Tag Archives: tracking

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“Who knew I was happy?”​

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 (or Evidence Driven Therapy- it’s hard to argue with facts.)

One of our customers didn’t know he was happy. We’ll call him Bob. We’ll also make some of the facts a bit more generic, after all we want to maintain Bob’s privacy.

Bob suffers from bi-polar disorder and has been in therapy to help him learn to deal with it. Bob’s swings from manic to depressive have had a huge impact on his life and marriage, and like many who suffer from bi-polar disorder his own impression of his well-being tends to depend on where he currently falls between manic and depressive phases. Bob also happens to be one of WeFeel’s testers and has been using it since our early releases last year.

With Bob’s and his wife’s input we’ve been able to add features to WeFeel to help him both in his personal life and with his marriage. At the end of last year we added what we call dual customizable sliders to track things like where you fall between manic and depressive phases. Instead of just a Bipolar slider it’s completely customizable so you can specify what each end of the slider means…you want to track where you are on the scale of Homer Simpson to Elon Musk, you can do that.

My favorite “Bob” story so far is when he came in during a depressive phase, just a month or two after beginning to use WeFeel. As he started to speak with his psychologist, he was surprisingly upbeat. The first thing they did was pull out WeFeel’s dashboard for a quick look at his latest trends.

“Hey Bob, there’s a lot of yellow here.” (Yellow is the color WeFeel uses for Joy)

“I know, right! Who knew I was happy?”

Bob had been going through life assuming that, in general, he was a miserable person. It’s really easy to get stuck in that mindset, especially when you are fighting something like Bipolar Disorder. But then evidence was presented to him in a way that he couldn’t deny. After all, Bob created all of the emotion entries showing he was happy. When confronted with the facts, he was able to begin to shift his world view. Turns out in general, Bob’s a pretty happy fellow.

When when we talk about Evidence Based Therapy, or Evidence Based Mental Health care we mean practices and techniques that have been proven to work via recognized scientific research. But I think we can (and should!) take things one step further. In the business world we have business intelligence tools that can aid in evidence based decision making. WeFeel is essentially an expansion of those concepts adapted to individual mental health care. Previously it has been really difficult to gather and visualize empirical evidence about what has happened with a patient in between sessions. Instead, mental health care professionals have had to rely on not only their patient’s ability to recall past events, but also their ability to convince them to share.

Just like with Bob, you only need the first 3-5 minutes of a session for WeFeel to show facts and trends from events gathered as they transpired. We know that even with something as convenient as a phone, it’s still hard to remember to journal and track things. To help build the habit of capturing data, WeFeel helps patients to remember to track their emotions, moods, and pretty much anything you can think of by providing up to 10 random reminders throughout the day, and to schedule up to 3. That’s a lot of data points.

The good news is we sum it all up for you so that you just need to spend a few moments to check out the Discussion Points and Dashboard pages to identify important issues. Finally, you use those facts in helping to provide talking points, diagnosis, and treatment during your session. WeFeel doesn’t do the diagnosing, it simply provides an easy way to gather evidence. You then use it to help drive therapy forwards- Evidence Driven Therapy. It’s just an extra tool to put in your tool belt, but if you ask Bob, it’s one that makes you happy…or rather, one that shows you the happiness you’ve always had inside.


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WeFeel: Therapist’s Toolbox vs. Therapy Substitute

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It’s hard to believe that it was almost two years ago that we came up with the idea for WeFeel. Despite there being hundreds of “mental health” apps already on the market we saw a huge hole that no one seemed to be interested in or willing to fill. Organizations have been racing to create apps that help treat specific issues, and there’s even some really cool tech out there that is trying to automatically diagnose individuals using machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze an person’s environment, and physical response.

I think those are all great things. In fact, as someone on the autism spectrum, the idea of getting help without having to actually go get help is very appealing. But as we looked at things back at the beginning of 2015, we found the same results that have been reported in articles published more recently: many, if not most mental health care apps aren’t backed by any studies or clinical evidence, and worse…many are flat out damaging to an individual’s mental health. The problem, as we saw it, was that most of the apps and services being created were designed to be a substitute for therapy,

So what did we do? We went out and talked to psychologists, psychiatrists, marriage counselors, certified therapists and anyone else willing to provide input to find out what physical tools they already used, what proven techniques existed that merely needed to be converted to a mobile format, and then we got to work. Our philosophy became how do we help therapists by augmenting what they already do, instead of how can we replace them with an app.

We were lucky enough to have found Dr. Scott Seaman, a forward thinking psychologist based out of Orem, UT who was willing to test WeFeel with his patients (with their consent of course!). We spent six months or so refining WeFeel in a clinical setting, adding tools to help a therapist treat things like depression, anxiety, and addiction, and to help with couples therapy, and autism spectrum disorder.

The more we worked together, the more flexible WeFeel became. Our initial idea of having WeFeel prompt you once or twice a day to create an entry grew into adding up to 10 random prompts and three scheduled ones. Early concepts like the ability for a couple to share their emotion entries turned into the ability for a patient to securely share their data with a care provider, who then could remotely monitor the status of their patient. A quick and simple way to enter core emotions became a fully customizable interface that could track anything from a single item to 19 separate items- the 19th was because a customer emailed us and asked for just one more custom slider to help her track an item that would help her meet her goals.

Once we had data, we found that we could do really cool stuff with it. There were the obvious things like Dashboards to help visualize and narrow down patterns and triggers, and we used a bit of if computing power to be able to find topics to discuss via word clouds and sorting through entries to find those with the deepest feelings.

But, as we got results from real world use, we found that while it was nice to have all that data, data without action is only part of the solution. We knew that a common treatment step is to give the patient a plan or “coping strategy” like counting to ten whenever you are angry, or calling a friend when you are feeling depressed. We were missing that ability to help treat symptoms, and so we took a look at how we could help a therapist work with their patient to provide customized action prompts. We wanted to create a generic toolbox for the therapist to use to treat anything. It was just a matter of converting this existing and proven technique into something a mobile device could perform.

WeFeel already knew when a person was angry, since they already created an emotion entry for it, so it was just a matter of adding the ability to provide the therapist’s directions as a reminder. The solution was to just take that existing practice and simply add Coping Strategies to our toolbox. Now, the therapist can work with their patient to devise an action or behavior and enter it into the toolbox. Then when the patient logs that they are feeling a certain way, WeFeel will automatically prompt them to follow the strategy that matched. It can even have up to 16 different strategies to match different situations.

The next thing we knew we had patients using WeFeel to help them overcome addiction by prompting them to take action at the early states of feeling a craving. In this case, we made a super-customizable tool, and Scott came up with an awesome way to use it.

It turns out, as we created WeFeel, we were giving hope to people as they worked with their therapist to come up with their own unique way to use it. We helped enhance the bond between care provider and patient, instead of isolating them from their therapist. By working in clinical setting, getting real world feedback, and most importantly listening to our customers WeFeel is now making a difference, and I think that’s pretty cool.

 


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Limp Balloons (or Erroneous, Targeted Deflation)

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Someone reading the title is expecting me to open with a deflategate joke, so let me do a little panderin’ for just one picture:

Good news is I can make a real slick segue with that picture into today’s topic: Does stress ever make you feel like a football before Tom Brady gets his hands on it?*

Yes, today we are talking about good old fashioned stress, that thing that causes heart attacks, strokes, anxiety, sleep deprivation and all kinds of other badness. And, like most of you, I don’t particularly want or need any more badness in my life, so it sounds like we all should strive for stress-free living. In fact, if I google “stress-free living” I find that there are millions of entries, some by really smart people, with advice, books, pills, and pictures of happy people in open fields spinning around with their arms held wide…the universal symbol of people without stress (or inner ear dysfunction.)

I do love me an open-field, and and while spinning around isn’t my thing, apparently I’ve stumbled upon a goal we should have. Let’s all get rid of stress!

Trying to live stress-free is stressful

Is it just me or is the idea of all the work involved with living stress-free stressful?There are soooo many steps involved. Sure decluttering my life would be good, exercise each day sounds smart, and creating lists for the tasks I need to complete would prevent worrying over forgetting things. But, if I let myself become obsessed with all of the stuff I should do to avoid stress, I’ve added a gigantic pile of things to remember to do each day. Yay, more stress.

Seems we’ve found a situation like the one I talked about in Make Happy Little Cognitive Dissonance: Believing that we should be trying to be stress-free causes stress, just like believing we should be trying to be happy all the time causes us to be less happy. We’ve got our priorities out of whack again, and I think it is because we misunderstand stress.

Stress, on its own, isn’t the evil we think it is

Did you know that the idea of emotional and mental “stress” has been around for less than 100 years? Not only that, “Stress is not a useful term for scientists because it is such a highly subjective phenomenon that it defies definition.” I find it odd, that we try to eliminate something that is so ambiguously defined that even scientists feel the term is useless. Fundamentally, stress is just pressure exerted by “stressors” on our lives. As people often tend to do, they latched on to the negative connotations of stress, ignoring the fact that it also a necessary part of life.

No Stress, Eustress, Distress:

More than 100 years ago John Dodson and Robert Yerkes came up with a law showing that up to a certain point the more stress you have the more productive you are. Now back in their days, they called it “arousal” (remember the use of the word “stress” is less than 100 years old…pay attention class!), but nowadays a curve that says “the more aroused we are” means something entirely different, so we use the current term for the mental and emotional pressure put on us- “stress”.

Because of the negative connotations around the word “stress” we had to come up with a new word for “positive stress”- Eustress, or “good stress.” And to make the distinction between good and bad stress, we call bad stress “distress.” The, artfully handcrafted by me, chart you see above gives you an idea of how this law works. Without stress of any kind in our lives we get nothing done. Though sometimes sitting around and playing videos games all day sounds good, most of us want to accomplish something with our lives. Without any factors pushing us to do so, we simply won’t get anything done.

There is a certain amount of stress (which depends completely on the task) where we are “in the zone” and feel super-productive. That’s the area of eustress, the good stress that helps us find creativity, focus our energy, and meet deadlines. Eventually, if the stress levels keep building, we become less and less productive, eventually falling into distress (where banging your head on the keyboard seems a reasonable alternative to working.)

A balloon analogy

While it may be outside pressure (stressors) that cause stress, for me, stress feels more like I’m about to burst from the inside. I’ve never felt so much stress I want to implode, I’m all about explosions.

And that leads us back to limp balloons, and targeted deflation. (Not much of a segue there was it?) Here’s why:

Life without stress is as pointless as a limp balloon.

A balloon without any air in it is living a stress free life…nothing pushing on it’s thin walls forcing it to expand. That balloon is living in the state that we have errantly set as a goal. Are we jealous of the balloon?

No, of course not! Aside from the fact that it is a balloon and jealousy of inanimate objects would be indicative of larger personal issues, if you have a balloon and you never fill it up, what is the point of having it? It isn’t serving any purpose. I can’t imagine a child’s eyes lighting up when you hand them an empty balloon, and tell them not to blow it up. You certainly aren’t going to make many balloon animals out of it. It’s just a limp ol’ piece of rubber. You’ve got to add a little pressure, but not too much.

Life with distress is as scary as an overfilled balloon in a cactus garden.

Similarly, no one wants to be handed a balloon that has so much gas in it the slightest touch will blow it up. Sure it may have accomplished the task of being a balloon, but again, you aren’t going to make any balloon animals out of it. You are going to have to handle it delicately if you want to be able to enjoy it for any amount of time. You want to see stress-levels rise- go bat an overfilled balloon around with a friend in the desert section of your local botanical garden.

Embrace eustress, avoid distress, and stop trying to live without any stress.

Stress in all its forms is something for which we should take notice. But just like with our emotions, we shouldn’t fear it. We shouldn’t avoid it. We definitely shouldn’t have stress about eliminating stress. Like most of the stuff I write about, it’s really easy to say, but not so easy to do. For me, the first step is to pause throughout the day and just try to figure out if the stress I’m feeling is eustress, or if I’ve gone over the edge into distress. Then, instead of trying to eliminate stress that is actually beneficial to me, I can simply acknowledge it and be on my merry way. When it’s too much, I don’t have to eliminate it completely, I’ve got the much smaller task of just dialing it back to more optimal levels.

So maybe Mr. Brady was on to something there: The balls clearly were in a state of distress. Had he emptied them of all the stress there’s not much to be done with a limp pigskin. Free the football from distress he cried! And then empathic ol’ Tom Brady deflated the balloons (err, footballs that is) to bring them to their optimal state of eustress. Or maybe he was just looking for an advantage in life.

The good news is, you can do the same, without the four game suspension. Instead of fearing stress, embrace it and let it help you succeed. When you do you can create things you never imagined possible.

*Does it count as a slick segue if you tell people you are about to drop a slick segue? Can we please start spelling segue segway? If we started spelling segue segway, would we all have to wear sweaters and ride around on weird two wheeled transportation devices?


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I Got to be on the Radio

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and it wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be.

There are things in life that are unknown, and because they are unknown they are scary. About a month ago I was contacted by someone I followed on twitter and was asked to be on her radio show. That was something that I’d never done before.

For a moment, when I read that my heart jumped up in my throat and I thought “Gack!” There was a little bit of fear. (and yes, I acknowledged it and recorded it in WeFeel).

However, I really believe in WeFeel and what we can offer to therapists and the general public so I wrote back and said, “Yes” because this would be a good way to get the message out there. At that point it was easy — the date was set a month away so I didn’t even really have to think about it. So I didn’t, because when I did there was that little bit of fear again. And then the day was upon me and it wasn’t so bad.

The host of Moments of Clarity, Tiffany Werhner, put me at ease and we had a great conversation about where WeFeel came from and how it can help.

If you’d like to listen to the interview, here’s the podcast:

 

or download it


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What makes us different?

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There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of apps out there that claim to make a difference in mental health. Many of them have a very different focus than WeFeel — they want to bring therapy and therapists closer to the people, or provide low-cost virtual therapy options. Some of them are trying to use various biometric data points like breathing, heart rate, and voice modulations to say how you feel. And a few of them let you track emotion in ways that might be similar to WeFeel.

So, what makes us different?

  • A core principle of WeFeel is that emotions mix and combine, and aren’t polar opposites of each other.  You don’t have to be somewhere on a scale of sad to happy.  You can be both.
  • We allow customization of what you track and when you are reminded to track those things.
  • We store data in the cloud so you can have it synced on ALL your devices.
  • WeFeel is as secure as you want to make it.
  • The dashboard provides visualization of your emotions through charts, graphs, word clouds, and more. This visualization can jumpstart therapy and make it more effective.
  • Users can opt-in to share their entries for research.

 

These differences are important to making WeFeel a solution that you can use to improve your life by increasing your emotional awareness. WeFeel isn’t a solution for all the mental health issues out there all on its own. It is a tool that you can use as an individual to better understand yourself. With better understanding you can improve your life and the lives around you. More importantly, WeFeel is a tool you can use with your therapist, whether you are in addiction recovery, individual therapy, marriage or family therapy, or in recovery from other mental health challenges. When you use WeFeel with your therapist you can make sessions more effective, and, we hope, reduce the  number of sessions needed to get to your desired outcome.

 


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