Tuesday, 30 July 2019

THAW Project Success: Dr. Matthew Bennion

This week we will be continuing to reflect on the success of the THAW project and those who gained their PhD through their excellent work on the project.

Dr Matthew Bennion discusses his experience of the project and completing his PhD here at CATCH Sheffield:

My project concerned the delivery of psychotherapeutic interventions for mild to moderate stress,
anxiety and depression via digital platforms known as e-therapies.  More specifically, it concerned
the use of e-therapies by older adults, a sector of the population hitherto neglected both in the
design of e-therapies and in research of this nature. The primary aim of the work was to explore
ways in which the user interface of an e-therapy could be enhanced to improve usability for and
promote acceptability by older adults, and hence improve access to this mode of therapy for this
particular service user group. Secondary aims were to examine whether perceived usability is
associated with other factors that influence the delivery of therapy such as credibility, pre-
expectancy and the therapeutic relationship. Phase one, comprising two surveys and a meta-
analysis, mapped the landscape of contemporary e-therapy use within NHS England in order to
determine: what e-therapies are used; what evidence exists for them; and whether they are suitable
for older adults. Findings indicated that e-therapies used in the NHS are broadly effective, but they
are less effective with age, and there is a dearth of research on their use in older adults. Following
on from this, phase two, comprising three empirical studies, investigated: the relationship between
usability and expectancies and acceptability of e-therapies, in older adults. Findings indicated that
the perceived therapeutic relationship older adults formed with the e-therapy was related to the e-
therapy’s usability, suggesting that usability is an important factor in e-therapy design that requires
further research attention.

My PhD research has enabled me to influence or participate in a number of projects relating to the
NHS’s digital implementation strategy such as:

  • Being part of NHS England’s Digital Innovation and Adoption in Psychological Therapies Expert Reference Group.
  •  Contributing towards the Topol review through an NHS Topol review Workshop
  •  Helping the NICE IAPT assessment programme to gain a better understanding of the currentdigital therapy landscape in IAPT and the NHS through publication. 
  • Assessing a number of the health apps for the NHS App library via Our Mobile Health’s evaluation framework.
Being part of CATCH has given me the opportunity to be involved in a number of projects such as
“ AVACHAT ” an artificially intelligent virtual agent developed using co-design to support the self-
management in individuals with complex physical comorbidities.  It has also given me the
opportunity to be involved in a winning NewMinds funding bid to develop an AI Empathy Agent .
Finally working as part of THAW has equipped me with an array of additional skills that will assist me in future projects.

I'm extremely proud to have passed my PhD.  As a Dyslexic I found the process of writing difficult but never gave up.  I hope my success will inspire others with learning difficulties to do the same. It's
also been fantastic to see my work aiding decision making regarding digital mental health therapies
at both NICE and NHS England. I am currently working a twelve-month contract at University
Hospitals Birmingham working on their health data system. In the near future I hope to bridge my
work within the hospital with innovation and research to build digital interventions that I believe
could be potential game changers within the NHS.

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