Mind Trails, an online service designed to alleviate anxiety, debuted last week thanks to the work of UVa Professor Bethany Teachman. The new tool is still in its early stages of development but the research team hopes it will prove its worth.
The program, which is free and open to anyone 18 or older who experiences anxiety, presents its users with situations and asks them to choose one word to responses to them. The eight twenty-minute sessions are designed to help users separate the emotions they experience in the virtual scenarios from the scenarios themselves. With this exposure, Mind Trails aims to encourage participants to think more objectively when they encounter similar situations in real life.
As users progress through the program, evaluations monitor their anxiety levels. The goal is to lower participants’ anxiety as the program continues.
UVa’s Teachman, who is also a licensed clinical psychologist, wants to help users become more flexible in a variety of anxiety-inducing scenarios. As more people log onto Mind Trails, researchers will refine and revise the online tool to make it more effective with feedback from users.
While Mind Trails sounds like a perfect solution to a widespread problem, the program’s methods have yet to be proven effective in reducing anxiety.
Fourth year Psychology and Speech Pathology double major Katherine Paltell said that she was “interested to see the results of Mind Trails.”
The teacher’s assistant for Introduction to Psychology explained how a variety of factors contribute to anxiety so it will be difficult for researchers to pinpoint the cause of a user’s increase or decrease in overall anxiety while using the program.
“Anxiety can fluctuate so rapidly that it can make for an ambiguous thing to study,” Paltell said.
Mind Trails researchers are most likely controlling for a number of variables during tests such as whether users are receiving additional therapy, are taking medication, and what types of stress their lives entail. Because anxiety is so individualized and internal, quantifying it can be challenging.
Detaching emotion from situation is a lofty ambition for Mind Trails, noted Paltell, yet it raises interesting prospects for the future of psychology in general. The fourth year however, sees potential for Mind Trails to benefit those with speech impediments who experience anxiety while talking.
Mind Trails continues to evolve with no concrete end date. Nevertheless, the program’s capacity to bring greater awareness to users about different anxiety-inducing situations is promising.