Pioneering therapy involving phone app helps Worthing woman combat paranoid thinking

Getting on a bus may be something most of us take for granted, but for Angie Culham from Worthing it used to be ‘almost impossible’.

Angie Culham from Worthing
Angie Culham from Worthing

Paranoid thoughts would overwhelm her to such an extent that she would sometimes have to get off at any stop.

“I felt like people were looking at me and talking about me, and I couldn’t get it out of my head,” the 57-year-old said.

But after taking part in a clinical trial for a new digitally-supported therapy at the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Angie said she was much more confident facing everyday tasks.

She was one of the first people to experience SlowMo, a pioneering treatment for paranoia which uses interactive technology – via a smartphone app and web platform – for visualising paranoid thoughts and thinking habits.

Paranoia is fuelled by ‘fast thinking’ – a thinking style that is driven by instinct and gut feelings.

SlowMo supports people to notice their fast thoughts, visualised as grey, fast-spinning bubbles.

Users learn to slow down, using tips and personalised safer thoughts.

Angie said it was ‘a simple idea’. “It’s thinking more slowly, not to jump to conclusions,” she said.

“With the app, you put in your negative thoughts, they show up in bubbles.

“My negative thoughts would be that people are laughing at me, people don’t like me.

“Then you put in the positive thoughts that you learn from therapy – ‘They’re not laughing at me, they are talking to their friends having a private conversation. Just calm down and let it go’.”

She added: “The more you do it, the more it becomes easier to do.”

The trial involved eight face-to-face therapy sessions, with support from an interactive web platform and app, which Angie was able to use on the bus and in other situations.

One of the benefits was that it was discrete – with most people glued to their phone anyway, Angie said: “You don’t feel like you’re being conspicuous.”

She is now at a stage where she does not need to refer back to the app.

“If I do get bad thoughts, I just run through in my head what I’ve learned,” she said.

Angie said she had found SlowMo really helpful. “It’s built my confidence and I’m able to do other things now,” she said.

“I do quite a lot of work with the Trust and it’s helped me to continue that.

“Being such a sociable person, I found it very stressful having these thoughts about other people – thinking they were talking about you and didn’t like you.

“It’s helped me to regain that confidence of being with people, and appreciating that people do like you.”

The clinical trial was run by King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, & Neuroscience (IoPPN), in collaboration with Oxford University, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Sussex University, and Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

It found the therapy effectively supported people to manage paranoia.

Professor Philippa Garety, Lead Researcher at SlowMo from King’s IoPPN said it was ‘at least as effective as longer, more complex psychological treatments for paranoia, which are generally more challenging to deliver and frequently not available in clinical services’.

She said the results were ‘hugely exciting’ and the team now has funding to develop SlowMo so that it can be tested in routine NHS services.

Angie said she was ‘really pleased’ it was being rolled out to help other people, adding: “I feel very privileged to be involved.”