Irish computer game leads to mental health breakthrough

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Top row: John Webb, Sravan Sangepu, Daniel Rosehill. Bottom row: Eoin Stack, Brendan Finucane

Gnats Island scores with therapists on both sides of the Atlantic

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10 September 2012 | 0

A computer game designed by two Irish academics to treat young children suffering from anxiety, low self esteem and mental health issues has proven so effective that it’s now being adapted by therapists and specialists worldwide.

Pesky Gnats! sets children exploring Gnats Island to identify and capture ‘gnats’ (negative automatic thoughts) while supervised by their therapist. It is the first computer game designed to be used in the presence of a therapist as a cognitive therapy tool and is being regarded as a breakthrough in engaging with children who are often too young for adult-oriented cognitive therapy processes.

Developed by Dr Gary O’Reilly of UCD’s Psychology Department and David Coyle, a lecturer in Human Computer Interaction at the University of Bristol’s computer studies department, Gnats Island is based on a workbook designed by Dr O’Reilly in 2000 which Coyle helped adapt for children aged nine to 12.

Dr O’Reilly has travelled to the UK and USA to teach the game’s use to therapists with positive results. "They absolutely loved it, they’d never seen anything like it before," he explained. "Now we’d like to take it to the next level, to iron out the glitches and produce another version for older children. We’re currently looking for an animation company and a game development company to come on board as skills sponsors so more children can benefit from its use."

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