thoughts people have about themselves, such as “I’m so plain and boring”. Every social interaction is an opportunity for people to disconfirm these types of unhelpful thoughts. However, every time safety behaviors are used, an opportunity is missed.

Tip 2. Read over your emails at least 5 times

Many of us overemphasize the importance of wording in our emails. Whilst this may seem reasonable, it simply isn’t always helpful. In fact, some of the most successful people I have corresponded with send me emails full of spelling mistakes (probably due to auto spelling) and no formal structure. Life is too short to read emails more than a couple of times. Try sending emails without proofing them: it’s difficult at first, but then it becomes liberating. It becomes easier to respond from your phone or tablet, and can save you from thinking about the emails when you are doing something else!

smart_phone_message_10549

In other news, I just had a peer reviewed paper on safety behaviors accepted in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research. Once it is in press, I will blog about this as well!

 

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, MClinPsych, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of AI-Therapy.com, an online CBT treatment program for overcoming social anxiety

This week is the UK’s National Infertility Awareness Week. It is being organized by the Infertility Network UK, and runs from October 28-November 3. I’m very glad to see that awareness is growing for a problem that is rarely talked about publicly, but touches so many lives.

We are lucky to live in a time when medical advances are being made every day. Medication, operations, and IVF have enabled countless people to conceive who would not have had the opportunity just a decade ago. However, these options are not available to everyone, and the outcomes are not always successful. Being diagnosed with infertility problems typically comes with significant emotional and financial costs.

I am particularly interested in the stress, depression and anxiety that can result from fertility issues (please see my survey). A few weeks ago I discussed this topic in an interview with an Icelandic newspaper. I feel we need to be more sensitive when talking to people about their family planning. For example, the question “when are you going to have children?” is often inappropriate. It’s usually asked by well-meaning friends or family who have a genuine curiosity. However, if you take a moment to consider the reasons why someone does not have a child, you will see the list of possibilities is pretty short. It may be a decision of a personal nature, it may be due to relationship problems, or perhaps there are medical complications. In any of these cases, it’s not a good conversation to have over Thanksgiving dinner. In general, people will bring it up when and if they want to talk about it.

I encourage everyone to check out the National Infertility Awareness Week page, become involved, and think about how you approach these issues.