One of the counsellors sent me an interesting link to a free study you can participate in if you struggle with anxiety – https://mindtrails.virginia.edu/
It is a type of anxiety treatment – “Interpretation Bias Training’ – that is delivered entirely online.
To see if you are eligible, complete their brief introductory questionnaire – https://mindtrails.virginia.edu/calm/public/eligibility Eligibility is based on whether you are currently experiencing symptoms of anxiety (e.g. dry mouth, breathing changes, trembling, panic, fear, awareness of heartbeat).
Although the type of treatment being trialed has been co-developed by psychologists, it is not a treatment I am particularly familiar with. So I spent a little bit of time reading about it to see if I could wrap my head around it.
What is ‘interpretation bias training”?
Interpretation bias training is a type of cognitive bias modification (CBM). If you haven’t studied psychology, that sentence is likely to mean nothing to you.
But actually, it isn’t too difficult to wrap your head around.
Certain mental health disorders like anxiety and depression involve ‘cognitive biases’ which are distortions in how a person attends to and interprets the information coming in via their senses.
People with anxiety disorders tend to be more alert to threat and interpret situations as threatening. For example they might interpret a person’s facial expression as indicating dislike/rejection, rather than confusion. Or they might interpret what someone says as an attack, rather than a friendly piece of advice.
People with depression tend to be more alert to negative stimuli and interpret situations negatively. When something happens to them they can’t see the positives and only focus on the negatives. They see the glass ‘half empty’ as opposed to ‘half full’.
These biases are thought to be both a contributing factor to the mental health problem but also sustain it over time. People with depression stay depressed because their attention is focused on negative events. People with anxiety stay anxious because they are more sensitive to information suggesting threat.
CBM seeks to modify these biases with quite simple interactive computer exercises/games that can be completed on a computer or mobile device. No therapist is required. No talking about your problems is required.
These exercises/games work by training your brain to shift its focus from attending to threatening or negative stimuli towards neutral or positive stimuli.
Should you try it?
If you struggle with anxiety, your first step is to make an appointment with your GP to discuss.
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable and I don’t think anyone should have to put up with debilitating symptoms when we know that good outcomes can be achieved with the treatments we already have.
Treatments can involve a range of things: medications, therapy, lifestyle modifications, self-care. Some of these are only available through a health professional.
Ultimately each person needs to accumulate a range of strategies that work for them.
In the process of accumulating helpful strategies, you might consider participating in the Mindtrails study.
In favour of you trying the Mindtrails study:
- It is a formal trial being conducted by a university research centre. This increases the likelihood that you are getting a well run, legitimate treatment option.
- There is some evidence that CBM can be helpful for anxiety
- Your participation will help scientists better understand anxiety and its treatment
- The demands of the trial are quite low – 5 x 15-20 minute sessions over 5 weeks and can be completed on your computer
What you should keep in mind however is that:
- If you join the trial, you aren’t guaranteed to get the treatment. You might get allocated to a control group. You don’t have control over this.
- CBM is still a very young form of treatment. There are those that think it has great promise. There are those that are concerned the benefits are overstated. The jury is still out on whether it is a valuable form of treatment. Hence why people are running trials of it.
My personal view is that participating in formal research trials is a useful way to gain skills and knowledge in a specific area but you need to be mindful that the impacts on you may be minimal.
What else could I use?
As I said before, anxiety disorders are highly treatable.
In Australia we are lucky that a range of evidence-based therapeutic programs are available online that you can try free of charge or for a very low-cost.
To find out what is available, consider grabbing our Online CBT Programs handout on our handouts page.
You could also use the Australian Government’s Head to Health page which links you to a range of online resources for anxiety – https://headtohealth.gov.au/mental-health-difficulties/mental-health-conditions/anxiety-disorders