Tag Archives: Online

Writing to the Information Standard for Mind and the British Lung Foundation

screenshot-2016-11-23-19-14-26If the events of 2016 have told us anything, it’s that people can write any old rubbish and post it online as fact. And people will believe them. Especially if those people are vulnerable or anxious.

And no one is more vulnerable or anxious than when it comes to researching health concerns. The internet is our first port of call for any worry – but news articles can leave us feeling confused and worried about what research shows and evidence recommends. I wrote about this in relation to antidepressants in pregnancy here.

Hundreds of other articles identify our most vulnerable moments and use them to drive traffic to their advert loaded pages.  If you’re struggling to conceive it’s hard to avoid clicking on an article entitled ‘Trying to get pregnant – 10 proven sperm killers!’

On the same search results page I found ‘10 things to do if you want to conceive’ and ’10 myths about trying to conceive’. They were basically the same and no one was any the wiser.

Reliable, balanced, current and evidence based information

The Information Standards recommended search hierarchy.

The Information Standard’s recommended search hierarchy.

It’s really important that people have access to reliable, balanced, current and evidence-based health information. Which is where the Information Standard comes in. Any organisation achieving the Information Standard has undergone a rigorous assessment to check that their information production process generates high quality, evidence-based, balanced, user-led, clear and accurate quality information.
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Community moderation training for OCDAction

Last week I ran a session on community moderation for OCDAction.OCD action

Unlike my session for Leeds Mind (which was for community managers and focused on developing a moderation strategy) this session was for moderators themselves.

OCDAction have an established community but they want to expand their moderator team and make sure their current moderation practices are as effective as possible. They planned to use this session to help their first group of volunteers get started. Learning would also feed into new guidelines and support for future moderators.

Moderator skills

We started with an overview of the strengths and limitations of online support and the nature of community moderation. We spent the majority of the session identifying and exploring the main skills that moderators might need and practising applying them to example cases. We looked at:

  • emotional support and empathy
  • good comprehension and listening  through language
  • communicating effectively through the written word
  • resolving conflict
  • understanding and respecting boundaries
  • courage and assertiveness
  • a good knowledge of OCD and a genuine desire to help

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An introduction to community moderation

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Every community I’ve worked on has been set up slightly differently

This week I travelled up to Leeds to run a workshop I called ‘An introduction to moderating online communities’.

It was attended by three groups associated with Leeds Mind. All of them were thinking about online peer support. Some had a platform built and in testing. Others were still figuring out what, if anything, they wanted to offer. The session was designed to give a basic overview of those important questions and decisions that anyone setting up an online peer support community should consider. We also explored the benefits and risks of some of the options available and started to think about the needs of specific communities.

“It was a very thorough, well-paced and thoughtfully structured workshop. A great introduction to the topic providing plenty of points to consider”                                               Zoe Ward, Senior Commuications Officer, NHS Leeds South and East CCG

I started the presentation by posing a list of key questions which we considered throughout the session. I thought I’d pose them here too.

What is the problem? Why? What is your experience?

These are questions you should be asking people from the very beginning. Without it you risk making expensive mistakes and creating products people don’t want or need. Talk to people. Test your assumptions. Don’t just ask what people want. Ask why they want it and then consider different options for solving that problem. Create something small and test it out. Keep on asking, reviewing and making changes – what people say and what they do in practice can be quite different.

co design

 

What is community moderation?

Next we went back to basics and defined our terms. Moderation, safeguarding, peer support, engagement – these can sometimes mean different things to different people. We can’t make useful decisions until we’re all talking about the same thing.

What kind of moderation do we want?

In defining community moderation we came up with a number of different types (including pre and post moderation) and a number of different roles that a moderator could have (including ‘policing’, providing support and facilitating peer support). We discussed what these might look like in practice.
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Setting up a new community – defining roles in moderation and peer support.

Consultancy for The Katie Piper Foundation

Katie Piper FoundationIn September I was contacted by Kerry from The Katy Piper Foundation. The Foundation supports people living with burns and scars. Kerry was looking for more information on managing online forums. She was particularly interested in moderation strategies and procedures for managing safeguarding and escalation.

We had an initial chat on the phone where we explored different ways an online peer support community could be moderated and managed.

Almost every community I have been involved with has slightly different definitions  for members and moderators so it felt important to start by clarifying these roles.

Building on existing knowledge

Charities like YouthNet (who were pioneers of online peer support) and Mind (whose Elefriends community grew quickly and organically from a Facebook group) saw their moderation strategy and structure grow and develop with the needs of the community. They were often exploring new ground and didn’t always have examples of how a particular approach had worked in the past. You can see this learning in practice in a post about training community members from 2012.

Now online peer support is offered by many charities. It is easier for those looking to establish a new service to understand and clearly define these roles early on. But it’s always important to make sure that there is room for consultation, change and development as the needs of the community become clearer. The most successful communities are co-designed and developed with community members wherever possible.

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Overcoming barriers to accessing therapy – a post for the RSCPP

RSCPP connects people with local registered therapists. It also contains articles and resources RSCPP logoabout issues you might face and the types of therapy available.

Of course, these are private therapists. And therapy isn’t cheap (although if you get the right help, it can be immensely valuable). Much of the work I have done in the past is with people who could not afford to pay for a therapist or who do not want to risk spending their precious spare cash on something they consider unpredictable and unknown. It can be a huge step to speak to an NHS therapist, let alone one for whom you have to pay.

RSCPP recently asked me to write a blog based on an interview with two of their therapists. With this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to focus on the barriers people face when accessing therapy and how RSCPP therapists suggest they may be overcome.

 “I’m not the sort of person who gets therapy, I should be able to cope on my own!”

I spoke to Dawn Davies and Sarah Lack, both registered therapists on the RSCPP site. Both of them felt that one of the biggest barriers to accessing therapy is the way we judge ourselves. Dawn suggested that there is still some stigma attached to having counselling and sometimes people feel that they are not the ‘type of person’ who would need counselling or that they ‘should’ be able to cope without help. Depression and low self esteem can make us judge ourselves harshly or lead us to feel hopeless about the possibility of anything helping.

Sarah says that often a recommendation from a GP can help people feel more justified in seeking help. In my experience, many people find it helpful to talk to others about their experiences first – perhaps in an online community such as Elefriends or TheSite.org. This can help normalise the need for support and see how it has helped others. Opening up in a supportive online community can often be the first step towards seeking further help.

Talking to your therapist about your concerns can help too. Dawn says:

“It is completely normal to feel a wide range of emotions before embarking on counselling and most people will feel a certain level of anxiety before seeing a counsellor for the first time. Counsellors will understand how difficult it may be for you to make that first step and will not pressure you to talk about anything before you feel ready”.

“I can’t attend face to face sessions”

Sarah says that “finding a workable regular, weekly appointment time amidst already busy work and home schedules” can often be a barrier to accessing therapy. School, college, work, disability, weather and family can all get in the way and take priority. If face to face sessions are impossible, you could consider accessing therapy through online or over the phone. A number of therapists on RSCPP offer online or telephone sessions – they call it ‘telephone therapy’ so search for that. To get the most out of these Dawn says that it important you find a private place away from family and external distractions if possible.

“I don’t know what to expect and I’m scared”

Fear of the unknown can exacerbate anxiety. Everything may seem much more manageable after the first session when you have found the room and met and talked with the therapist. But both Dawn and Sarah say that the first session doesn’t have to be scary. Your therapist will do everything they can to help you feel comfortable, especially if you tell them your concerns about the session. You’ll usually talk about confidentiality and how you could work together if you choose to continue. You’ll probably also be asked to talk a bit about what brings you to counselling and what you would like to get out of it. You might find it helpful to think about that beforehand.

“I tried therapy, but I didn’t like my therapist”

If you have built yourself up to attend a session and it doesn’t feel right, it can be a huge disappointment. You might feel that it was pointless or that this has proven that therapy definitely isn’t for you. But both Sarah and Dawn emphasised the importance of finding the right person. As well as the right professional qualifications, you need to find someone who you feel comfortable with. Every therapist knows the importance of getting this relationship right and all would respect your decision not to continue with them. Dawn suggests meeting more than one therapist before making your decision. This is easier with private therapy, as you do not have to wait for another NHS therapist to become available. Of course, it is also more expensive. It is worth asking therapists if they do a free or reduced fee introductory session to help you decide.

“There are many different counsellors out there and just like in our everyday lives we will get on better with some people more than others. If you have had a bad experience it maybe because you haven’t found the right counsellor for you.”

You might feel that it is hard enough to open up to one stranger, let alone finding the time, money and emotional energy to ‘shop around’. Dawn says that choosing a counsellor who uses more than one therapeutical approach can help, as they can offer different ways of working depending on your needs. You might also find it helpful to read up on a counsellor and ask them questions by email to help you decide whether they are right for you. Making a shortlist of your favourite options and only visiting the second and third if the first one doesn’t work out could be a good approach.

The main thing to remember is that there are as many different experiences of therapy as there are combinations of therapist and client. One or even two or three bad experiences does not mean that therapy cannot help you.

How do you run a good training session in an online chat room? 17 tips and ideas.

youthnet volunteer network

Last night I ran an online training session for YouthNet’s chat moderator volunteers (I’ve written a post about what is is like to moderate real time support chat for young people here). We all joined a chat room in YouthNet’s online volunteer community for an evening session.

The focus of this chat was talking therapies – learning more about them and sharing knowledge as well as discussing how they might come up in support chats and what we, as moderators, can do to make sure the young people who come to the session get the right information.

Good practice for running a training session in a chat room

Using a chat room for training sessions enables you to have more real time discussion. It Screenshot 2014-01-31 13.19.21brings everyone involved in a project or role together at the same time. It’s particularly useful if those being trained are spread out around the country. Some of the things I’ve learnt from running online training chats include: Continue reading

Guardian Voluntary Sector Network Xmas Volunteering

Representing online volunteering in the Guardian

Just before Christmas I wrote a piece for the Guardian on why I volunteer at Christmas. It was a pic of Xmas volunteering piecepersonal explanation of my motivation to volunteer, why I’ve continued to do so since leaving YouthNet and why it’s particularly important at Christmas.

It was one of a series on Christmas volunteering. It was the only one about online or virtual volunteering. I’m glad it was represented  – I’ve managed online volunteers for many years and have seen it becoming increasingly popular, especially in support work. I wanted to explain in a bit more detail how it can have as much, if not more, impact as your more traditional face to face volunteering.

A more detailed description of what running a live support chat is actually like can be found here.  Here’s some more info on the volunteer role I managed for five years – online peer advisors. If you’d like to chat support volunteering, virtual volunteering, training volunteers and giving peer support online, drop me a line.

Now I’m off to open up TheSite.org chat room for another Sunday support session.

 

Moderating real time support chat with TheSite community

What does moderating real time support chat online for 10 – 25 young community members involve?

thesite.org

Support chat

Every other Sunday I moderate support chat on TheSite.org. TheSite runs a number of types offostress meet the moderator chat – I’ve also been an expert for their recent Mindfulness chat. I used to do moderation as part of my role as Advice and Training Manager at YouthNet – but since leaving I have continued in a volunteer capacity.

Support chat is the most common type of chat. For two hours, four evenings a week, the chat room is open for anyone to sign into. Usually it’s community members who come along (young people who are regular chat and discussion forum users) but sometimes it’s a gateway for new people to discover TheSite’s support service. Chatting in real time helps to strengthen the community who gather around the discussion forums. And sometimes regular forum users come into chat under a different name to discuss a more confidential issue.

Support chat is a group peer support space. It allows young people to chat in real time about their difficulties, get peer support from others and give people the benefit of their own experiences and suggestions. Sometimes it is a space for chat and distraction.

It’s a non judgmental and safe space. It is the role of the moderator to keep it that way – even when it gets very busy. Sometimes the chat transcripts can run to 80-100 pages when downloaded into Word. That’s a lot of support for an evening. In general there is a strong focus on managing mental health and wellbeing, although lots of other topics come up too. These can include friendships, relationships, self harm, accessing health services, school and college, online dating, bereavement, music and X Factor (to name a few!).

A moderator’s role

As a moderator I will be ensuring that everybody in the chat gets support and noone is ignored. This can involve offering suggestions and signposts or encouraging others to offer peer support. I am not there as a counsellor and would never diagnose or tell someone what they should do. Instead I am there to facilitate peer support, to give young people the space to talk and help them decide what courses of action are right for them. Continue reading

Online peer support training with Action on Postpartum Psychosis

Running a training day for volunteers working on a new online peer support service for APP

I was really pleased to be asked to help out with APP’s new online peer support programme.Action on Post Partum Psychosis logo

APP has been funded to provide peer support to women with postpartum psychosis and their partners. They have been running an online forum for over a year and are now looking to expand their offering to one to one email peer support. Women with lived experience of PP will be trained to offer email support to women who are in the early stages of recovery.

Benefits of online peer support

One of the real benefits of online peer support is the fact that people are able to find, connect and talk to people with experiences similar to theirs from all over the country, or indeed the world. It’s reassuring to find out you are not alone and helpful to hear how others coped in similar situations.

This is particularly relevant with postpartum psychosis. Many women may not know anyone else in their area that has experienced it. Often, even if there were someone, that person may not feel comfortable talking openly about it. This service will enable women to find support and reassurance from someone who knows what they are going through.

It also sounds as though many men whose partners get PP have no idea where to turn. They often try and support their partner in hospital alongside holding down their job and caring for other children. They often feel they need to be the ‘strong’ one – and disregard their own emotional needs. While the one to one support is not yet available to them; partners looking for support regularly use the forum.

Peer support in the training room

Like the Elefriends mental health community meet up, there was a lot of peer support in the training room. Unlike the Elefriends meet up, many of these women had never met someone who had experienced PP face to face before. This gave the whole day a really moving and inspirational feel. Continue reading

What exactly IS Mindfulness? Chatting with young people on TheSite.org

Earlier this month I found myself back at YouthNet Towers, this time as an expert for one of their expert chats. The Engagement and Support team at YouthNet oversee the running of a number of types of online chat. These include support chat (I also moderate support chats as a volunteer), general chat, film and book club chat, positive thinking chat and expert chat. You can read more about the different types here. Chats take place in a safe chat room space with a trained moderator present at all times.

Expert chats

For expert chats, the team invite experts in to answer questions from the community. I answered questions on Mindfulness. There’s a taster of the transcript below but for the whole chat, have a look at the chat archives. It was an interesting experience working as an expert – especially as I have moderated many expert chats in the past. Mindfulness was a difficult topic to explain quickly in a chat environment but I hope that the young people who attended at least received a taster of what it involves as well as links to places where they can explore further.

Community members have since posted threads  about Mindfulness on TheSite discussion forum which I have answered in my role as volunteer moderator.

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I’d like more mindfulness chats, I liked learning about it and want to learn more. It was the first one I’d ever been to and I loved it

– young person on TheSite.org