At this stage of 2021, I find myself a listless, languishing lump. I’ve had one dose of Moderna and with it coursing through my veins, I feel a little more confident facing the outside world. But each time there is an unseasonably strong breeze, or a strangely grey cloud in the sky, I am thrown. As we enter the second summer of the pandemic, I am tired and flat; not in crisis or mentally unwell but it’s fair to say that I am a little less buoyant than my February 2020 self.
So that’s my mood when I download Paradym, an app that describes itself as “the world’s leading emotional wellbeing programme, supporting you with a lifetime of affordable mental health care”. It’s a bold claim to be the world leader, especially in a market that is so very crowded right now. Over the past couple of years, there has been a proliferation of startups operating in the emotional wellbeing and mental health space – and they have only become more popular during the pandemic as IRL therapy sessions were curtailed (U.S. digital health companies raised $5.4 billion in venture funding during the first six months of 2020, more than any other six-month period ever). And so, here is Paradym, founded by Courtney Carlsson (who before turning her attention to mental health tech, worked in a high-powered fashion job at The Row). Currently training to become a psychotherapist, the brand’s website tells us she's “tried it all”: counselling, family therapy, clinical therapy, bodywork, life coaching, sex therapy, somatic therapy, integrative therapy and meditation retreats in the jungle. Now, she’s using that experience to collaborate with psychologists to put together this programme…
I download the app, which costs £8.99 a month (or £47.99 for a year), and begin by telling it “where I’m at” and “what I need". Paradym says that this information improves the “personalisation and user experience of the app” but stresses that all information is anonymised and private. It invites me to choose reasons for being here and I highlight “anxiety”, “work issues” and “trouble sleeping”. Other options include “stress”, “Covid-19”, “stuck”, “love issues”, “heartbreak”, “curious” and “not sure”. What do I need? Three struck a particular emotional chord: “motivation”, “success” and “clarity”.
Once I am properly up and running on the app, I am presented with the five main pillars of the programme: “Aware”, “Love”, “Success”, “Body” and “Identity”. Users have to start with “Aware” as we are told that “understanding yourself is key to becoming a happier, more balanced person” and can then choose to focus on whichever pillar they find most relevant. To begin with I am asked to consider why self-awareness is so important. It’s pretty much impossible for me – or for any of us – to change behaviour, patterns and relationships if I don’t recognise the reality of them in the first place. The app encourages me to ask myself questions about how I feel in situations that arise; it wants me to pay more attention to the world around me and to listen to my body. I should do this for a week, jotting down my observations in the Notes section. Through a series of exercises, anecdotes (charmingly told by Carlsson herself) and videos, I am encouraged to think about how aware I actually am – of my own emotions and those of other people. While it takes me around 20 minutes to complete the chapter, the lesson is designed to stay with the user for much longer.
It’s day two and chapter two of the “Aware” programme. Today I am being asked to consider my emotional patterns, moods and feelings. One exercise encourages me to observe, record and rate how intensely I feel a variety of emotions over the course of the next few hours. As someone who has been around the block a few times, taken the time to consider emotional patterns over the years, I find this chapter a little obvious. That’s not to say though that it wouldn't be useful for someone younger or a little less experienced in recognising and managing her feelings. Thirtysomething me has a good handle on this; twentysomething me, however, was a lot less clued-in.
I’ve hit a roadblock. I do not have access to chapter three of the Aware programme. Paradym does not let you speed through the process, only releasing a chapter once the previous one has been completed. It’s a clever feature: this is not a programme you should rush through half-heartedly. It's not a quick fix in, say, the way an app like Calm is. The latter I lean on when I want to listen to a guided meditation to get back to sleep in the middle of the night – but with Paradym, the aim is to get to a place where I’m eventually experiencing insomnia less and less. However, the functionality of the app can be occasionally confusing and perhaps a bit glitchy. I am not entirely sure who is to blame for me not being able to access chapter three, but either way, it’s slightly annoying.
OK I’m on to chapter three, a little late – but that’s probably no bad thing. It’s unlikely that most users will get through a chapter a day. OK so, am I an optimist or pessimist and why am I that way? Again, some of this is fairly obvious stuff to me – but it’s still worthwhile to consider it again. I veer wildly between optimism and pessimism, depending on my mood, and an exercise that asks me to consider the situation from the other perspective genuinely helps me to challenge my outlook.
Today, it’s time to focus on whether I am an introvert or an extrovert. That’s a fairly easy one for me: I’m an extrovert. It’s worth thinking about the ways in which I am not, though: I’m fine with strangers, and love hanging out with friends, but I can get uncomfortable around people I vaguely know. When watching a video with Bettina Moltrecht, psychologist and researcher at Paradym, I identify with her when she says that she’s generally an extrovert but struggles with networking. It’s something I can bear in mind as I make my way through the exercise that asks me to rate my energy after a variety of social interactions (I will have to make adjustments to reflect the fact that “big parties” are still not on the agenda at this stage of 2021).
I am sceptical of a lot of mental health apps. Can they really take the place of a therapist? Despite the saturated market, I don’t think so. But that’s not what Paradym is doing (at least not in this iteration, there are plans to introduce therapy down the line). It is a tool that aims to take the user down a path of discovery and to challenge the ways they think about themselves and the situations they find themselves in. It doesn’t seem to me that this is an app for someone in crisis and it’s probably not an app for someone who has had lots of therapy previously. It’s an app for people who want to learn a little more about what makes them tick and how to get the best out of life – and it succeeds on those terms. It would probably make sense to take the chapters a little more slowly than I did, too. On day five, I do feel a little lighter, a little less anxious and a little more hopeful – it’s hard to say whether that’s down to better weather or Paradym or a soothing conversation I had with a good friend but I can say with certainty that taking 15 minutes a day to consider your state of mind definitely doesn't hurt.
Images | PARADYM