September 24, 2013

Finding Peace of Mind

Website offers tools for individuals with PTSD to help improve their lives

Downloaded thousands of times, the award-winning PTSD Coach mobile app has been successfully reaching trauma survivors in 74 countries around the world with tools for living with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When its creator, the National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD) at the Department of Veterans Affairs, decided to expand the reach of the mobile app’s tools by turning it into a website, they turned to EDC.

EDC drew on its expertise in instructional design and e-learning to create the new PTSD Coach Online, which offers information and activities not found in the app and greater flexibility in how visitors engage with the content.

“There are things you can do online that you can’t do with a mobile app,” says EDC's Athi Myint-U.

The website takes a proactive approach to help trauma survivors with PTSD work through their experiences. It features 17 tools for managing a range of symptoms, including anxiety, anger, hopelessness, sleep problems, and trauma reminders, as well as tools for addressing behaviors such avoiding stressful situations and disconnecting from people and reality.

Neither the app nor the website is intended to take the place of in-person mental health care. But both may be used in tandem with doctor and counselor visits, as patients work on their problems independently. The tools are also designed to educate people who think they may suffer from PTSD. The website recommends that visitors seek medical attention if their PTSD symptoms are not relieved by the exercises.

Changing thoughts and behaviors

While both the mobile app and the website offer self-help tools for managing PTSD symptoms on the spot, the website includes additional tools and exercises to promote healthy ways of thinking and behaving. For example, someone suffering from anxiety can use the app to practice a relaxation breathing technique or visualize a pleasant scene, but on the website he or she can go further by reflecting on what causes the anxiety and learning how to decrease it.

“Some of the tools help people better understand how their thoughts are related to their feelings, and, for example, how changing negative thoughts may in turn benefit their feelings and behaviors,” says Myint-U. “Another tool helps people work on thinking about their values and what’s important to them so they can set goals for themselves.”

The website was designed with an intuitive user interface and dynamic activities to bring the content to life. Each exercise is introduced with a short video featuring a psychologist or coach, who offers tips on how to benefit from the activity. Some tools have animation to introduce users to the subject matter and to illustrate abstract concepts, such as negative thought patterns.

While PTSD Coach Online is geared toward trauma survivors and their loved ones, the tools are designed to help anyone who may be coping with these symptoms, notes Myint-U. She hopes the PTSD Coach Online website will help as many people as the mobile app has.

“We hope people who use the site find it to be user friendly and inviting,” she says, “one that will help them manage their symptoms in the moment as well as develop skills to use in the future.”