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LIFESTYLE Are you worried about T

he Internet has now penetrated virtually every corner of the developed world in a big way,

making living without it practically unavoidable. Logging on is now a part of everyday life for billions of individuals worldwide – if not for leisure then for business.

Whilst this global phenomenon has made it easier to communicate and gain access to information, the benefits also correlate with some rather sinister negatives.

Internet addiction is a relatively new term which is used to describe excessive computer use which begins to interfere with daily life. Whilst the condition isn’t, as yet, officially recognised as a medical condition, there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that it should be.

Gambling, using social media sites, role playing games and chat room online are just a few activities which could become a problem if they are not moderated. From our own study Counselling Directory shows very clearly that many individuals are now extremely dependent on the Internet. So how do we know when a leisurely browse of the web has developed into something more serious?

Kent based counsellor Joyce Walter, MBACP MCOSRT highlights some of the red flag symptoms of Internet addiction:

Internet Addiction?

With Internet use becoming increasingly difficult to avoid during day-to-day life, is it possible that reasonable access and behaviour can turn into something more serious when individuals find themselves unable to access the web. Here Emily Attewell of Counselling Directory introduces the work of the organisation in the area of internet addiction.

Time distortion ‘One of the most common warning signs that your Internet activity may be veering into a compulsive addiction, is when time in front of the screen gets distorted or runs away with you,’ explains Walter. A few minutes checking emails can quickly turn into two hours, or an entire evening, without any awareness. As a result individuals may find that day-to-day activities such as preparing meals and cleaning- up fall at the wayside.

Relationships begin to suffer Personal and working relationships suffering as a result of the compulsion to be online is an important warning flag.

Being secretive If the extent of a person’s Internet use becomes a guarded secret, this may be indicative of a deeper issue. Walter explains that there may be some guilt or shame surrounding the amount of time spent online, so sufferers attempt to hide the extent of their usage from the ones who care about them.

Physical protests Hours spent in front of a computer screen may result in stiff shoulder, back ache, sore eyes, carpel tunnel syndrome and even weight gain.

So when is the right time to seek help? Walter recommends that individuals be on the alert for the symptoms, and if the consequences of online time begin to impact not just the individual in question but also those around them, help should be sought.

Often, Internet addicts begin by trying to tackle the problem independently, implementing self-help measures such as turning off the computer and putting some boundaries into position. However, if the compulsion seems bigger than the choice to cut down, a counsellor or psychotherapist could provide the structure needed to regain control.

According to Walter, cognitive behavioural therapy can be a particularly useful therapeutic tool in overcoming this form of addiction, as it

30 Envoy Spring 2013

helps sufferers to unpack and re-evaluate their thinking behaviours and perceptions.

Psychologist and Consultant Psychotherapist Matt Shorrock is one of the UK’s leading experts in the treatment of Internet addiction and similarly to Walter is of the belief that whilst self-help treatment methods involving abstinence can be useful, they are not always appropriate in cases where Internet use is legitimately unavoidable.

‘The focus of effective treatment should therefore be geared towards moderation and controlled use,’ he said. Including the following: • Setting goals that are congruent with personal values.

• Re-establishing new patterns of behaviour eg taking structured breaks away from the computer, or exercising instead of using the Internet.

• Using external ‘stoppers,’ for example placing the computer in a communal living space or setting up ‘nanny’ controls on the computer.

• Keeping a diary or journal monitoring Internet time use, this will also help in identifying triggers for Internet use. • Entering a support group.

Shorrock, who is undertaking doctoral research at the University of Manchester said that whilst research into Internet addiction is still in its infancy, there is now convincing evidence that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approaches are helpful – though in some cases more ‘in-depth’ treatment approaches such as Transactional Analysis (TA) are required to complement the CBT.

Individuals who are looking to overcome an addiction may be more likely to succeed if they have access to the right help and support than if they go it alone. With an extensive library of fact-sheets and a country-wide database of qualified counsellors and psychotherapists, Counselling Directory could provide that support network needed.

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