Technology, Innovation and Online Peer Support

­­­Often times when we think of the term ‘innovation’ we immediately jump to a new game-changing physical product that will drastically change the way we operate as human beings. While new products are often innovative, this mindset excludes a significant number of innovative solutions from ever being recognized by the public.

The internet is an obvious example of both the new innovative product as well as a means by which people are being innovative. In the recent past, more and more health-based products and services have begun to surface online. Some products are general, (for example stickk.com, which helps the user set goals and reach them by exploiting loss aversion. I.E. if you fail to reach your goal, you have to donate money to a cause you don’t like), while some are more specific, for example the start-up Lantern who just launched an online service that helps users achieve emotional wellbeing by combining professional coaching and daily exercises.

The internet is a great place for personal development, and it is increasingly becoming an amazing platform for peer support.

For years, the Internet has been home to support forums ranging from Yahoo Groups to various sections on Reddit (known as subreddits). These mediums have the benefits of being increasingly accessible from anywhere, having an enormous body of individuals participating in the community, not necessitating participation at any specific time or location, and being based on a website that people may be using anyway.

Despite all the benefits of text-based online support groups, the SHRC felt that real-time conversations are still extremely important, and yet, we still wanted to mitigate any barriers that people might experience, as is done with support forums. As such, we, along with another mental health organization known as Everybody Has A Brain, have developed a Google Hangouts-based (Think Skype, but BETTER!) Anxiety Workshop. The application not only allows up to ten users to video chat for free, but also carries many of the same benefits of text-based forums such as accessibility, differing perspectives from different people, and not having to travel to any physical location.

This particular group is being labeled as a workshop because there is a set start and end date, and the group is based on building healthy coping skills. Unlike more traditional peer support groups, the focus of the workshop is not only to empathize with other sufferers, but to also make a conscious and deliberate effort to share and discover possible mechanisms by which anxiety can be overcome.

We have structured the group with as little hierarchy as possible, believing that everyone has important insight to contribute. While there are group facilitators, their job consist only of three things: starting and ending the meetings, keeping time, and making sure that all members abide by the agreed upon guidelines.

Another characteristic that makes the group unique is that all content and topics have been created collectively by the group, and each week, the discussion is led by a different group member. The goal of this was to ensure that all topics were relevant to users, and to help everyone understand that they have ownership over both the workshop and their recovery.

The aspect of the workshop that I am most excited about is a shared spreadsheet that we created. In it, participants are encouraged to participate in a CBT exercise in which each member can record daily sources of anxiety, the thoughts leading up to it, evidence that supports the thoughts, evidence that goes against the thoughts, and general notes on the situation. The goal of this daily exercise is to increase the user’s awareness of what leads up to their episodes, help them understand these feelings, accept them, and ultimately conquer the feeling. The SHRC felt that the socialized aspect of this traditional CBT exercise was a good way to keep users on track, as often, when done alone, individuals tend to forget or simply neglect to do them.

The SHRC is very excited by the idea of innovation in the field of peer support, and looks forward to seeing what the future holds. If you have any ideas, examples or thoughts, please feel free to comment below, email, or tweet us!

 

 

 

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