Monday, 6 August 2007

Computer says ...?

“Computer says no.” The words immortalised by David Walliams in the comedy Little Britain came to mind as I sat in front of the monitor listening to Patricia, the friendly and sincere admin person, instruct me on how the Beat the Blues program worked.

It was one of three therapies for depression my GP had suggested on my last visit. To have a computer for a therapist was something I had to sign up for, if only out of curiosity, and to impress my friends. This was science fiction.

Patricia, putting on her most understanding expression, explained I would need to complete a questionnaire by clicking in the appropriate boxes, and the computer would assess how depressed or anxious I was each week. From this information it would produce a graph, which would monitor my mood. Her expression became more serious as she said, “There’s one thing I must warn you about. If you click the ‘yes’ box admitting that you have had suicidal thoughts within the last week, I cannot let you leave the building.”
“Right,” I said. Shocked. Thinking that I’d take great care to keep away from the yes button on that particular question. I’m not ready to be sectioned just yet. I'd miss Jon's release. Although I do understand the consequences of those feelings and the need to protect someone from themselves, if necessary.

The program explained what Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is and how depressed individuals have to change their negative, distorted thinking into realistic positive thinking. I'd been through all this with Dorothy my previous CBT counsellor. The program gave four scenarios using individual cases reconstructed from real life. I had to identify with one of them. I chose the harassed, overworked teacher, whose work stress seemed similar to mine. From a bright faced young teacher, he'd became an unshaven slop, who shunned his lesson plans, sat around drinking and verbally abusing his partner. None of the scenarios involved anything like having a son in prison.

“Please type in your first problem,” a computer generated female voice asked.
I typed: 'Anxiety about my son who is in prison 5000 miles from home.'
“I’m very sorry about that,”
the computer said sympathetically. “Please type in your second problem, if you have one.”
'Anxiety about his release from prison which still hasn't been confirmed, and worry about him coming home and his rehabilitation.'
“That’s very distressing,”
the computer said. “Please type in your third problem, if you have one.”
This is weird, I thought to myself. I wonder does she give the same response to every problem that’s typed in. The mischievous side of me wanted to type in something silly just to check, but I stopped myself, and typed in my third problem.
'Worry about returning to work and having to go through inspection. I feel very anxious at the thought of being observed again after the bad experience I had last time.'
“You really have been through it," she said.

She didn't ask for a fourth problem. Would four problems cause her to crash?

My sympathetic computer asked me to choose a task for the week. Something pleasant, which I enjoy. I chose to do my garden, which needs some re-structuring. She said she was printing off an Activity Diary for me to fill in, and all the pages we’d clicked through explaining the process and thinking behind CBT.

She sounded so kind, I wanted to thank her personally. I thanked Patricia instead. She showed me the results of the questionnaire: Computer says anxious and depressed.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

1 comment:

Zak said...

The march of the machines! HG Wells was right. They will take over the world.
Nice blog btw.

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