Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dr. Gary Zomalt: The development of "psychotherapy apps" for smartphones

Researchers are developing smartphone apps that can take the role of psychotherapists. The question is: will these apps be effective? Read this Gary Zomalt blog to learn more.

The past decades saw how technology has constantly expanded. Now, this expansion is attempting to change people’s perception on the psychotherapy realm, through smartphone therapy apps that—if successful—could ease common mental problems like anxiety, depression, and even alcoholism.

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In previous years, researchers have been testing video-game-like programs that can supposedly alter people’s emotional and mental habits, just like what a psychotherapist can do. An example of a “psychotherapy app” that scholars and academics are developing is the one that utilizes the cognitive-bias modification approach, or CBM.

3R Counseling and Consulting is an institution based in Fresno, California that helps patients cope with mental problems such as addiction. It was founded by Dr. Gary Zomalt, an expert psychotherapist.

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The CBM approach seeks to break some of the brain’s bad habits, which are the roots of most mental conditions. For example, in the case of people with social anxiety disorder, their minds are subconsciously programmed to only focus on threatening faces among many others—like mechanically spotting a rotten apple in a basket full of fresh ones. This pattern causes them to easily become intimidated, resulting to high levels of anxiety.

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In the app that features CBM, users with social anxiety disorder are shown two faces, one with a neutral expression and another one that looks hostile. The app then will put much activity—like random numbers that pop out—around the neutral face, forcing smartphone owners to focus on the head with a blank expression, rather than the aggressive one. If done repetitively, the exercise can train the eyes to automatically look away from hostile faces, lessening the anxiety individuals feel around other people.

The so-called “psychotherapy apps” are still in their infancy stage. But no one can deny how big their potential is, which is basically grounded on one idea—to provide psychological help that’s accessible to anyone at any time and in any place.

Learn more about Dr. Gary Zomalt by checking out his Twitter page.