The recent Mental Health Inquiry identified that people want choice. It showed that people need help that is accessible. It identified the need for more talking therapies.
But as cognitive behavioural therapist Anna Elders says, getting more therapists in the right place at the right time is not straightforward.
“We can’t really get across that workforce gap – it would take years and years to train up enough people to be there to deliver talking therapies, even if we could afford to do so. So we need something to widely disseminate the really essential skills that come from that work so that people get a better understanding of the difficulties they’re having.”
That ‘something’ is Just a Thought, a free online therapy tool that gives people another avenue to address any thoughts or concerns they might have about their mental health. The tool, created by the Wise Group, was launched mid-September. Its launch was attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Just a Thought isn’t just another online wellbeing tool – its roots are firmly planted in an evidence-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) tool which is backed by over 30 clinical randomised controlled trials and ten academic studies. It currently offers tailored courses for depression and anxiety with further courses in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and other general wellbeing courses set to be available in the next two years.
The tool was inspired by an Australian online tool called This Way Up, which has been available there for ten years. But Just a Thought is built with Kiwis in mind.
“Some of the tools developed outside of New Zealand have no flavour of our culture and no understanding of our people. We wanted to improve on that and have something that has a real look and feel of New Zealand for New Zealanders.”
The tool has helpful ways of directing people to where they need to go by running people through short online assessments. These are the same sort of assessments you would do if you went to see a psychologist and were exploring what difficulties you were having and seeking treatment.
Stepping-stone or supplement to treatment
Elders emphasises that it isn’t a tool that necessarily replaces talking therapies; it can be used for people on waiting lists for face-to-face therapy, instead of face-to-face, or as an adjunct to face-to-face sessions.
“This is a tool that gives people choice about how they engage with it. They can either start doing it by themselves or they can go to their health professional and have it prescribed and have someone walking alongside them on their journey. This option allows health professionals to encourage and monitor their progress.”
By using the tool alongside therapy it allows the clinician to let the tool do the bulk of the psychological education so he or she can focus on exploring the deeper issues that you can’t do through an online therapy programme, says Elders.
“We know that it doesn’t have to be a highly qualified, time-poor health professional that provides the support. Research has proved, based on the Australian site and other computerised CBT programmes, that it can be a technician.”
Due to the fact that it can be used in the comfort of people’s homes at times that suit them, Elders expects Just a Thought is likely to appeal to those people who aren’t quite sure initially about talking to someone about their problems. It suits people who want to get some help, or people living in remote areas who might struggle to access help and support.
“It’s packaged up in a way to provide people with the information they need to understand the difficulties they’re having and work out ways to move through those and get to a better place in their lives,” says Elders.
It wasn’t too long ago – and sadly it’s still the case in some pockets of New Zealand – that talking about our mental health was considered taboo.
Elders says Just a Thought is about normalising our mental health.
“It talks to the types of difficulties that every human being experiences,” she says. “It’s really important for our society to chip away at that stigma that’s there that stops people from seeking help.”
“This is the basic information human beings need to understand themselves and how they tick so that when problems arise they can be one step ahead.”
“The good thing about an online tool is that it’s a faster, more cost-effective way for the health sector to disseminate this really crucial information out to New Zealanders.”
To view the courses and find out more visit: justathought.co.nz