Online support network Counselling Directory has revealed that 82% of visitors to the site admitted to staying online for longer than intended, with almost half also admitting to feeling depressed, moody or irritable if they find themselves in a situation where they are unable to access the web. With Internet use becoming increasingly difficult to avoid during day-to-day life, Counselling Directory investigate how a hobby can turn into something more serious, and how cognitive behavioural therapy and psychotherapy approaches can be used in the treatment of Internet addiction.
The 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.
According to Internet World Stats, globally there was a 528%* increase in Internet usage between 2000 and 2011, and 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 currently isn’t 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, chat room use and watching pornography online are just a few activities which could become a problem if they are not moderated.
Counselling Directory – the online database of counsellors and psychotherapists – surveyed visitors to the site in a bid to find out more about their Internet usage and the role of the web in the daily life of the average person. Key findings included the following**:
- 77% of respondents said they used the Internet for leisure on a daily basis.
- 82% of respondents admitted to staying online for longer than intended.
- Almost one third of respondents said they gained a high level of satisfaction from using the Internet.
- 65% of respondents said they used the Internet as a way of escaping from day-to-day problems or for relieving negative emotions.
- Almost half of respondents said they feel depressed, moody or irritable if they are unable to access the Internet.
The outcome of the study 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 and psychosexual therapist Joyce Walter (MBACP, MCOSRT) highlights some of the key red flag symptoms of Internet Addiction:
1. 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.
2. Relationships begin to suffer
Personal and working relationships suffering as a result of the compulsion to be online is an important warning flag.
3. 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.
4. 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 above 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 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 e.g 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.
- Entering a support group.
- Keeping a diary or journal monitoring Internet time use, this will also help in identifying triggers for Internet use.
Shorrock, who is currently undertaking doctoral research at the University of Manchester in preparation for his latest book (a therapist treatment handbook for Internet addiction), has said that whilst research into Internet addiction is still very much 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 to help individuals in need to conquer their dependencies so that they are able to move forward positively.
*Internet World Stats, Usage and Population Statistics.
**Results based on a survey of 126 visitors to Counselling Directory.
To view the full Counselling Directory press release, please visit PR Web.