Meet PhD fellow, Guri-Elise Holgersen

Guri-Elise Holgersen is one of several newly employed research fellows that the section is lucky enough to have on the team. We have had a chat with Holgersen to get to know her better and the work she will be doing in the next three years.

Holgersen is associated with the UngMeistring project, which will develop and research digital treatment for children and young people with ADHD, eating disorders, depression and anxiety. You can read more about UngMeistring here.

-Why did you want to be a part of UngMeistring?

– I applied for a PhD scholarship in UngMeistring because I want to be part of the exciting development in mental healthcare for children and young people. I am looking forward to being involved in developing and researching new forms of treatment that can help young people in everyday life. Holgersen adds that she is passionate about helping vulnerable young people. – Having a serious mental illness in addition to being in a period of life that is itself chaotic, I think most of us cannot imagine the extent of it, says Holgersen.

Holgersen is a trained clinical child welfare officer with special training in children and young people’s mental health. She has many years of experience in clinical mental health care for children and young people and ambulatory services, the Psychosis team at Haukeland.

The anchoring of the research in digital treatment

Holgersen will develop and research the effects of digital treatment of eating disorders. The work belongs to work package 1 in UngMeistring. Holgersen’s knowledge is relevant in the development of forms of treatment for young people, and she also has experience in developing digital tools for treatment. Among other things, VR-treatment has been developed in the Psychosis team.

– What do you think will be important in the digital future?

– I think it will be important that apps and digital treatments that are developed are rooted in research. Downloading an app is something that the vast majority of people have access to do. The commercialization potential may overshadow the quality of the help provided. If a self-help app is not rooted in evidence-based methods, it is not certain that it will provide the “right” help. Something that can in turn reduce the user’s hope, Holgersen points out.

UngMeistring started on 1 April 2022, and Holgersen started at the research center just over the summer. Although it is still early, she is well underway with her work.

– Right now I am writing an application to REK (Regional Committees for Medical and Health Research Ethics) which deals with the development of a digital treatment for young people with eating disorders. The aim here is to involve young people who have experience with treatment of an eating disorder in the development process. The overall aim of the project is to increase access to knowledge-based mental health services for young people with eating disorders, through the use of digital treatment.

– What challenges do you see yourself potentially encountering along the way? – I can’t think of any specific challenges right now, but everyone tells me that being a PhD student is a challenge in itself, says Holgersen cheerfully.

– And lastly, we wonder what makes you look forward to going to work?

– I look forward to going to work because it is incredibly rewarding to be part of an exciting project, with such a nice group of enjoyable and competent people. The impression of the Research Center is incredibly positive. Everyone is committed, positive and welcoming, Holgersen concludes.

VR-therapy can help young people with performance anxiety

Smiti Kahlon will defend her PhD degree at the University of Bergen on 15 September 2022 with the thesis “Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for Adolescents with Public Speaking Anxiety”.

The purpose of this PhD project is to help young people deal with presentation anxiety, and as a secondary goal to prevent the anxiety from spreading to other social situations. Presentation anxiety is one of the most common fears among young people and it is believed that approximately 30% experience presentation anxiety to such an extent that it affects everyday school life. A third of these also meet the criteria for generalized social anxiety.

Through two studies, it was investigated whether VR-training for young people is feasible and whether it reduces presentation anxiety. In the first study, 27 young people turned up at the clinic to participate in a 90-minute VR-based training session together with a therapist. The young people reported a large decrease in anxiety symptoms. This meant that we could conclude that VR-training has potential for young people with presentation anxiety. A goal of scaling and easy accessibility laid the foundation for the second study to be self-guided.

The second study was a randomized controlled trial using a home-based and self-guided exercise program. A total of 100 young people were randomized into four different groups; 1) VR training only, 2) VR training with subsequent online exposure program, 3) online psychoeducational program with subsequent online exposure program, and 4) waitlist with subsequent online psychoeducational program.

The findings showed that the young people who received VR-training had a greater reduction in anxiety symptoms compared to those who were only in the waitlist-group in the first part of the intervention. No group differences were found between the VR with subsequent exposure program compared to the other groups in the last part of the intervention.”

More information about the disputation can be found on UiB’s website here.

– More universal design for everyone

In Norway, there is a requirement for universal design in digital services, but during Forhelse’s joint meeting in May, it emerged that there is still a long way to go.

Universal design was one of the topics discussed at Forhelse’s joint meeting in May. The center had invited Kristin Skeide Fuglerud, chief researcher and leader of the subject group for Digital inclusion at the research institute Norsk Regnesentral and Christian Thon, ICT advisor in the Norwegian Association of the Blind, to talk about the challenges of universal design in digital services.

– Universal design is important for everyone to be able to take part in the society of information. It is about self-esteem and self-mastery, says Fuglerud who is also an associate professor at the University of Southeast Norway in the Center for Health and Technology.

– I think universal design is important so that everyone can participate equally. There is already exclusion going on, so people should not have to experience it on digital platforms as well, Thon adds, whom among other things, works with universal design of apps and websites.

What do you hope to gain from this gathering with focus on universal design?

More universal design for everyone – that is what we should gain from this gathering, says Thon.

– And that it will lead to more sustainable services and increase the quality, so that more people can use the services, Fuglerud adds.

Competence to order and knowledge are some of the barriers

According to Thon, lack of knowledge and experience are some of the reasons why one does not succeed with universal design.

– Another barrier is competence to order. If those who order do not check to see if there is universal design, it can easily be downgraded.

Fuglerud also says that it is important to remember that, as with everything else in ICT, universal design is a continous work that must be maintained and developed.

– Yes, old solutions are often a barrier. One forgets that it needs to be updated. When it comes to barriers for the user, I think that knowledge is central. One is maybe 80 years old and gets a gadget, it is a big challenge for many, says Thon.

The users must be involved

According to Thon and Fuglerud, there are several areas that can create problems for the user. Among other things, login can be a problem as it is difficult to use Bank-ID if one is not a Norwegian citizen or under 16 years of age.

Kristin Fuglerud had a presentation about universal design on Forhelse’s joint gathering

– When working with universal design, involving users is very important. One thing is technical accessibility, if it follows a standard then it is universally designed in theory, but to be truly universal one must involve the user. One should like to have more user representatives on a general basis and collaborate with interest organizations, says Fuglerud.

-I think it is wise to be able to show people how the system is used by those concerned. When designing a store, the store must have a nice flow. But if I have found my way into the store through the warehouse – how user-friendly is the solution then? Seeing the solution being torn to shreds by users can be an eye-opener for many, Thon adds.

They both add that one must not forget honoring the users. They are often expected to work for free, but more people should make it easy for them to get paid for the work they do as they are the experts in their challenges.

Advice from Kristin Fuglerud on how to get started with universal design in research projects: When securing universal design in research projects, it is a good idea to start by checking that you comply with legal requirements, ie WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) before consulting with users. WCAG are guidelines for how digital content can be made more easily accessible for people with disabilities, and the elderly with age-related functional challenges. Once you have followed these guidelines, it is important to also get user evaluations to ensure utility. One can get in touch with users through interest groups and councils.