Mood Gym

Nicole Dubowitz

I’ve started a new kind of workout recently, and it’s been going great. It doesn’t involve sweat, pained facial expressions, or even getting out of my pajamas. This is because I’ve been working out my mood.

This is made possible by MoodGYM, an interactive website with the goal to “help identify and overcome emotional problems,” and “develop good coping skills.” But does it really? Can a website really act as a personal therapist?

A study done in Australia by Helen Christensen and her colleagues shows that it really works. She studied 525 people aged 18 and older who tried different online strategies to improve their moods. The 182 who visited MoodGYM tended to reduce “dysfunctional thinking,” and symptoms of depression. It was shown to be more effective than a website that just explained depression and included useful information.

Could this really work? I set out to investigate several weeks ago.

At the beginning, MoodGYM (moodgym.anu.edu.au) appears to preach in sickeningly optimistic generalities, like the typical self-help book, offering brief surveys and a range of characters that illustrate certain personality types: Moody, Noproblemos, etc. The user can then look at mantras and thought processes of each character and hopefully be able to relate to at least one of them. Once the user can relate to a character, they should ideally begin to acquire some perspective over the sad feelings they’ve been experiencing.

This may sound cheesy, but MoodGYM seems to embrace cheesiness and humor as mechanisms for users to not take themselves so seriously, which is refreshing. A good example is the “warpy thoughts” exercise, which examines the user’s tendency to interpret situations negatively, and how to turn that around. Warpy thoughts include the self-explanatory “disqualifying the positive” and “jumping to conclusions,” terms we hear thrown around but often fail to apply to our own daily behavior.

After the warpy thoughts are identified, MoodGYM begins to attack self-esteem issues by allowing the user to practice “talking to [him or her]self like a friend would” and “increasing positive self-interpretations.” The “What you think is what you feel” module encourages the user to tackle their own negative thoughts and take control of their direction. For example, what if you talk to someone and make one misinformed remark? You might focus on your blunder and assume you made a fool of yourself, when in reality the conversation as a whole may have been successful and positive.

MoodGYM continues to introduce new ideas and opportunities for the user to discuss personal situations and follow examples on how to view them in a positive, or at least less negative light. I was actually motivated to do this because all of MoodGYM’s theories were explained in a comprehensible, straightforward way, and continued to use the encouraging, humorous tone they’d had since the beginning.

MoodGYM emphasizes the importance of self-evaluation and looking at the “big picture.” It is based on a type of therapy called Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which focuses on changing how people think about themselves and how they behave. While some would say this is advice is ordinary, somehow MoodGYM has figured out a way to connect it to our lives, convincing us that insecurities really are overcomable if one wants to overcome them. MoodGYM’s success is undoubtedly built around the person’s desire to improve their attitude. Since the website is highly interactive, how much one gets out of it depends on how much is put into it.

Can MoodGYM replace human contact or medication? Probably not. But it is free and can provide insight to a range of people, those who have been in a rut from a few months to a lifetime. MoodGYM may not work for everyone, but MoodGYM seems designed for men and women and a wide range of ages. From my experience, I believe it can be effective for anyone, as long as they are willing to log on with an open mind.