Can New Technologies Be Used as Therapeutic Tools?

12 March, 2018

New technologies have changed our customs, habits, and ways of life. Today, we can’t even leave the house without our smartphones, and we’re constantly checking our emails and social networks. These new technologies are here to stay, because – among other reasons – we’ve been building our lives around them.

There are tons of nostalgic people who renounce these new forms of communication and what they imply. But it’s undeniable – with them, our quality of life can be a lot better (although not necessarily). The field of psychology is using more and more new technologies as therapeutic tools, as they have various important advantages.

Sometimes new technology is used because it reduces costs, because it allows people with busy lives or who travel a lot to access services, or because it can simulate different situations for exposure therapy in a highly controlled way. People are beginning to apply technological tools in psychology to treat various disorders, such as specific phobias, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety disorders, and OCD.

fight simulator

Virtual reality

From a cognitive-behavioral perspective, one strategy to treat specific phobias is exposure to the object of fear. However, with certain phobias, actual exposure can be difficult or even dangerous, which is why some psychologists have started using technology. To treat the fear of flying, for example, they use flight simulators that are very similar to the kind pilots-in-training use.

Virtual reality can be a useful way to make successive approximations towards the feared object or situation. It can be applied to a fear of animals, heights, or even public speaking. This method is being used more frequently as virtual simulations become more realistic.

Another advantage of virtual reality is the possibility of receiving therapy at home. Obviously, technology cannot replace trained therapists, but it can facilitate the tasks that the client can work on at home. It’s a resource that can be economical with respect to time and sometimes even money. It’s not the only tool that can be used to treat phobias, but it’s a good complement to therapy.

Cognitive stimulation on the computer

Cognitive stimulation is a type of intervention that aims to exercise certain cognitive functions. It can be used to reinforce or improve functions that may have been affected by a disorder. This strategy is normally used in people with dementia and works with memory, language, and related functions.

Many cognitive stimulation programs that utilize tablets and computers have been developed. At first, treating dementia was the main goal, but today they are used for other disorders as well, such as ADHD, strokes, and brain injuries. This method is very versatile and allows the treatment to be personalized at a low cost.

For older populations, using new technologies is a form of stimulation in itself, since they must learn how to use them. Many scientific studies use cognitive stimulation with new technologies with positive results.

person thinking about new technologies

Future perspectives for using technologies in psychotherapy

Technology promises to become increasingly present in the practice of psychotherapy. For example, there are already psychologists who offer therapy sessions over Skype, and there are already apps specifically designed to track your mood. You can find tons of apps that promise to improve your mental health. With the growing number of technologies offered, it’s important to be able to identify which ones will be helpful for you.

Not all apps fulfill the initial promise of improving your mental health. When you’re choosing one, look for studies that support it. In any case, apps can never be a substitute for a professional. They can be useful as tools and resources, and they can facilitate or strengthen the effects of therapy, but they’ll never replace a real psychologist.

Finally, we’d like to highlight the role of technology in the administration of psychometric tests. It can drastically speed up the evaluation phase and immediately report on the results. This way, the psychologist doesn’t have to “grade” the test, they can just interpret the results and integrate them with other test results and evaluations. Therefore, they can spend more time creating a precise evaluation tool.