PTSD sufferers get digital help for an overlooked symptom

Israeli army veterans and others with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will soon be able to get online help dealing with an often-overlooked symptom: chronic procrastination or the continued inability to accomplish a goal in their life.

The new Ani Al Ze (Hebrew for Im on it) website will help PTSD sufferers fight procrastination and stay consistent in pursuing their goals.

Volunteers from the Israeli high-tech sector working on the “Ani Al Ze” website (courtesy)

The website is for now offered exclusively by NATAL, an Israeli non-profit that treats citizens suffering from war- and terror-related trauma, which will provide the new service as part of its six-month professional training program.

The website is already being tested and will expand to reach more people in need in the coming months.

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Shaked Arieli, career development manager at NATAL, says she’s unaware of an app or website designed so far to help people with PTSD fight their chronic procrastination.

He says the closest digital help for PTSD he could find was an app developed in the United States for American veterans to help them understand and manage their symptoms.

While the website is currently only available in Hebrew, Arieli hopes it will be expanded into a global service.

The Israel Defense Forces offers a range of PTSD treatments for its soldiers, but does not offer digital assistance.

Israeli soldiers.  Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash
Israel Defense Forces offers in-person PTSD therapy for its soldiers (Unsplash)

Participants in the NATAL program meet regularly with qualified career coaches to strengthen their soft skills (personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively), such as time management and emotional regulation, and build a personal career path which includes setting achievable short-term goals and long-term goals.

Digital development

The new platform allows attendees to add goals and set difficulty levels for each one, track progress made on a particular goal, and maintain communication with their professional coach between meetings.

Coaches can use the website to view the progress participants say they’ve made on their goals, including checking how often they’ve logged in, and also provide them with feedback via the WhatsApp instant messaging service.

Participants also receive automatic daily WhatsApp reminders to track their progress, as well as reinforcements with personalized messages and notifications.

Our coaches work with participants on the things that challenge them most in terms of career advancement, such as time management, decision making and emotional regulation, Arieli tells NoCamels.

What we wanted to do was integrate an app into the coaching process that would help them with that, she says.

NATAL and Code for Israel team members meet on the new website. Far left: Shaked Arieli and far right: Yuval Tamir (courtesy)

The website was created through Code for Israel, an initiative in which hundreds of Israelis working in the high-tech sector volunteer to develop technology projects that benefit Israeli society.

A team of 15 spent nine months carefully building the website, including two veteran NATAL volunteers who had previously benefited from its therapy and career coaching services.

Based on volunteer veterans’ first-hand experience with PTSD, the team also included a feature that allows the participant to ping their career coach on WhatsApp if they need urgent assistance.

And if they’re having a particularly stressful day or week, attendees can use the stop all websites feature, which suspends all their activity and ceases to send them notifications until they choose to resume the process. Also notify their career coach that they have used the feature.

PTSD sufferers may experience procrastination when certain parts of a traumatic memory are triggered (Courtesy of Alex Green/Pexels)

The daily life of a person struggling with PTSD is very stressful and we don’t want to overwhelm them, says Yuval Tamir, a software engineer at cloud computing company Zadara, who acted as a project manager during the site’s development web. .

The app’s goal is to help [the participants] complete these tasks no matter how long it takes, Tamir tells NoCamels.

Triggers and trauma

For many people struggling with PTSD, procrastination can occur when certain parts of a traumatic memory that haven’t been fully processed are unconsciously triggered, according to registered professional psychologist Gemma Pearson.

Arieli, who has worked with many people with PTSD, says many of her clients share the same attributes of low self-esteem, fear of failure, shame, anger, and helplessness. These traits — particularly fear of failure and low self-esteem — have also been linked to the cause of procrastination.

The “Ani Al Ze” dashboard seen by a career coach. Activities in progress are in purple and completed activities in green (courtesy)

Arieli believes that the website may extend beyond use by participants within NATAL. She sees that it has the potential to work with other non-governmental organizations around the world whose focus is the coaching of young adults with PTSD.

This isn’t just another task management app—there are thousands of them in the world, says Arieli.

It appears that someone is helping guide people struggling with PTSD through the more daunting aspects of their goals. Even if the coach isn’t always there, knowing their coach can see what they’re doing on the website makes completing an activity more meaningful, he says.

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