Technological advancement has touched every professional field out there, and psychology is no exception. It is helping us reshape how we understand, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions, enhancing the effectiveness of mental health care.
Technologies such as computers, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and electroencephalograms (EEG) have existed for a long time and are used to this day in diagnosing abnormal brain activity. Over time, improvements in these processes, such as improved computer processing power, robotics and big data, and artificial intelligence (AI) have significantly improved our ability to store and process large amounts of information.
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Virtual reality (VR)
VR involves a computer-generated environment with scenes that appear to be real, making the user feel as if they are immersed in their surroundings. You experience different degrees of presence when using VR, making it possible to evoke responses and emotions that would be produced in a similar situation in real life.
VR has been shown to reduce symptoms when used as a treatment method for anxiety disorders, PTSD, and substance abuse. Using VR, your therapist can replicate your anxiety-inducing situation in a safe environment, helping you navigate it to overcome your fear. For example, if you have social anxiety, they can help you overcome social avoidance by creating a virtual environment and having them complete tasks that would trigger your anxiety in real life.
VR is effective and feels so real because you feel present and immersed when in a VR simulation; you lose the awareness that you’re in an artificial world while feeling exactly how it feels to be inside the experience in real life, both psychologically and physiologically. Typically, the more immersive the experience, the more present you feel.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI is still an emerging area in psychology, but it will undoubtedly play a significant role in its future. Researchers already use predictive algorithms to give more accurate projections, diagnoses, and treatments. For instance, AI can run algorithms that can predict your behavior and recommend a suitable course of action.
AI robots can be used to talk with clients who have PTSD, providing more precise and personalized mental health care. However, a downside would be that you can’t receive the same empathy from AI as you would from an actual therapist.
The data that predictive algorithms use can be collected through your use of digital spaces where you leave behavioral traces, or digital footprints. A simple example is your text messages or social media posts. This data can be collected through application programming interfaces (APIs), which algorithms can then use to predict psychological traits accurately.
Teletherapy is simply online therapy carried out online or on the phone. It can also include a hybrid approach, with some sessions done on the phone or online, through tools such as Zoom, and some in-person sessions.
Online sessions might not be preferable for everyone since it is a slightly different experience from in-person sessions. Body language, tone, nuance, and expressions may often be lost when you can’t see the therapist. However, it is also true that teletherapy has made it a lot easier for people to receive therapy by not having to travel to the clinic, especially in communities where seeking therapy is still frowned upon.
Non-invasive brain stimulation
The idea of stimulating the brain to treat mental health disorders has existed for a long time but has only become a reality in the past few decades. Electroconvulsive therapy and deep brain stimulation are a few examples that are commonly used to treat patients with major depression or bipolar disorder.
More recently, non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) techniques have been used to examine brain mechanisms and enhance cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional processes. They are also used to boost psychiatric rehabilitation by modulating neuroplasticity, or the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to various stimuli. There are two main NIBS types: transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). TMS involves the application of a magnetic field that induces an electric field in the brain.
By varying the intensity and frequency of the pulses, researchers can influence the neurons in the stimulated area. tDCS involves the application of a weak current to the brain via electrodes. TMS and tDCS can be used to study brain function and investigate the causal relationships between specific brain regions and cognitive or motor functions. NIBS techniques are generally considered safe with a low risk of damage compared to invasive procedures, such as deep brain stimulation.
Digital mental health apps
Mental health apps are designed to improve your emotional well-being and address common mental health issues. Some apps allow users to access online therapy, while others may help you begin meditation to cope with stress and anxiety or improve your sleep schedule. They range in purpose and the services they offer, but according to your situation, they can help with everything from mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Benefits of emerging technologies in psychology
Emerging technologies have greatly enhanced our understanding of psychology. They improve self-report measures by allowing individuals to report their thoughts, feelings, and behavior innovatively, reducing response bias and making it more convenient to collect data. Technology also makes data analysis easier; data collected on a computer can be automatically tabulated and interpreted.
Another advantage is the improved validity and reliability of psychological research. As technology advances, instruments are created, allowing researchers to carry out their measurements more precisely and making it easier to replicate results. Additionally, large-scale databases allow scientists to collect information from a large and diverse population, enabling more comprehensive analyses and generalizability of results.
Technological advancements have transformed the study of psychology, with innovations in not only diagnosis and treatment but also education and research. These changes offer multiple benefits, including increased accuracy and reliability, personalization, and convenience to people seeking mental health care.
It is necessary to consider ethical considerations when introducing new technology, especially when it comes to the well-being of an individual. Through the advantages these innovations provide us, we hope to see continued progress in psychology and create a future where mental health care is more inclusive and effective.
Tim Williamson, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.
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