Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Pesky gNATs: CBT for Kids

One of the big moves in the world of mental health lately, has been the focus of improving mindfulness skills and mental health awareness in children. Schools in the UK and Ireland are now looking at reflection exercises as a way of teaching students to look after and understand their minds.

But one of the most complicated treatments for mental illness is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and it's something psychiatrists have struggled to adapt for children. CBT is a form of psychotherapy which focuses on changing your unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.

In early September I was invited out to UCD and given the opportunity to try out a kid-friendly CBT therapy tool, Pesky gNATs.

Pesky gNATs (PeskygNATs.com) is a computer game and associated app created to aid counsellors in their work with children. Designed for those aged 9+, it’s an accessible technology for young people in counselling to help them learn about CBT.

They describe their vision as this:
Pesky gNATs is a computer supported CBT intervention for young people. It combines gaming and mobile technology with the highest quality psychological content to support evidence-based interventions with young people aged 9-17.

Creator Gary O’Reilly told me it is a way of 'keeping the therapist in therapy technology' in a world that’s turning more and more to online technology to aid with mental health work.
When I started to learn CBT I was 20 years old, and the ideas and concepts behind it were unfamiliar to me. The game provides a useful addition to personal counselling for young people that is a child-friendly teaching of CBT. The aim is, that for these kids, the concepts will in ingrained at a young age and will aid the users for the rest of their lives. However, it is important to note that the game is run in conjunction with a professional counsellor who will take the child for regular one-on-one sessions that incorporate the game into the talking therapy.

With CBT, there are two main learnings;

1) Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviours go together
2) Negative Automatic Thoughts (or, gNATs) can be changed.

Teaching kids that everyone has Negative Automatic Thoughts, or gNATs, is the most fundamental concept of the game. While everyone has them, some people’s gNATs are more pronounced.

The game takes place on a fictional island where a David Attenborough type figure teaches users about gNATs, including how to hunt and trap them. It’s taking some of psychology’s most difficult concepts and simplifying them for the age group, and also for people like me who still can’t get their heads around how complex the brain really is.
 ‘Cognitive monitoring’ becomes gNAT trapping, ‘cognitive restructuring’ becomes gNAT swatting, while ‘Core Beliefs’ are discovered through hunting gNATs back to their Hives. It's all very clever!

The game teaches users to keep an explorers blog of their findings, providing them an opportunity to reflect and relate the concepts to their everyday life. There is also an opportunity to reflect with an end-of-session session rating scale.
The game also emphasises learning useful skills like relaxation breathing, and a body scan among other mindfulness techniques.

The three components of Therapy + Computer + Homework App work together to allow users to learn and then practice CBT in their day-to-day life. When a user completes their post-session homework, they are rewarded with fun games.

On top of the aid for professionals, Pesky gNATs also offers a free Mindful gNATs app that anyone can use. I've been using it ever since to work on my breathing techniques and try body scanning. Check out the 'Mindful things to do...' below:





What do you think of Pesky gNATs? Will it help young people understand the difficult concepts of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy? 

34 comments:

  1. I have no experience with mental health in children (or adults for that matter) but as an outsider Pesky gNATs looks like a great tool for helping young people understand CBT. xxx

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  2. I think gaming is a great way to learn for any of us, let's hope it reaps the results it should

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    1. Definitely agree Stephanie! What better way to engage young people?

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  3. I don't know much about CBT but this app looks like it makes it easy to understand. Fun too.

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  4. Gosh, what a wonderful and very useful App. Thanks for sharing this great and thoughtful review.

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  5. I have recently start CBT and even though I am 19 I would like to give this all a little go šŸ˜Š

    Jennie
    jenniferlanigan.blogspot.ie

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    1. Oooh do Jennie! Sure I'm 23 and I still found it useful x

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  6. This looks like a fantastic app. I don't really know anything about CBT but this app looks fab at helping. great post. x

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  7. I don't have much of an understanding to comment, but I can imagine it being useful, especially with apps being so popular xx

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    1. Definitely Catriona, I think young people are much more likely to use it. x

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  8. I think this is such a good idea, especially for children. An app is a great way for them to access the concept of cognitive behavioural therapy xxx

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  9. I think it is very important to improve mental health understanding and awareness in children. I don't really have much experience or knowledge, but the app looks great, it's a good way to appeal to young people through technology.

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  10. This is a really interesting read. informative too. I've had CBT and you are right it would be hard for young kids to grasp :)

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    1. It can be, I'm definitely still only learning about all of the concepts :)

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  11. This is a fantastic idea, early intervention is so important when it comes to Mental Health and awareness, this is brilliant.

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  12. This looks like a great idea for older children. My two year old may be starting cbt as she has some picca but it is aken so long with assessments and things to get her treatment xx

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    1. While I was reviewing it I kept my 11 year old sister in mind, and thought about whether she could understand the content and language. I do believe she can, but the 9+ age rating is very important x

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  13. I am absolutely loving this idea. I think it will really help move forward supporting children to manage and understand their mental health. What a great concept

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    1. Glad you love it Zena! Thanks for commenting x

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  14. This is a fantastic platform for children to understand mental health and we often seem to ignore children's pleas about mental health so it is great that this is encouraging them to understand mental health.

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  15. Ooooh this looks so interesting. I teach mindfulness, and am a trained counsellor ( I know a little of CBT) so I am off to have a look. Kaz x

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    1. Excellent Kaz. Would love to hear what you think when you find out more x

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  16. This feels like a really approachable method of supporting kids. They'll probably be happy to use it being an app.

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    1. I think so too Emma! Thanks for commenting. x

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  17. It looks like an awesome app for the kids but to be honest, I'm a 25-year-old woman and I would use the breathing feature for myself. I'm terrible at controlling my breathing while having anxiety attacks :(

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    1. I use the Mindfulness App - that ones not designed just for kids it's for everyone! So definitely give it a download :) x

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