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Beating the Blues- did I give it a fair chance?

May 17, 2009

Response to this here, a ‘review’ of Beating the Blues by Tim Lott on The Guardian webiste.

As a past user of Beating the Blues, I was quite interested to read this article. As explained in the article, Beating the Blues is a computerised CBT programme used by the NHS, amongst others, to, in my own words, give CBT to the masses cheaply and effectively so that MHW don’t actually have to get their hands dirty with CBT. Maybe that’s just my experience, but throughout my time trying it I was also being seen by a MHW and we just chatted instead of doing anything particularly constructive. It was nice to have the support, but at the same time, I don’t really feel that it was exactly the best use of NHS’ money.

So, what does he say about it?

“[The characters in the programme that you follow] were played by quite convincing actors, although their characters all seemed a bit feeble. I unkindly branded them as – to use a non-clinical term – “losers”. They couldn’t get a grip on their lives, they blamed themselves for everything, they couldn’t take on goals, and they thought they were failures. […]Andrew and his cheerless bunch of pals just seemed browned off rather than properly depressed – unhappy as opposed to “ill” “

I thought that too, they were, in my mind, rather OTT. Whereever possible I just watched one of the videos instead of all of them; they were too cringeworthy and I got quite annoyed at watching people stumble along. Maybe it had something to do with my really, really bad internet connection, so I couldn’t stream the videos and I had to watch them blob-blob-blob through the video parts whilst trying to piece together what they were saying.

I only went up to session 5 out of 8, I’d had enough by then. I felt in a way, that it wasn’t wholly relevant to me, and that the tasks were quite hard to follow. The author of this article also had the same feelings. However, he actually finished the course.

“It was the final sessions, however, that had the most resonance. I was taught about how to recognise my “attributional style”. This is how you go about putting together your world view – to put it simply, whether you are a glass half-full or glass half-empty person.”

Should I have stuck with it? I know I didn’t like it, and I found the voice patronising. That, and my dodgy internet connection made it hell. The tasks, I could see had a point, but were hard to do: each session the printer would spew off endless amounts of paper about ‘things’ and it could be a bit overwhelming; if you weren’t feeling great the last thing you would want is a load of work and a computer that will tell you off for not doing it.

The difference between mine and the author’s experiences is that I had supervision during the course of BtB. This is obviously what the MHW’s purpose was, although because I didn’t really engage I think that made his job a bit harder. The author comments:

“Obviously, being schooled by a computer has its drawbacks – you can’t ask in the course of therapeutic conversation about anything you don’t understand, and you often end up dealing with territory that isn’t relevant to you. But it is not entirely impersonal – there is telephone backup if you require it.”

I did have the opportunity to ask the MHW when I saw him, and seeing him for 8 weeks was most likely supposed to tie into doing one of those sessions a week. Maybe I didn’t give it a chance, but then I have to remember how much I hated it at the time, and how I didn’t like it. It’s probably a ‘what if’ situation- if I’d done that, then maybe I would be better? I don’t know. I still have a login, so I could go back to it if I wanted, but my old MHW would get my updates and seeing as I’ve finished seeing him, I don’t think I can. (I also have no real desire to!)

EDIT: I’ve just been onto the Beating the Blues site, it’s ¬£295 if you were to decide to complete it individually. Is that actually any cheaper than employing a therapist to do the CBT with you? I guess they get a cheaper package for ‘bulk buying’ if you see what I mean, so it probably is. I still don’t like the idea of a computer doing it, but hey ho! They’re giving it a go. As a last note, at least they’ve changed the awful colour scheme of the site, in case that made any difference to anyone!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2009 5:06 pm

    A common feature of failed treatments is that they make you, the patient, feel as if it’s you who has failed, not the treatment.

    In reality, any form of treatment has to give you enough of a good feeling about the first session that you come back for a second, and enough of a good feeling about the second that you come back for a third, and so on. If BtB failed to do that for you, then it failed you.

    One of the reasons you get a support worker along with the computer program is to stop you dropping out. In the research, the drop-out rate for the computer program alone was very high.

    You make a good point about NHS money. First the NHS paid for its own computer program to be developed in Glasgow, then it paid more money to buy the commercial BtB program, and now it pays even more money for support workers to stop people dropping out.

  2. May 17, 2009 7:14 pm

    Have you got any links to research by any chance? I’d be interested to read it.

    I think you’re right in that IT failed me, but as you say, it’s a common feature that the patient/client thinks they’ve failed, not the other way around. I suppose if it was more ‘made to measure’ then it could be more flexible, but then why not just get someone to do CBT in person with you instead?!

    In my old PCT they corall everyone into the local library one day a week and make them do it, I wonder if they have support workers, or are just told to get on with it?!

  3. May 18, 2009 12:50 am

    Thats an awfully large amount of money to spend for one person to use what is effectively computer software. Sorry for bailing out on Saturday. Hannah X

  4. May 18, 2009 11:23 am

    The NICE guidance is here:

    The guidance is based on a technology review, here (though this looks like it might be a more recent update):

    Note that Judy Proudfoot is one of the original authors of BtB, so that her team’s research findings are not independent (that is, she’s probably making money by promoting it).

  5. May 19, 2009 11:42 pm

    Hannah: don’t worry. Maybe at some point in the future it’ll work out… thinking of one to include em at some point before you go but i’m back and blah that didn’t make sense!

    CBTish: I’ve had a quick flick through, and it does seem somewhat ‘landslideish’ towards BtB. I suspect, like you say, there may be some bias, and her making money out of it!

  6. lesley percy permalink
    September 6, 2010 4:46 pm

    I have recently tried BTB and found it patronising and totally impersonal. It is basically a cheap way of providing “counselling” without having long counselling lists.

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