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|The New Technologies of Change - Page 2|
The Mobile Mood Diary, based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is a techno-journal created as an adjunct to psychotherapy. It's aimed at clinically depressed teens undergoing therapy, who may be more engaged in treatment when they can text their thoughts, rather than relying on pen and paper. Gavin Doherty, who worked with Mark Matthews and John Sharry to develop the app, says another advantage of this format is privacy, because adolescents worry that others might see them completing a paper chart, while publicly using a phone is perfectly ordinary. Doherty notes that because the app typically encourages higher completion rates and collects extremely reliable data, clinicians can use it as the basis for therapeutic conversation—even to help prescribe medications in certain cases—which should yield better outcomes.
The self-help positive psychology app Live Happy was created when Ran Zilca, founder of Signal Patterns Labs, teamed up with Sonja Lyubomirsky to craft the mobile program based on key features from her popular book The How of Happiness. Lyubomirsky says that Live Happy is essentially her book in a different format that might be more appealing for some people, especially younger individuals, who may not feel inclined to purchase a self-help book.
Live Happy generates a range of happiness-boosting activities for users, such as setting and tracking goals and journaling. For example, among the exercises it offers is a savoring album, which allows users to take photos of objects surrounding them and write what they appreciate about them. According to Zilca, looking back at photos and journal entries can become an intervention in itself: "It changes the person's mindset." The app provides assignments that encourage users to look on the brighter side of life, to appreciate what they already have, and to set—and achieve—goals that will ultimately yield happiness. Zilca compares the use of Live Happy to gym attendance because, "When you do repetitions at the gym, it builds strength. The app builds skills of optimism to challenge negative thoughts."
Mobile Therapy, which is still in its research stages, is being developed by clinical psychologist Margaret Morris, who's part of a research group at Intel Corporation. The prototype of the app includes three components: mood mapping, therapy, and trend analysis. When mood mapping, the phone asks questions about emotions and other variables to track how the user's emotions might be affected by certain people, time of day, or diet. The therapy component is largely drawn from CBT research on anger and depression. Based on its rating of the user's emotional state, the app creates activities ranging from breathing exercises to considering questions like, "Might I be exaggerating how permanent this situation is?" In the trend-analysis portion, users are asked to review the patterns of how their moods varied over time or in response to specific stimuli, to develop personal insights and experiment with new behavior strategies. Although Mobile Therapy isn't commercially available, it may well preview the next wave of apps designed to serve as a therapist in your pocket or purse.
For clients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxieties, and phobias, the ever more sophisticated technology of virtual reality (VR) therapy offers possibilities for more enhanced and intensive treatment. Virtual Iraq, a program that was recently developed by Albert Rizzo and his colleagues, is based on the premise that offering experiences to vets who want to go beyond their imagination enhances the impact of treatment and gives them more of a sense of control. Before clients are put into a virtual house of horrors, however, they meet several times with their therapist to establish a connection. In these sessions, they recount the traumatic experiences, and when they feel ready to wrestle with them in this intensely real and dramatic VR form, clients put on goggles and earphones and receive eight sessions of exposure therapy in a virtual Iraqi city.
Imagine a combat vet who's hearing his therapist's voice guiding him through a three-dimensional world that engages all of his senses. The therapist tells him to turn left here, and walk up those stairs. He can smell the pungent Middle Eastern spices—not from memory, but from a scent machine. He keeps walking as he hears the noise of helicopter propellers, the sound of sirens, and a dog barking on his right. His heart begins to race. He can almost taste the burning rubber and rotting garbage, and now he's starting to sweat. He's walking, walking, and suddenly—BOOM!—there's an explosion. The work of a VR therapist is to help clients process the memories triggered by such vivid images and discover ways to rebalance their nervous systems. When this treatment is successful, clients learn to distinguish the horrors they went through in the warzone from the realities of their lives back home.
Virtual reality offers countless possibilities for psychological treatment. For instance, the Program for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Studies, led by JoAnn Difede, is breaking new ground in the treatment of stress-related disorders like fear of heights, storms, and public speaking. Using VR, a client who's terrified to speak publicly makes a presentation to a virtual crowd—one with the ability to yawn, or to give a standing ovation. For clients with a fear of flying, it's possible to accompany them through takeoffs, landings, and turbulence in a virtual airplane. It seems clear that VR will continue to extend the range of tools used for treating PTSD, anxieties, and intense fears.