Making Contact Inside the Computer

Posted by: Sherry Law on June 29, 2016 11:49 am

Over the last 2 years as I have delved deeper into virtual reality (VR) I have learned things I never expected to experience. The fact that VR is programmable means that the experience is solely dependent on ones imagination (and perhaps a little aptitude for software development). VR transports you immediately into a new reality and this holds many implications. The truth is that the physical body, or meat space, does not go anywhere. It is the mind or the psyche that is convincingly transported and the focus of my exploration. This is the true potential for the impact of VR.

I recently received a consumer version VR device. This device not only allows you to glimpse into another world, but also provides you the ability to manipulate the world around you with your hands. In addition, the technology provides the freedom of movement throughout a play area where you can walk around, sit, dance, pivot, the full range of bodily motions as long as it is within the bounds of a play area. This transforms ones understanding of the lived experiences almost 100% from the meat space into a digital realm. When you can train your aim inside an archery simulation and the fidelity nearly reflects reality, it is a strange experience indeed. I have never done archery myself, but being able to have some measure of behavioural mimicry to archery was not only a fun experience, but immersive and tiring! Having to duck and dodge enemy fire, destroying enemies with accurate aim, and spinning around at a second’s notice to ensure no one was attacking you from behind was thrilling. To imagine that this is the new world of the gamer, no longer bound to a computer chair, but sweating instead in a dimly lit room, practicing proper aim that can maybe be carrieblogphotosherryd into the real world. On the score board, your abilities are compared against the best in the world and usernames compete in a never ending battle to the top rank.

I also experienced an amazing level of intimacy in VR. Coming headset to headset with other people around the world, playing games and chatting with them through mics was absolutely astounding. I could see their heads move about as they thought about the ideas I shared with them. People witnessed my hands held on my hips as I wait for them to take the next shot at pool. We giggled together as we threw chairs all around a digital bar and made a mess with beer bottles and books. I high fived someone from Germany, we chatted about what a strange experience VR was, we looked at each other’s computer screens to check time zone differences between me and someone from Illinois, and goofed around with the interface as we learned and tinkered with our new toys. I was approached by a Frenchman from Austria that even wanted to show me around the digital space while I practiced my French. We spent time with phantom others in our minds, while our bodies remained alone and without company, yet I felt connected online for the very first time. I have made several friends already from around the world.

Does the mind care that you are not physically next to a person? No. I can say for myself that my mind was thoroughly convinced that I was properly socializing with others beside me, sharing and laughing together in a room. Meeting with strangers was no more jarring than in person, and in earnest, less so because all my fears of judgment vanished with the replacement of my body as an avatar. However, my expression, who “I” was did not vanish, and was perhaps enhanced by the removal of my distracting physical self.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Wildflowers Mindfulness

Posted by: Dawn Schell on May 9, 2016 10:28 am

Need another app to help you meditate?

No?

Well you might want to reconsider when you see the new Wildflowers Mindfulness app from Mobio Interactive.[1]  This beautifully designed new app was released on May 2, 2016 and is free for the first month.

The aim of Wildflowers Mindfulness is to assist individuals with developing a mindfulness practice.  Research has shown that practicing mindfulness can improve both physical and mental health.  It takes practice to really become comfortable with it and make it work for you.   Given how busy our lives can be it isn’t always easy to make the time to practice.   It’s like lots of things that we know are good for us and that we “should” do.  Sometimes a little help is needed!  That’s where an app like Wildflowers can come in handy.

There are interactive lessons on mindfulness, a library of meditations, and a journal to track your progress.   The creators of this app have also designed a feature that makes meditation suggestions based on your mood.  The page lists a number of different feelings and you can pick the one that is the closest fit and the app will suggest a variety of meditations for you to try.

One of the really fun features is you can use the camera on your mobile device to calculate your heart rate.  That’s right.  I said, the camera!    You can use this feature to calculate your heart rate both before and after a meditation and see how well you were able to relax.

Give it a try today and as the creators say, “Make friends with your mind”.

***

Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc.  http://www.therapyonline.ca

[1] http://www.wildflowersmindfulness.com/#home




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

The New “Mood Rings”

Posted by: Dawn Schell on March 4, 2016 2:09 pm

WearabletechRemember Mood rings in the 70s? Okay, maybe you don’t. It was a long time ago after all. The idea behind a mood ring was that the “gem” would change colour depending on your mood. The change in colour was actually dependent on temperature. For those of us with cold hands our mood ring always indicated we were “anxious or stressed”.   Suffice it to say they were kinda fun for a while but didn’t really indicate how we were feeling.

While the mood ring fad faded decades ago the idea of being able to detect our emotions using biometric data hasn’t changed. There are numerous devices on the market today that say they can detect your emotional state through your breathing, heart rate, etc. and the aim of all of these devices is to help you be less stressed.

Here’s a few:

Spire[1] is a beautifully designed tracking device that is meant to be unobtrusive. The purpose? As their website says, “by monitoring your breathing, Spire figures out when you’re calm, focused, or tense, and provides you with guidance and exercises when it matters most”.   Linked with your mobile devices when Spire senses tension it sends reminders to breathe and calm oneself.

Being[2] is a watch-like device that “maps your moods, activities and sleep”. The creators say Being “provides health and stress insights for more mindful living” and also teaches ways to “transform bad stress into good stress”.

What’s missing for me is the contextual information about physical symptoms. What’s going on when one’s breathing or heart rate is increasing or temperature is dropping? What am I thinking or doing? Who am I with? Where am I?

This next device, Feel[3] is not yet available. The designers call it “the first wristband that recognizes and tracks human emotions throughout the day”. Feel is linked to your mobile phone where it sends the biometric information. What’s different here is Feel tracks your activities, who you meet and environmental conditions.   Feel also says they offer a “range of recommendations” to improve your emotional wellbeing – both short and long term.

Finally, let me introduce the new mood ring- Moodmetric[4]. Moodmetric is called “smart jewelry for emotional wellbeing”. It’s way more attractive than the old mood rings. The designers state, “the Moodmetric ring measures the autonomous nervous system signals that can be used to understand emotional reactions and improve quality of life.” Like the other devices there are options within the associate app for calming one’s mind and interacting with and learning from one’s patterns of emotional levels.

Do I really need wearable technology to tell me how I am feeling or to serve as a reminder to pause, breathe, relax? Well, no. However, I can see how useful these devices could be to help people pay more attention to physical signs of stress and to learn ways to reduce tension in the moment. I would hope that it would also help people learn to spot those signs of rising tension earlier and empower them to pay attention to their bodies, minds and emotions without the aid of a device.

As I consider all of these devices I must admit I am equal parts curious and skeptical. Which means I will be paying close attention to the research and reviews.

Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate counsellor with Worldwide Therapy Online http://www.therapyonline.ca

[1] https://www.spire.io/

[2] https://www.zensorium.com/being#introduction

[3] http://www.myfeel.co/

[4] http://www.moodmetric.com/




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Making Team Work Easier – Virtual Meetings

Posted by: Dawn Schell on January 29, 2016 2:08 pm

Please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers what a big deal it was in the 90s to host a virtual meeting. I can remember a provincial meeting that was scheduled months in advance, a room full of thick wires and cables and much crossing of fingers hoping the technology would work and we would be able to see and hear each other.   I also remember feeling very excited about how this technology could change our ability to work with each other over distances.   The expense though was prohibitive. Though we could meet and collaborate virtually we didn’t often get to do so.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago. There was one virtual meeting platform I piloted for use with groups that regularly crashed. There were other problems too. We would be able to see some of the participants but not others. We could hear some people and not others. The longer we were online the more the difficulties piled up. Fussing with the technological issues took way too much of our time together.   We rapidly gave up on that system and decided the timing wasn’t right yet for online group meetings.  The concept was there but the technology did not yet meet our needs.

More recently, I have been experimenting with two different systems for virtual meetings.MeetingTech

Wiggio.com is a free online toolkit designed to “make it easy to work in groups”. The Desire2Learn company created this website based on their own frustrations with working in groups.

In Wiggio you can host virtual meetings conference calls, upload files, create polls and to-do lists as well as send email, text and voice messages to your group. It’s straight-forward and doesn’t require you to be super tech-savvy.   The company reports that over 150,000 groups are using their website. Businesses, sports teams, event planners, and non-profits are examples of groups that have made great use of this site.

Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system yet. There are still some technical issues that arise.   However Wiggio has a lot going for it in terms of virtual meeting space.

VSee.com is another virtual group meeting option I have been exploring. VSee, the world’s largest telemedicine platform, ” was created by a team of Stanford University human computer interaction scientists and network experts in order to overcome the limitations of traditional videoconference tools”. They wanted to create a platform that would “work over any network, and require minimal training”. The applications that it is being used for in terms of telemedicine are amazing.

In terms of my own use I stick to the basic free option for secure video chat.   Though it’s not relevant in the context I am using VSee for at the moment it is worth noting that VSee is HIPAA compliant. [1] You can check out more about their data privacy here – https://vsee.com/hipaa

Once again when we have been meeting in VSee there have been technical issues at times and so one group has chosen to use the back up of a teleconference at the same time as being able to see each other via this website.

Of course these days there are multiple options for hosting meetings. They certainly are easier to use than they used to be and less expensive too!   What I appreciate most about these is the opportunity to connect and collaborate with colleagues from across Canada.

Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca

[1] HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a US law that provides privacy standards for health information and records.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Welcoming the New Year

Posted by: Dawn Schell on January 13, 2016 12:18 pm

It’s a new year and that often means people are making resolutions, setting goals and planning ahead.   Each time the calendar rolls around to January ‘hope springs eternal’ as Alexander Pope said. We want to get focused and clear. We want to make changes in our lives. We want to dream new dreams.    How long those resolutions, goals and plans last is another issue altogether!

In the spirit of hope I would like to share some fabulous online tools that one can use to reflect on the year that was and plan for the year to come.

One tool I have used for a number of years is choosing a ‘Word-of-the-Year’. It’s not a resolution or a goal – more of an intention for the year or a way to explore the year ahead or a guide for the year ahead.   If you haven’t yet tried this approach you can find numerous examples in the ‘blog-o-sphere’, Facebook groups or on Pinterest. Just search for “word of the year” and you will find amazingly creative ideas for showcasing one’s word of the year as well as reflections on what the word means to individuals.

There are a myriad of methods to finding and using a word for the year.

Christine Kane, a business coach, offers a Word-of-the-Year discovery tool for free. There is an introduction to the idea, an idea generator and worksheet to guide you through the process of choosing a word for the year and, of course, an action planner. Cause it’s more useful when you identify steps you can take!

Sometimes it’s harder to choose a word than others.   But each time I have chosen one I have found it to be both personally and professionally useful. As Ms. Kane says, “Your word is meant to teach you about you.” The tool is easy to use. The clients I have recommended it to find it to be helpful as they begin a new year. Just FYI – you do have to enter your email address to get this tool.

http://christinekane.com/wordoftheyear

On a similar note Susannah Conway, author/photographer/teacher, offers a helpful free resource titled “Unravelling the Year Ahead 2016”. Her Unravelling e-workbook has thought-provoking questions about the year that was and provides reflecting exercises for the year ahead. Having used this workbook with individual and group clients the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.

http://www.susannahconway.com/2015/12/were-coming-for-you-2016/

Finally, there is Leonie Dawson’s ‘Guide to creating your shining year’. Leonie Dawson is an entrepreneur and coach based in Australia. She guides you through a series of questions and reflections on the previous year and her creative questions about the coming year allow you to explore a number of different areas of life and set goals for each of these areas (e.g. physical, spiritual, financial).   For a small cost you can download her e-workbooks or order hard copies.

http://leoniedawson.com/

As with many goals/resolutions/intentions the keys to actually doing what one says one is going to do are:

  • Be accountable to someone – share your goals, hopes, dreams, intentions
  • Take small steps
  • Regularly review your progress
  • Celebrate your successes
  • Be gentle, kind and compassionate with yourself
  • 2016 – ready or not – here we come!

2016Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate counsellor with Worldwide Therapy Online Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Teaching a black dog to do new tricks – Digital Dog

Posted by: Dawn Schell on December 8, 2015 2:38 pm

IphoneAs the field of e-Mental Health continues to evolve it’s critical that we do research to keep expanding our understanding of how, why and for whom it works.  Fortunately, there is a great deal of excellent research being done all over the world.
More recently I came across these researchers based in Australia.   Launched in March 2015, Digital Dog is a “research group…working to use technology to solve mental health problems”. You can find a linke here – http://digitaldog.org.au. Digital Dog is a branch of world leader in mood disorders Black Dog Institute’s research programming. Check them out here http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au

Their definition of eMental Health (eMH)? eMH “refers to services that target common mental health problems and are delivered through online and mobile interactive websites, apps, sensor-based monitoring devices and computers as well as telephone and online crisis support lines.”   Sounds comprehensive to me.

So what kind of research are they doing?

  1. Building and testing online interventions to lower depression, lower suicide risk and promote wellbeing (websites or apps)
  1. Establishing the validity of social media as an indicator of mental health risk
  1. Using the technology built into Mobile phones to measure mental health and social connectivity
  1. Harnessing technology to deliver preventative mental health programming in schools (games, apps, websites, and much more)
  1. Publishing papers to promote the usefulness and cost-effectiveness of e-health technologies

Whether it’s a positive psychology app based on values (SPARK) or determining whether people or computers can reliably detect suicidally “concerning” tweets or testing the effectiveness of web based self help programs the aim is to deliver evidence-based treatment.

And that means better resources for practitioners and clients.

You can’t go wrong with that.

Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate counsellor with Worldwide Therapy Online Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Counselling in Private Practice and Using Social Media

Posted by: Shelley Skelton on November 3, 2015 12:17 pm

socialmediablogpostAre you thinking about opening a private practice sometime down the road? Are you wondering about what you can be doing in advance? If so, I have a great suggestion for you. Let me back up and tell you about how I arrived at this great idea.

I had a timeline to open my private practice and there were many things that I put on hold until everything was in place, such as designing a website and getting business cards. Those two choices served me well, but I missed out on some preparatory work that would have sped up my process. Once I had everything in place and opened my practice, I began catching on to ways in which I can bring more people to my website. Now let me say that many of you may already know about what I am talking about, but for those of you like me who are not as online savvy, this information may sound new.

One way to draw people to your website is by having a strong online presence in social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. On Twitter, you can build a following of people by posting ideas, reposting other people’s tweets, and responding to others’ ideas. This following can become very useful for two reasons. The first is that from time to time, you can post about a blog that you have written on your website and you can direct people to read more. The second reason is that the more you connect your website to other links online, the more people visit your site and then your ranking in a search engine will increase. By that I mean when people search for counselling in your city, your website is closer to the top of the list. This is referred to as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and this takes TIME.

No doubt you see where I am going with this … before you even get your private practice opened, if you invest some time in building your online presence in social media, you will be better equipped to direct people to your website when you are open for business.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

TruReach Health App Revisited

Posted by: Dawn Schell on October 19, 2015 2:56 pm

 

A short while ago I reviewed a new app – TruReach Health (you can check out my initial review here – https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/hot-off-the-app-press-trureach-health/ ).   Shortly after my review went live I was contacted by the developer, Jeff Perron, thanking me for my review and offering to chat with me about my concerns.

Impressive!

App developers of the world, listen up! This is how you do it. Being responsive to feedback is crucial to the ongoing success of any app and especially one that’s about improving our mental health.

My concerns were:

  • The positioning of the privacy policy after one had given contact information
  • This issue is being resolved on both the Android and iPhone versions. The link to the privacy policy will now be on the download page. Which means you can read it before you download.
  • Report progress email was pre-filled in with the TruReach email address
  • This issue is being resolved on both the Android and iPhone versions. The email address section will now be blank offering the user the opportunity to make a clear decision about who they send their progress report to.
  • Lack of contact information on the accompanying website

As I suspected, this is a cost issue. The decision was made to concentrate more on the development of the app. As TruReach has more financial resources they will build out the website more fully.   Given the other issues have been addressed I see this as less of an issue.

In addition to the app there is now this short video from TruReach explaining what it’s all about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCSOhnWSe0w

TruReach is being piloted through the Royal in Ottawa. The Royal has an app titled “Health Minds” which I have reviewed previously. Dr. Simon Hatcher, a psychiatrist who has been involved with providing clinical input into an e-Therapy website in New Zealand for people experiencing depression, will be involved in testing TruReach with two different patient populations.   I look forward to hearing the results.

Jeff said his aim is to “get help to as many people as possible”.

So, if like me, you feel that these fixes to the app will address any concerns you have then please do encourage people to use it. If you have any lingering questions don’t hesitate to ask. You can reach Jeff at [email protected].

 

Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Empathy Through Virtual Reality

Posted by: Sherry Law on September 22, 2015 12:51 pm

http://i.ytimg.com/vi/BJW7A6KfHd0/maxresdefault.jpg

As a virtual reality (VR) enthusiast, I have seen first hand demonstrations which encourage empathy. Computer graphics is sophisticated enough where facial expressions of avatars are believable, and if you pay attention to video games which focus on story/narrative, then you can see that context of avatars can be deep, meaningful, and nuanced, reflecting real people and real situations. These characters and their stories can be powerful enough to elicit deep emotions, not unlike how poetry or song can. However, because VR includes visual, audio, and contextual stimulus, the emotions rely less on interpretation, and instead are directly administered through the story telling and the expressiveness of the characters and environment which surround the observer.

Empathy, the ability to understand or share the feelings of others, is a powerful tool that all therapists employ. As a skill, it serves to help therapists navigate through the challenges that a client may be facing. Empathy is critical in client care for its ability to create a therapeutic alliance bound by understanding. Not only can empathy directly impact the therapeutic relationship, it can impact a therapist’s practice by reducing bias, prejudice, and conflict within the therapist from which they can develop and improve their practice. Due to the importance of this skill, developing empathy is a significant focus for many health professionals. Traditional ways of developing therapeutic skills include workshops, conferences, lectures, reading, and field experience. Although these methods have been invaluable and cannot be replaced, what VR could offer in the future is a streamlined, safe, and efficient way to learn and practice therapeutic skills, but also to tinker with our social interactions in a digital vacuum.

Once computer graphics, story-telling, and VR merge, you can have in the palm of your hands a powerful experience that is convincing on a human level. Imagine the avatars reacting to your movements, and paying attention to your actions and reactions to them. Imagine the avatars being able to express without even speaking, simply by using their facial expressions. Imagine having text boxes popping up to explain the reaction of the avatar and why they may have occurred, and more importantly, what you have done to contribute to such a response. What VR can provide is the isolation of these human expressions and an interactive environment from which to build empathy and tinker with social behaviour in a safe and insulated way.

As a practicing counsellor, I can see immense benefits in being able to interact with an avatar to test therapeutic methods. Given some context, how will the avatar react if I did this, said that, or looked away? Of course, the reactions of the avatar rely solely on the ability of the programmer to predict how a human would respond. Once health professionals become part of the development for these programs and experiences, much more can be expected of them.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Presence

Posted by: Sherry Law on August 25, 2015 5:00 am

DSC_80601

In one of my previous posts I mentioned a phenomenon called presence, which is a potent experience capable of convincing a person that they occupy a place which they do not exist physically. This experience is difficult to describe but is the quintessential point I, and other researchers in the field of virtual reality, believe the technological and the therapeutic intersect. This post will attempt to explain how presence is achieved and how it can be therapeutic.

Presence, in terms of artistic experience, is also called immersion, explained by philosopher, Samuel Coleridge, as a “suspension of disbelief”. This experience can occur in any medium, such as a good book, or a tv show. If you can imagine a quiet evening with a book where an exciting story can make you forget that you have been turning the page for hours. This is an example of immersion. You feel as though you are a visitor to the story, or a witness to the events unfolding in your minds eye. What virtual reality (VR) accomplishes is immersion but replacing the minds eye with direct visual input. Continue reading




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA