All of us at AI-Therapy wish you a very happy New Year!

Since we launched in 2012, the program has made tremendous changes to the lives of many of our users (from more than 30 countries). We always love getting feedback. Here is an email we received from one of our users in 2015 (reprinted with permission):

Dear Fjola and Ross,

Although I’ve just started the course, I feel I must write and let you know how much I’ve found it so helpful and showing an excellent and deep understanding of social anxiety. I’ve suffered for a long time. Over the last ten years I’ve had sixteen CBT sessions, a year of talk therapy and now in my second year of psychotherapy for it. In the short time of your course I’ve learnt far more from you than I have in the last ten years from any of the other therapies I’ve mentioned, let alone the number of self help books I’ve read!

I am really grateful for your expertise and wish I had come across your site much earlier. I am really enjoying your course and it is already beginning to make improvements for me. This is far more than I can say about the help I have had, which, in some cases has made me worse.

Thank you again.

It’s always a great reminder for us to get emails likes these. Let’s make 2016 the year that you tackle your social anxiety with a vengeance!

It can be very hard to understand the impact that anxiety problems have on those who suffer from them. For example, people with social anxiety are often told to simply “get over it” by the people in their lives. This attitude usually doesn’t stem from a lack of compassion, but rather a lack of understanding. In reality, you can’t “just get over” anxiety problems any more than you can “just get over” a broken leg. Effective treatments for both conditions exist, but recovery can be a lengthy and a challenging process.

I came across an excellent cartoon series where an artist illustrates the role of anxiety in her life. Click below to see the whole post:

Anxiety cartoon

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

Emma Watson did a wonderful speech for the UN recently, and if you haven’t seen it yet you should really check it out:

She launched a campaign called “HeForShe”, where men around the world are asked to join the gender equality agenda. The speech has gone viral (when I opened my Facebook this morning it seemed like half of my friends were raving about it). I came across some coverage of it with the headline “Her Voice Might Tremble, But Emma Watson’s Message Is Strong and Clear.” In my opinion, I found her voice to be very human and down to earth. I think her message was stronger because of this touch of tremble, which highlighted the fact that the speech wasn’t easy for her. Remember, this is a famous actress whose career is performing. She was nervous because nobody feels confident all of the time, and stepping outside of our comfort zone is when we grow.

This made me think of social anxiety and how we treat it. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for social anxiety challenges people by moving them out of their comfort zones. We learn the most when we “put ourselves out there”. It is about experimenting with your thoughts and behaviors, and helping you live your life without fears.

I think a lot of social anxiety behavior in women is linked to gender equality. Sometimes we fear that by speaking our mind we will be labelled as “bossy”, whereas a man in the same situation could be called a “leader”. This is something we need to move past. For women, overcoming social anxiety can have a fantastic impact on their careers and self-confidence.

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, who has trained all over the world. She 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.

The shame and embarrassment that lie at the heart of social phobia are two of the reasons why those who struggle with social anxiety never seek treatment. In fact, studies have shown that a social anxiety diagnosis is usually missed in primary care since people are reluctant to report their symptoms to their GP. Furthermore, a 2008 study found that the more severe the social anxiety, the less likely individuals are to seek treatment. Finally, studies have shown that once a diagnosis has been made, the average length of time before initiating treatment is 17 years. Think about this for a minute.

erase social anxiety

17 years. Think about all the minutes, seconds, hours and years wasted. Consider the time spent worrying about what you said, worried that someone is upset with you, not asking people to meet up, not catching up with old friends, tormenting yourself after social events about something you feel you said or did wrong. All of these are symptoms of social anxiety, and since there are effective treatments available, there is absolutely no reason to loose 17 years of your life. I urge you to take action today. Contact a qualified clinical psychologist, or try an online solution like AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety.

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

Earlier this year I presented the Overcome Social Anxiety treatment program to my colleagues in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford. One of the questions from the audience was: How do you diagnose social anxiety in order to treat individuals? My answer: I don’t.

 

In the last blog I discussed the controversy around the new DSM-5. The goal of the DSM is to define the criteria for a formal diagnosis. In other words, it helps a practitioner determine whether or not person X has condition Y. I pointed out the shortcomings of this approach. In particular, the severity of a mental disorder is best measured using a continuous scale, rather than a binary classification.

 

A DSM diagnosis is important in a situation where a patient may be prescribed medication (recall that the DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association). Most drugs have negative side effects, and they carry the risk of addiction. Therefore, taking medication for mild or moderate cases may not be a good idea. In this case, the DSM plays a vital role in determining who receives treatment. The DSM also plays a crucial role for clinical psychologists, as it guides the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

 

The situation for online self-help is different. For example, consider our Overcome Social Anxiety program. At the start of the program each user completes a series of standardized questionnaires (e.g. the “Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale” and the “Depression, Stress and Anxiety Scale”). The goal of this assessment is not a diagnosis. Rather, the goal is to determine where the user falls on the social anxiety spectrum prior to treatment. After the user completes the treatment program, they fill out the same questionnaires. The results are compared to the user’s pre-treatment results to see if their symptoms have improved.

 

We don’t require a diagnosis to use the program since people from along the whole social anxiety spectrum, from mild to severe, can benefit from treatment. The program uses online cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which is known to be helpful in a wide range of cases. CBT involves revisiting thinking styles and behaviors. Unlike drugs, there are no negative side effects of CBT. Therefore, it can help everyone make better choices in their day to day life. This typically leads to an overall improvement in happiness and confidence, regardless of a DSM diagnosis.

 

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

Internet CBT treatment for social phobia. What is it?

A man [woman] who does not think for himself [herself] does not think at all.
-Oscar Wilde

I added the brackets to remind you, my dear reader, that it is 2012.

 

Internet CBT treatment for social phobia

I have created a video to help explain Internet CBT treatment for social phobia. One goal of this treatment is finding out what type of thinking people use. The video is designed to help people become more aware of these thoughts. Thinking about thinking is the first step.



Social phobia is characterised by an inflated threat perception in social situations. Sufferers experience intense fear of negative evaluation and see amplified threats in being judged by others. This exaggerated fear response has a marked impact on their relationships with others, in both public (e.g. work) and private life (e.g relationships). Frequently people suffer from low mood and exhaustion due to the distress the problem causes. Sufferers fear, avoid, or endure with significant stress the following: conversations, meeting new people, expressing a controversial opinion or disagreement, being assertive, speaking in front of a group, being the centre of attention, eating, drinking, or making mistakes in front of others.

Our Internet CBT treatment for social phobia (http://www.AI-Therapy.com) is a professional website incorporating a computerised CBT practitioner that we have been building since 2007. CBT, or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, is a well known treatment approach supported by several hundred controlled experimental trials. Our Internet CBT treatment for social phobia offers you a fully automated computer psychologist that tailors your treatment to the specific symptoms that you report to the system. The database it uses is derived from a wealth of psychological data gathered in major anxiety and mood clinics over the past 20 years.

Your subscription lasts for 6 months, and includes the following online treatment procedures: (1) cognitive restructuring exercises; (2) mindfulness tasks; (3) exposure exercises and behavioural experiments; (4) education about the nature of anxiety and depression; (5) quizzes to test your growing understanding of your condition and its treatment; (6) emails to motivate and remind you to access the program; (7) online assessment tools to measure your improvement; and (8) voice overs by me Fjola and Ross explaining each treatment procedure covered in the program.

AI-Therapy is an Internet-based CBT treatment for social phobia comprising 7 sections. Section 1 helps the user get in the habit of becoming aware of their thoughts and behaviours. Sections 2-6 teach strategies to address unhelpful thinking and behaviours. Section 7 is focused on relapse prevention so that the user can maintain their changes in the long run.

 

Try a 10 questions free social phobia symptoms test

 

 

fdh

 

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