The growth of technology has presented many opportunities for the mental health care industry. The most recent example of this is online therapy. During the pandemic, there was a dramatic increase in the need for therapy to help manage stress and anxiety. And because everything went digital, therapists had to quickly adapt to a new system. This shift has pros and cons much like any other technology. Let’s explore this and other examples of beneficial technology for mental health care.
By switching to an online environment, therapy can be more accessible for those who need it. Sessions can now be a simple video conference from either home or work. This can help create richer conversations because clients are more comfortable and can focus on the conversation. Also, therapy apps such as Talkspace make it easy to sign up and get connected with a specialist fairly quickly. The biggest caveat, however, with any technology is privacy. Therapists may be reluctant to switch over to an online system because of data leaks and cybersecurity issues. And this is a valid concern - the privacy between a patient and therapist is extremely crucial. Both sides must be compliant with HIPAA regulations, so it’s important to see how your privacy is protected before committing to a therapist online.
Before online therapy, technology was used in mental health treatments in a variety of ways. Robotics was primarily used to treat those with dementia, autism, and cognitive impairments in both children and adults. Robots can be zoomorphic (animal form), cartoon-like, and humanoids. Children with autism who are afraid of real animals can interact with a robotic animal and get used to it without risk of danger. Humanoids on the other hand provide effective training in recognizing facial expressions, which autistic individuals have difficulty with. Adults with dementia in care homes can interact with a zoomorphic robot as a substitute for physical animal therapy. Animal therapy is great because it’s known to lower stress levels and increase serotonin and dopamine levels. Who knew robots can help so many people? These are just a few ways in which they’ve made a difference in mental health treatment.
Technology doesn’t just help with treatment; it can help with assessment as well. Assessment is critical for the detection and treatment of mental illness. Traditional methods of capturing social and behavioral data are limited to the information that patients report back to their health care provider. As a result, this data can be biased and may not include accurate information. Mobile technology has the potential to overcome this problem and provide information about patient symptoms, behavior, and functioning in real-time. Also, these apps or websites can assess patients in more unique ways. Rather than answering long and tedious questions, they can go through a “video-game” style assessment. This can reduce bias and reveal insights that couldn’t be traditionally known. But again, we must always worry about privacy issues when using online software. Technology can bring us great benefits if we're smart about it.
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Riek, L. D. (2016). Robotics technology in mental health care. New York: Academic Press