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.

Being in front of people makes you anxious. Sometimes so much so that you can’t speak your mind in social situations, and sometimes skip out on activities altogether. But that’s not the only way social anxiety is holding you back.

1. It’s Preventing You from Connecting with Others

When all you can think about is how fast your heart is beating, or how much you might look like an idiot if you say the wrong thing, it’s hard to focus on what’s going on during social interactions. Social anxiety makes it nearly impossible to reach out to others or interact with them in a meaningful way, for fear of making yourself look bad. After a while, you might begin to feel lonely because you aren’t able to interact with people without severe anxiety symptoms.

 

2. It’s Causing you Unnecessary Stress

Worrying about all of the things you might do wrong, or something you said years ago will cause a lot of stress to build up in your body. Most of the things you worry about when you have social anxiety are things other people don’t remember, or don’t think are a big deal.

 

3. It Can Cause Health Issues

All of that build up stress can start to take a toll on your body. If you’re stressed out enough, it can cause you to experience physical health issues that you have to address. Some of these problems include heart disease, headaches, gastrointestinal disease, and faster aging.

 

4. It’s Actively Stopping you From Living Your Life

How many times have you stayed home from a party or an event because you were too worried about what people would think of you? One of the most common regrets people experience in life is not going out and experiencing more when they were younger. You too might start to regret the things you don’t do after a while. 

 

5. It’s Making you Worry about How You’re Being Perceived in Social Situations

While there are some people who might think you’re a little odd, most of the time people don’t remember you outside of their interactions with you. Most people are so focused on themselves that they won’t notice, or won’t care, if you say something weird, or don’t respond in a certain way.

 

6. It’s Telling you Things That Aren’t True

When your anxiety gets really bad, it can start to tell you what other people think about you. “That person thinks you’re annoying” or “this person thinks you’re stupid”. There’s no way to tell what other people think, and in most cases, it’s hard to make someone think poorly of you.

 

7. It’s Stopping You From Pursuing Amazing Opportunities

Have you gone to an interview for your dream job, only to never hear back from the potential employer? Maybe you haven’t experienced exactly this situation, but there’s probably one thing or another that you’ve missed out on because your social anxiety prevented you from interacting in the best way possible.

 

8. It’s Pushing Your Friends Away From You

Good friends will try to be understanding of what you’re going through. But when you keep canceling on outings, or constantly tell your friends that you can’t make it, they start to think you don’t like them, or that you’re never going to show up. Many of them are busy, and don’t have the time to keep trying to get you to come along. And after a while, they might stop reaching out to you.

 

Social anxiety doesn’t have to hold you back in so many areas of your life. With AI Therapy’s program “Overcome Social Anxiety”, you can take advantage of years of research through lessons created to help you get control of your fears. Implementing some of these techniques will help you to get your life back, and start connecting with people in a meaningful and lasting way.

ubcWe are very pleased to announce our latest collaboration, which is with Dr. Frances Chen and Dr. Chris Richardson of the University of British Columbia (UBC). We will be evaluating AI-Therapy’s cognitive behavior program within the university’s undergraduate student population.

3 years ago I wrote about blog titled: “Is diagnosis necessary for online treatment?“. My answer was no. I believe that anyone can benefit from CBT strategies, whether or not they have an official diagnosis. CBT helps people make better choices in their day to day lives, often leading to an overall improvement in happiness and confidence.

The UBC trial will provide the online social anxiety program to people who have elevated scores on social anxiety, not necessarily a social anxiety diagnosis. We are excited to see the outcome of this research.


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

Can sauerkraut cure social anxiety? Yesterday an article was published in the Huffington Post with the title “Sauerkraut Could Be The Secret To Curing Social Anxiety“. The timing of this article is interesting, as only a few weeks ago John Bohannon conducted a fantastic experiment that demonstrates why you should be skeptical of health new stories. I highly recommend you read the full article. In brief, he conducted a bogus study that appears to demonstrate that eating chocolate helps people lose weight (wouldn’t that be great!?). Pretty soon his results were being reported by media outlets around the world. This exposed several weak links in the way scientific studies are conducted and distributed:

  • Statistics: There are many ways that statistics can lead a scientific study astray. One of the most common is a process known as data dredging, which involves testing a large number of hypotheses until one is found that appears to be statistically significant. However, effects found in this manner are usually due to random chance. Data dredging is often done unconsciously by scientists who are under pressure to publish results.
  • Effect size: Even when an effect is real, it is important to know how strong the effect is. In some cases it will be so weak that its impact is negligible.
  • Peer review: Peer review is one of the strongest tools we have to prevent the publication of poor quality work. However, even this system is flawed. As John Bohannon discovered in another expose, there are many so-called “academic journals” that claim to conduct peer review but will actually publish anything if a fee is paid.
  • Lack of fact checking: Often a journalist will lift a story directly from a press release without doing any background research about the publication or its authors.
  • Stories that sell: In order to increase sales, stories are usually given a “spin” to make them more exciting. This often involves catchy, but misleading, headlines, or twisting and oversimplifying the results.

All of these factors contribute to the poor state of health science reporting. It is not uncommon to see completely contradicty stories that are published within weeks of each other.

med_news

When you see a headline like “Sauerkraut Could Be The Secret To Curing Social Anxiety” you should resist the temptation to run to your local German deli and stock up on fermented cabbage. Rather, you should base your decisions on research that has stood the test of time, with multiple independent studies showing the same outcome. If you are serious about tackling social anxiety you should use a technique like cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which has been demonstrated to be effective in hundreds of studies.

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 author of Flourish: Living happily while trying to conceive. Twitter: @drfjola

For my PhD I created an online social anxiety treatment for people who stutter or stammer. The results were fantastic. In fact, they were so good that Ross Menzies and I wanted to make the tool available for everyone with social anxiety, and that’s how AI-Therapy was born.

AI-Therapy now has hundreds of users from all over the world, and our results (technically known as the program’s “effect size“) have been just as strong as the original PhD version. Actually, they are even more promising as they are now based on a larger population of users.

Statistics aside, it’s also important to hear people’s stories. Unfortunately, the nature of social anxiety makes it difficult for those who suffer to speak openly about the problems. Therefore, I was extremely excited to (quite randomly) come across the following article:

How cognitive behaviour therapy helped me

It was written by a user of my PhD program, and talks about the impact CBT has had on his life. I found it humbling that the program I created made such a difference to someone who has lived with social anxiety for over 70 years.

Here are a few quotes:

The programme was one of the great events of my life. It acknowledged that people who stammer often have undesirable thoughts and beliefs and I was shown how to change these. The results were immediate. The major item I picked up from the programme was the dropping of safety behaviours.

Shortly after the course finished I attended a dinner with 25 people. Normally this would involve the minimum of social conversation from me. On this occasion I made use of the techniques I had picked up and talked just about non-stop and on several occasions I was told to stop talking and eat as everyone was waiting for me to finish my meal so they could have the next course served.

Each conversation that I approach I now face with determination and courage. No longer do I stand back and rehearse what I am going to say before saying it. I have become very outspoken and have no problem at all in speaking up at meetings to add to the discussion. People I have met since completing the CBT programme have no idea that I stammer and when I tell them they are amazed by my story of how CBT changed my life.

I highly recommend you read his whole story. As I mentioned, AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety program has been enhanced to be suitable for anyone with social anxiety. I hope it continues to change lives.

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

2014-07-24 12.44.50I’ve just come back from the British Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) conference, which was held in Birmingham last week. The conference was excellent. One of my favorite talks was by my colleague Dr Clare Mein of Oxford University. She was presenting her PhD from the University of Western Australia, where she also trained as a clinical psychologist.

Dr Mein demonstrated in series of experiments how social anxiety can affect social situations. In particular, she found that people with social anxiety interact differently during conversations. For example, think about the last time you got lost in a conversation with someone who you are not anxious around (best friend, partner, etc). You got lost in the moment, and the conversation went smoothly. However, it’s very different when you feel socially anxious, isn’t it? When we are anxious there are many thoughts going through our head unrelated to the conversation itself. These are often related to impression management. Here is an example:

clareMein

 

The research showed that these thoughts are one reason why people with social anxiety don’t get “lost in the moment”. Unfortunately, it also showed that the conversational partner typically notices this, making the overall experience worse for both people.

Dr Mein conducted an experiment with people who have low scores on social anxiety measures.  She asked these participants to count the number of words starting with the letter ‘T’ while having a conversation. The results showed that the when the participants were distracted by the counting they weren’t fully engaged in the conversation. Furthermore, the conversation partners felt less connected. In the same way, people with social anxiety are often focused on something else (i.e. how they present themselves), having a negative impact on the conversation.

People with social anxiety often have a collection of impression management strategies that they’ve acquired over the years. One goal of treatment, such a with a therapist or an online programs like AI-Therapy, is to identify and let go of these behaviors. This frees you to focus on the conversation. The good news is that if you successfully overcome social anxiety you’ll be able to enjoy high quality social interactions with everyone, not just your friends and family.

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, a developer of online CBT treatment programs.

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