Create Balance is a trauma-focused practice. We sat down with one of our therapists, Dave, to discover more about his process and ways in which clients can get the best out of therapy.
It is well known that Create Balance uses EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to help clients recover from trauma. What’s your favourite thing about using EMDR with clients?
EMDR is at the forefront of modern trauma treatments available. It was originally designed for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but has been adapted for many other mental health concerns outside of a strict PTSD treatment protocol.
My favorite thing about EMDR as a therapist is having the ability to be able to shift how a client views a negative belief or the impact of a trauma memory more quickly than traditional talk therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). EMDR is unique in both its application, using bilateral stimulation, whether that be a light bar, eye movements, or other methods, as well as in its integrative approach. EMDR is constantly being evolved and it is a really exciting time for the therapy as a whole.
EMDR uses rapid eye movement (bilateral stimulation)
Why do you use Schema Therapy and how does it help your clients?
For clients who have engaged in other therapies and undergone treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Schema Therapy is often an extremely rewarding experience. In Schema Therapy, there is a great deal placed on the therapy relationship as part of the healing, rather than the main emphasis being on changing irrational beliefs or thoughts. The therapy relationship takes the form of guidance, support, boundaries and building emotional regulation; similar to building a secure attachment with a primary caregiver.
EMDR and Schema is more than "talk therapy", it gets results
This has been extremely helpful to a lot of my clients who have not had a secure attachment, or who had certain needs unmet in childhood; in addition to educating clients on seeing their presenting problems as a form of coping to an underlying schema.
The change phase in Schema Therapy combines behavioral and experiential change, including imagery rescripting, parts work and chair work, that culminates in leading to changes in clients' behaviours outside of sessions.
What is your therapy process?
My process is tailored to each client and their goals. My process involves a period of assessment, including EMDR and Schema questionnaires to help identify any significant memories or themes/beliefs that may need to be processed or addressed. After which, a formulation will be shared with the client and goals defined for therapy. The time this takes depends on the needs of the client.
How can clients get the most out of therapy?
Clients can get the most out of therapy by understanding that therapy is a journey, by having regular or semi-regular sessions if possible, while understanding that things take time. There will be ups and downs. It's a commitment. Clients will also benefit from therapy by being open to work on things, as well as to give feedback to their therapist when they're not happy with something. Clients will also get the most out of therapy by continuing the work outside of the sessions.
What do you enjoy most about being a therapist?
I don't think there is any other job like it. I feel honored to be able to help people and go on the journey with them, and to use therapies like EMDR and Schema with my clients.
By Dave Temme
Psychotherapist, Create Balance Psychotherapy and Counselling
I discovered Schema Therapy wanting to understand a recurring life pattern that was getting in the way of me reaching my goals. Schema Therapy is a personal journey and an intimate therapy, rather than one where you get short-term solutions.
Schema Therapy is a powerful and integrative therapy that draws from a range of approaches, including attachment, psychoanalysis, cognitive and emotion-focused.
A core element of Schema Therapy is building a healthy attachment and focusing on the therapy relationship. This is achieved through imagery rescripting, where childhood memories are rescripted or reprocessed by the therapist meeting the client's core emotional needs.
Since schemas and coping styles were developed early on, the coping strategy that was effective in childhood has now become maladaptive in adulthood. This maladaptive form of coping in response to schema activation often brings people to therapy.
Schema Therapy is built on the idea that we have core emotional needs in childhood that often go unmet. The more that we have these needs go unmet, the more likely it is we will develop schemas (an entrenched emotional belief) associated with that need. In response, we develop coping styles to stop the schema from becoming activated or triggered.
Schemas and their coping styles will often show up in relationships and interpersonal issues, around core themes of abandonment, subjugation, perfectionism and emotional connection.
Schema Therapy is an evidence-based treatment that is effective for personality difficulties, chronic depression, trauma-related difficulties, relationship issues, anxiety, and more.
The goal of schema therapy treatment is to strengthen the healthy adult mode and to rely less on maladaptive coping in response to schema activation and to get core emotional needs met.
I am passionate about using Schema Therapy with my clients at Create Balance as a way to create true change.
The Christmas period is often a challenging time for many people. But 2020 will be one like no other.
Due to restrictions easing and end of year festivities beginning, many of us are feeling obligated to schedule catch ups with family and friends. But after being so isolated for the majority of the year, a suddenly busy schedule of social engagements can be quite overwhelming and exhausting.
Stepping back into ‘normal life’ may even sharpen our awareness of the losses we’ve experienced throughout the year - confidence, motivation, relationships, security, finances or even the lives of loved ones. So it’s no surprise that many people will also be feeling nervous, anxious, lost or lonely.
After such a difficult year, it is important to ensure you maintain balance and don’t burn yourself out. We’ll share some ideas with you, to lighten your mental load, reduce stress and anxiety, help you ease your way back into a social life with friends and to survive the Christmas lunch with family.
We hope you have a safe and peaceful holiday period!
If we can draw at least one positive from the year of 2020, it’s that mental health is finally getting some of the understanding and recognition it deserves. It’s been somewhat easier to have open and frank conversations about how we’re going, thanks to the shared experiences of the pandemic. The stigma of mental health is slowly being broken down.
If you have a loved friend or family member who you know is not travelling so well, make sure you check in with them over the Christmas period and let them know you’re there for them. Also, if you’re considering getting them a gift, think about giving them something that will support their mental health. You may even like to consider these gifts for yourself because we all need to treat ourselves after the year we’re all had. Check out our great ideas below.
We’re a little biased but we think that a session of laser therapy is a wonderful gift for someone struggling with their mental health. We are passionate about using the innovative technology of photobiomodulation to support conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction, ADHD and more. Usually we would recommend multiple targeted sessions for the most effective support but did you know that we offer ‘systemic treatments’ which can potentially assist with relaxation after just one session? It involves placing one of our tools on your wrist for a short period of time to allow light to penetrate your body’s systems and to give you a boost of energy or to help you relax.
Journaling is a fantastic strategy to support and maintain mental health. Putting thoughts onto paper can be a great way to relieve emotional and mental burdens. Journaling can help clarify thoughts and ideas, as well as assist in the development of reflection and expression. These may be important first steps and skills for someone who is hesitant about seeking professional help. Journaling can also help identify patterns of thought and behaviour, enabling assessment of how positive or negative one’s mindset or self talk might be. Reading over past thoughts and experiences may also lead to the recognition of potential triggers. Although it is beneficial to add to the journal daily, there are no rules to journaling.
We love these handmade journals from The Boho Suitcase in Geelong. To make you feel extra good about the purchase, each product has a homegrown, recycled, repurposed element to them. Good for you, good for the world.
Self-talk is a significantly influential factor when it comes to one’s mental health. Negative self-talk can have a compounding detrimental effect, but positive self-talk can have a compounding effect of empowerment. Once someone is able to think consistently positively and is able to act as a champion for themselves, they can begin to believe and embody the positive messages they are receiving. While it can be hard to break the pattern of thinking negatively, it is possible. For assistance with shifting to a positive mindset, it can be helpful to be surrounded by positive messages to read, repeat and eventually believe.
We love these beautiful quote cards from ByTanya, a Geelong local artist. And to make the purchase even better, a percentage of her profit is donated to The Tolle Foundation which was inspired by her own experience with anxiety.
Our lives are hectic. Each day seems to get busier and busier. There are work commitments to fulfill, family relationships to nurture, a house to clean and maintain, a social life to engage in, a healthy body to preserve and if you’re lucky, personal interests to pursue. For many of us, it all gets quite stressful and overwhelming and we find that there are rarely many opportunities to stop, to be still, to be mindful and to let go. Shannon Bowman, the Director of Create Balance Psychotherapy and Counselling has had a very busy year, with the business growing rapidly, the launch of a new sister business and a toddler at home. His choice of self-care has been to book himself in for a ‘float’, allowing his body and mind to unwind in a spacious tank filled with salt water.
Shannon loves The Wellness Studio in Geelong, who state that, “Floatation decreases stress hormones, replenishes neurotransmitters, and releases endorphins. The unique environment encourages deep relaxation and provides a zen-like afterglow that can last for days.”
With so much time spent indoors this year, we’re all craving some time amongst nature. Perhaps it’s not just because it’s “anywhere but home” but it may also be because studies have shown that spending time in green spaces has a positive influence on mental health. Not only have plants been shown to boost self esteem, lower stress, improve memory and increase creativity but there have been studies that indicate beneficial outcomes for people with anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD and dementia. So why not bring more plants into our homes?
We love the amazing plants available at The Forest Collection, a local Geelong business. Our favourite plant is the Snake Plant. Not only is it super duper easy to care for but as The Forest Collection states, they “aid in cleaning the air by removing toxins and replacing oxygen! They also continue to produce loads of oxygen through the night, unlike a lot of other plants.” What a champion plant.
The sense of smell is closely linked to memory. We’ve probably all had the experience of being transported through time and space with a particular scent - maybe it was the smell of ginger biscuits taking you to your grandmother’s house or the smell of sun baked gumleaves taking you to your favourite camping spot. So why not use that ‘super power’ to regularly transport yourself to your happy place. A scented candle can be a great way of doing that. If you’re not able to find a candle with the scent of ‘sun baked gumleaves,’ consider consciously linking a chosen scent with joyful experiences. First choose a scent, such a lavender which is known to have a calming effect, and then burn the candle while you do something you enjoy, such as taking a bath or reading your favourite book. After doing this regularly, you can use the scent as a strategy to calm or lift yourself during times of stress, anxiety or depression.
We love the candles from Shirley J Collection, which are handcrafted in Armstrong Creek.
Exercise plays an important role in maintaining balanced mental health. It releases chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin that improve mood and are great for relieving stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression. But for many, the idea of ‘going for a run’ is not an appealing thought. However, it’s important to remember that there are so many different ways of being active and so many activities that won’t even feel like the slog of exercise.
We love the idea of grabbing a friend and getting over to Geelong’s The Rock Adventure Centre and Industry Boulders. Climbing and bouldering doesn’t involve continuous strenuous activity, which appeals to us. There are lots of breaks for problem solving between bursts of big effort. We also love that we can achieve a huge sense of accomplishment by climbing to the top of a wall, for example.
Many mental health conditions, such as anxiety, bi-polar, PTSD and addiction, come with persistent, chaotic and negative thinking. And it can be hard to drown out the noise. However the creativity and concentration involved in completing a craft activity can help to create a calm and focused mind. The repetitive nature of many craft activities can even feel meditative. When finished, there can be a great sense of accomplishment and a big boost to one’s self esteem.
We love Geelong’s Hooray Hoop and their beautiful embroidery. We’d love to stitch a positive affirmation or a symbol of hope onto a hoop, to always remind us of our aspirations.
Comment below if you have any other great gift ideas to support mental health!
By Shannon Bowman
Director of Create Balance Laser Therapy
My neck pain started in 2014. It began as just a little pain, every now and then. However it soon progressed to constant pain by 2015. The pain I felt started to consume my thoughts and my mood was impacted on a daily basis. Some of the symptoms I felt on a daily basis included:
With my health declining and stress levels rising due to the pain I was in, I tried many different therapies. I spent thousands of dollars in an attempt to fix my constant neck pain. Here’s is a list of what I tried:
At the end of 2016, I was feeling hopeless and in constant pain. I experienced headaches most days. I was busy studying and working, but it was becoming extremely challenging. Every chance I got I had to lie down because the pain was too much to handle. Some of my coping strategies were:
In November 2016, I began exploring another therapeutic approach; one which showed promising results in all the peer reviewed research. It was called Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) or Cold Laser Therapy. It is now known in the medical field as Photobiomodulation (PBM).
Photobiomodulation laser therapy has shown to be an effective approach to reducing pain for both acute and chronic injuries. Laser therapy is a safe, painless and non-invasive therapy and is changing the way that painful injuries are treated.
Initially I had doubts about getting results from laser therapy because I had tried so many other options and nothing had worked. I completed 12 sessions of laser and to my surprise, my pain reduced from debilitating constant pain (6-8 out of 10 pain all day, everyday) to having NO pain, with only a little flare up every now and then, which was hardly noticeable.
I’m now a huge advocate of Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), Cold Laser Therapy and Photobiomodulation (PBM). I have first hand experience of this life changing therapy and I am passionate about supporting others who also experience chronic pain. I sourced one of the best laser systems in the world for my clinic - the Physio Laser from RJ-LASER in Germany - and I am so pleased to be able to help make positive changes to the lives of my clients. Please reach out via email or call the clinic if you have any questions about how laser therapy could help you.
Shannon became a first time father to a daughter in July last year. With his 13 months of experience, he talks about fatherhood and its influence on mental health.
What were your expectations, ideas and hopes of fatherhood before the birth of your daughter?
When planning to have a family with my partner, I was worried about the thought that we wouldn’t get pregnant and that it might be a difficult journey because we needed to do IVF. However, we were really lucky to get pregnant on the first go, so that was exciting. But I know that many people try for a long time, so we felt very fortunate.
Once we were expecting a child, I was really looking forward to being a father but I was also pretty nervous. There were moments where I was wondering about how I would cope with the lack of sleep. I wondered about how I would be able to juggle everything - family, work, a social life and my hobbies.
I’m a passionate snowboarder. I always hoped that my daughter would be a snowboarder too. Now that she’s here though, I don’t even mind if she’s a skier. We had planned to go to the snow this year but obviously couldn’t, due to COVID. But maybe we’ll get to go next year and then we’ll see whether she’s a skier or a snowboarder.
Another one of my hopes for fatherhood, and probably the most important hope, was that I would be a great role model for my daughter. I did have some concerns though, that I wouldn’t have the energy to always be my best self and I worried that my fatigue might affect the way I was around her.
Were your expectations, ideas and hopes realised upon becoming a father?
The lack of sleep is a real thing and it definitely impacts your mental health. My partner recognises that I need enough sleep for work and I’m grateful that she does most of the hard-yards. But I still do struggle with getting enough rest. It is definitely one of the challenges of being a father.
One of the big things that I realised about being a new parent is that you have to look out for your partner. You have to make sure you’re there for them and have their back because teamwork is really important when raising a young child.
I have also realised the importance of making sure you tend to your relationship and repair any disagreements as quickly as possible. You need each other and the worse the stress is, the harder it’s going to be for both of you.
Now that my daughter is here, I realise how privileged we are to have been successful with IVF. Science is amazing!
I have also realised that I love something more than my dog Freddy, which I didn’t think was even possible.
Has there been a particular moment that really made you feel like a dad?
I really feel like a dad when I get home from work and my daughter is waiting for me. She gets so excited and waves to me through the window.
Other times that have made me feel like a dad have been when she comes over and sits on my lap and gets me to read her a book. Or 10 books in a row. Or sometimes even 10 of the same book in a row.
What advice would you have for other new fathers?
It’s really important to take care of your basic needs as a new dad, like trying to get enough sleep, enough exercise and to eat healthily. This will give you the energy to look after your child, your partner and yourself.
Maintaining your mental health as a new father is also so important. There are so many new challenges that you have to face and with declining mental health, it can be really really overwhelming. Getting help early is so important for new fathers (and for new mothers) because early intervention is going to help with better outcomes. When things get too hard you could consider speaking to a friend, a loved one or even a professional. I got professional help myself when I was having troubles after becoming a dad and it helped so much.
How has fatherhood impacted your mental health?
Early on, just after my daughter was born, I was having a hard time. We moved from Melbourne to Geelong. I was starting up a new business. There were so many new responsibilities as a new father. There were lots of things happening for me. So my anxiety got worse and so did my depression. I got help from a professional and now I feel so much better. Life is a lot more balanced now and I feel like I can manage all the things that are going on.
What have you done to preserve your mental health as a new parent?
Telling my partner how I feel more often has really helped preserve my mental health. I’ve made sure that I take time out when I need it. I’ve made sure to exercise regularly, even if it’s only for a few minutes each time. I’ve come to realise that small changes and habits can equal big results.
What can you tell us about postnatal depression in men?
Postnatal depression in men can be common. Men’s roles change big time after the birth of a baby and as guys, we often try to do everything for everyone and that can come at a cost.
There are many factors that may increase the likelihood for postnatal depression in men. There is the obvious sleep deprivation. They might have to work longer hours to try to provide for their family. They’re not the main focus of their partner anymore, with the little one needing most of the attention. Guys can actually grieve over the sense of the freedom that they perceive they have lost. They might find they lack meaningful social connections because family life has become the primary focus. All of these factors may contribute to a man’s altered sense of identity and his physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, which may include the experience of postnatal depression.
What are the symptoms of deteriorating mental health?
There are many symptoms of deteriorating mental health to look out for. They will be different for everyone but common symptoms include aggression, mood swings, anxiety, eating too much or too little, using drugs or alcohol to manage feelings, concentration issues, lack of motivation, isolating yourself and avoidance. As I said, this is not a comprehensive list but these are just some of the things that could stand out.
When should men seek support for their mental health concerns?
I think everybody should be regularly checking in with their mental health, whether that’s through a professional, a friend or a loved one. It’s a good practice to consistently check in with yourself and not wait until you’re in crisis. Mental health is like physical health - it needs consistent work. It’s best to be proactive and reduce the need to be reactive.
How can men seek support for mental health that is negatively impacting their lives?
Speaking to friends or family about how you’re feeling is a good first step to accessing help. There are many different services that men can access when they’re having a hard time. One service that you can access straight away is called MensLine. It’s a 24/7 helpline for men going through challenges and you’re able to remain anonymous, which may make some men feel more comfortable. Accessing a counselling service will also be beneficial. Create Balance is of course available for face to face or online appointments.
Remember that opening up to the people that you love, telling them how you’re feeling and what’s going on for you is the hardest step. But it opens the door for change and it’s so worth it when you start to feel like your old self again.
You can schedule an appointment with Shannon by calling 0434 415 575.
The staff at Create Balance aren’t personally very active on social media these days. So when one of our employees shared a brain teaser, she didn’t expect many, if any comments. However, over 80 guesses soon flooded in from over 40 acquaintances. Many of these guesses came from people she hadn’t even spoken to in years. So why was there so much interest?
Perhaps it’s all the spare time that people have on their hands due to the current lockdowns in Melbourne, Geelong and regional Victoria. Or maybe people are starved of connection and interaction. More likely, it’s a welcome distraction from the stress and anxiety that many are feeling in their current circumstances. Perhaps it has given people a brief opportunity to achieve a small goal, when so many things are out of our control at the moment. And achieving goals releases dopamine, making us feel a little bit happier.
So is distraction a healthy habit during a crisis? Finding ways to keep your mind off your concerns can give your mind and body a break. It gives you the time and space to recharge, giving you the energy required to deal with the stress, anxiety or grief you’re experiencing. Avoid distracting yourself with alcohol and drugs, as they have the potential to increase issues of anxiety, panic, depressive symptoms or other mental health concerns. Instead, consider activities that have end-goals and encourage targeted focus, such as exercise, home improvement projects, arts and craft or brain teasers. Oh, and how could we forget sourdough baking!
However, it is important to remember that distraction is not healthy for long periods of time. It is important that you don’t entirely ignore or discount your feelings. Without recognising and sitting with your emotions, you are not giving yourself the opportunity to process your thoughts and eventually move beyond the negative feelings you’re experiencing. To help process your thoughts and feelings, it can be beneficial to express yourself, by talking with a friend, a professional or even journaling.
So, try to find a balance between distraction and despair and allow yourself to move between these two states fluidly as required.
To help you with distraction, we’ve designed our own little brain teaser which you are welcome to share around. Be warned, the devil is in the detail. Let us know your guesses and if you ask very nicely, we might even be able to send you a clue. Good luck!
Okay, first things first, folks. These practices are not meant to be any sort of substitute for the ongoing habits that help us ease our anxiety. And by that I refer to perennially unglamorous business of eating well, staying off the booze, going for a run now and then and sleeping long before Stephen Colbert launches into his opening monologue.
As profoundly unrock n roll as it may seem, these are the core practices that'll help us neutralise anxiety.
But for those moments when we find ourselves escalating, here's some simple and easy to access techniques that we can turn to when we want to ride through the fear.
In terms of great things that India has bequeathed to the world, yoga ranks only marginally behind the invention of the decimal point, arguably on par with Palak Paneer and doubtlessly ahead of the game of chess.
Among other things, it’s a brilliant way to lower your anxiety. But if it's not the right moment to break into a downward dog – and for some of us those moments seem to be lamentably rare - you could go a long way just by doing a bit of yogic breathing.
Why breathing exercises can help
When we are experiencing anxiety, it is because the central nervous system (CNS) has become overactive. This is the body's way of preparing us for an emergency, but unfortunately sometimes the body get its timing very wrong.
Breathing exercises activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is our body's system for calming and relaxing us and countering the CNS. But remember to breathe through the nose; because breathing through the mouth tells the body we might be in danger.
Pranayama is a body of breathing techniques that have been practiced by yogis for millenia. They are a great tool to use because they can provide rapid and effective relief from anxiety. But be careful, trying the more complex pranayama practices can be potentially dangerous when it's unsupervised by a teacher.
Stick to the three basic practices as demonstrated in this excellent Youtube tutorial;
Bumble bee breath – Block your ears and hum like a bee, and feel your head clear of all the other noise.
Alternate Nostril Breathing – A simple process of blocking one nostril and breathing through the other that seems to clear the head and calm the nerves.
Ujjayia Breath – Basically a seated Darth Vader impersonation. Sadly bereft of any lightsaber fighting.
Access video here
Basic Drawing or Colouring in
The value of turning to illustration during a bout of anxiety is that it takes your mind off the feeling of dread and attacking thoughts and allows your CNS to calm itself down.
You don't have to recreate the Mona Lisa. Which is probably for the best, because in your author's admittedly underqualified opinion, it was a pretty wonky drawing in the first place.
Instead, here's some basic drawing exercises that'll help you compose yourself.
Drawing lines across a page
Colouring in a mandala drawing
Taking anxiety out of your body by drawing what it looks like, and putting it on a page
Watch Comedy (or get someone to tickle you)
Some important things you ought to know about laughter:
Laughter is one of our body's natural antidotes to stress and anxiety. The simple act of laughing can reduce the stress hormones at work in your body, such as adrenaline, epinephrine and cortisol.
Not only that, it also triggers the release of those sweet endorphins that create a sense of wellbeing, contentedness and euphoria.
Furthermore, the increased oxygen we get from laughing can also lead to muscle relaxation for up to 45 minutes.
So in those moments when all you can feel is that unnameable sense of everything about to go wrong, the best mate you have might be a phone or tablet to fire up some Youtube.
Let a ten minute clip of Sarah Silverman, Bill Bailey, Amy Schumer or Chris Rock cracking wise help you ride through it all.
Or even better, get your partner to tickle you. What better way to trigger a good laugh than some intra-relationship horsing around?
Grounding is the act of calming yourself by focussing on individual senses to bring you back to the present moment. It is a particularly effective tool to have at your disposal, because by its very nature, anxiety stems from dread about events that may happen in the future.
Some useful grounding techniques:
Eating an ice cube – Focus intensely on the taste and feel of ice on your tongue to bring you safely back to the present moment
Modelling something with playdough – Similarly, you can ground yourself by playfully engaging your sense of touch.
Rub lavender oil under your nose – Not only does it ground you using your sense of smell, the anti-anxiety effects of lavender is now a fact accepted by doctors and scientists, and not just your kooky aunt who likes to wear the colourful pashminas.
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique- A trusty old all-senses grounding technique, where you anchor yourself in your environment and identify five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. A particularly handy piece to add to your grounding toolkit because it’s something you can do anywhere, in any moment, using all your senses.
The Butterfly Hug
The Butterfly Hug was first used by EMDR psychologists in Mexico in the late 90s to help hurricane survivors process the trauma of their experiences. It is now used by EMDR practitioners all over the world to help trauma survivors access painful memories.
However, leaving aside its uses for Bi-lateral Stimulation, it also serves as a very useful grounding tool.
Find a comfortable sitting position and touch your upper chest or shoulders with your hands crossed over each other.
Then touch your body by alternating your hands, imitating the wings of a butterfly
Observe what is going through your mind – the thoughts, feelings and sensations -without judgment or resistance
This video below provides an excellent demonstration
Access video here
For many more techniques like these ones, check out these two threads on the Beyond Blue forum where anxiety sufferers share strategies that they've used successfully in their own lived experience.
Link forum threads
Beyond Blue forum link 1
Beyond Blue forum link 2
Guest blog by- Aritro Abedin
BA Arts, Mcoun, GradCert AOD
Contactable via- Aritroa@gmail.com
Part Two: Some Personal Tips and Recommendations for Mental Health Apps
Now that we’ve covered the practical considerations of choosing an app in part one, part two will look at a few different apps that are available, how they work and what we recommend.
The most commonly available features in mental health apps are mood tracking and symptom monitoring, which can be a logical starting point if you’ve noticed your moods have changed but aren’t sure why. Keeping a log can help you to identify if there is something specific that might be triggering low moods or increased anxiety and may even be useful to share with a healthcare provider, including your general practitioner.
If you have a diagnosed mental health condition like bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety, or even if this is all new to you, apps that monitor moods and symptoms can also act as an early warning system to give you time to put some support systems in place including seeking professional help, reaching out to trusted family and friends and putting a suicide prevention plan in place if needed. You are often the best judge of your own needs but we highly recommend you find an app that can provide real time professional support, will encourage you to seek further help if you are experiencing emotional distress and provide some tools to manage your symptoms, not just symptom tracking alone.
If you suffer from anxiety, whether diagnosed or not, apps that offer Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), can be incredibly effective, especially when combined with professional counselling or internet-based programmes like Mood Gym, mentioned previously in the earlier Living with Anxiety post. CBT can help to re-train your brain and challenge recurring unhelpful thoughts so having this support wherever you go with an app is fantastic. ReachOut’s WorryTime is a free app uses the principles of CBT to help stop anxiety by providing a place for you to ‘file away’ your worries throughout the day until your pre-determined allocated ‘worry time’ each day, allowing you to get on with your life.
Relationship Break Ups
Maybe you wouldn’t usually identify as someone with a mental health concern but you’ve just been through a messy or difficult breakup and need some extra backup – There’s an app for that too. Breakup Shakeup is a free app developed by the Queensland University of Technology and available on the Apple App Store. While it may be a little simplistic for some, it offers suggestions and prompts for distractions and activities that can settle your emotional equilibrium and get you back on track.
Depression, Stress and Anxiety
Mood Mission is another evidenced based, free app for both Apple and Android that was developed by researchers from Monash University, University of Melbourne and the University of Canberra through crowd funding. Mood Mission can be used to track how you are feeling and then give you personalised recommendations to help improve your mood. It helps you to regain control of your feelings and thoughts so you can manage everyday stress and anxiety and improve your mental coping skills over time. The developers are working on new functionality that will allow you to share information with your healthcare provider so keep an eye out for that feature.
If you’ve heard of mindfulness but aren’t sure where to start, Smiling Mind is a tool that was developed by psychologists to help both children and adults to learn and practice mindfulness to help achieve calm, balance and mental wellbeing. Mindfulness is not as easy as it sounds and may not be suitable if you are experiencing a flare-up of a serious mental health condition but this app is free and only takes 10 minutes a day. Mindfulness is a useful tool to have at the ready to maintain mental wellbeing and prevent recurring problems.
It’s important to recognize that apps are most effective for mild to moderate symptoms and if your mental health condition or symptoms are severe, you will need to seek professional support as well – This is not optional! Like we mentioned in the last post, you need to be aware of some of the disadvantages of apps as well as the benefits, including the potential for over analysis and self-diagnosis and delays in seeking treatment medical or psychological treatment from a mental health practitioner, like a counsellor or psychologist.
Finally, if you’ve been using apps and they just aren’t cutting it (or even if you haven’t tried one yet) but you are struggling and feel like you are slipping beyond recovery, don’t wait and put off getting help. Taking the first step to approach a mental health practitioner is hard and can be daunting, especially if you’ve never seen one before or it’s been a while. Getting help is not a failure, it’s about taking back control of your mind and body and learning how to keep that control in good and bad times. You can contact us here or use the Lifeline Service Finder to locate someone in your local area who can help or find immediate support in a crisis.
Part One: What to Look for in Good (and Bad) Mental Health Apps
You aren’t alone if you’ve ever turned to the online world for support with mental health concerns, for yourself or someone you care about. If you have, chances are you’ve encountered the ever-growing array of apps that claim to do everything from teaching meditation, mindfulness and mood tracking to curing mental illness and hypnosis. Apps can be an invaluable resource to improve and support mental wellbeing and prevent more serious mental health flare-ups, but not all mental health apps are created equal and deliver what they claim. In fact, some can do more harm than good.
So how can you tell the good apps from the bad?
There are a few things to consider from both a practical and personal perspective to help you navigate and spot the good apps from the not-so-good. Because there is so much to think about, we’ve split this into two parts. In part one, we’ll focus on the practical aspects of picking an app for mental health concerns like anxiety, depression and supporting mental wellbeing. In part two, we’ll run through some of the other important aspects like the different features available and some recommendations of evidence-based apps from reliable and respected organisations.
While most apps are available for both Apple iOS through the App Store and Android from Google Play, it’s worthwhile thinking about the device you are going to use the most to access the app. It’s hard to go past the convenience and omnipresence of your smart phone but it’s a good idea to make sure whatever devices you use are secured with a pin and not accessed by others (if you don’t want them to). Data security is also really important and you are generally in with a better chance of maintaining privacy and anonymity if you choose an app from a reputable organization, like a well-known university or health care provider. The other benefit of using an app from a university or healthcare provider is that it’s more likely to be evidence-based (and less likely to waste your time or cause you harm). ReachOut has a list of evidence-based mental health apps aimed at young people (under 25) and students but it’s worth a look for people of any age, especially if you are a parent and exam time is looming for your child. Before downloading an app, check to see whether it requires an internet connection and how much data it’s likely to use. If it doesn’t use data, it may be more difficult to access real time help and support if you need it.
Whether you need to pay for an app is not necessarily an indication of quality or safety. In the end, it comes down to the features and tools that you need and the level of support that fits your situation. Apps that target more than one type of mental health concern are useful, as we know that many mental health challenges like anxiety and depression often occur together and the last thing you need is multiple apps to use and keep track of. MoodKit has been highly-rated and offers a one-stop-shop for mood and thought tracking, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and journaling although it does come at a small cost.
Avoid apps that make outlandish claims, like being able to cure mental illness. Apps that only offer mood and symptom tracking without providing assistance or strategies for symptom management should also be used with caution and generally only to complement care provided by a mental health practitioner, like a counsellor, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.
Some pitfalls of using apps for mental health to be aware of include the dreaded and crippling over-analysis, the dangers of self-diagnosis and the potential to delay seeking professional help.
With that said, free mental health apps are a really good place to start to explore what’s out there and work out the kinds of features you want without making a financial commitment. If you need immediate crisis intervention, you can contact Lifeline here.