Digital Therapist?

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A recent study from Yale University found that patients who received computer-assisted training in addition to counseling were more successful in addressing their substance abuse problem(s) than those that received counseling alone. Seventy-seven people seeking treatment for drug and alcohol abuse participated in the study and those who received the supplementary computer-based training had significantly fewer positive drug tests at the end of the study. The study, which was reported in the May 1st edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry, utilized a software program developed by Kathleen M. Carroll, professor of psychiatry at Yale, and colleagues. The software program utilized various types of media to interact with participants, including text, video and audio. In reference to the software Carroll said, “We think this is a very exciting way of reaching more people who may have substance use problems and providing a means of helping them learn effective ways to change their behavior.”

Applications for this type of software may be useful in instances where patients lack funding sources, therapists lack time, or even in instances where therapists lack training specifically in cognitive behavioral therapy. Obliviously, there are “potential” ethical issues surrounding such computer-based training and counselor sensitivity and adaptability to the client/patient must not be overlooked; Nonetheless, the study is quite interesting. The following is an excerpt from Medical News Today that reviews the study:

“I am immensely proud of Dr. Carroll and her colleagues’ work,” said William Sledge, MD, interim chair and George D and Esther S Gross professor of psychiatry. “At first glance one might conclude that this computer-based training in some way threatens the conventionally perceived value of the relationship between the therapist and the patient, however, I do not see it as so. Rather, they have demonstrated how a low cost but carefully conceived procedure can enhance conventional treatment and add additional element of richness and effectiveness to its power.”

Carroll is one of 20 Yale School of Medicine faculty members who have been designated ISI HighlyCited researcher, a listing of the most highly influential scientists in the world. The Yale drug and alcohol program received top ranking among graduate programs in 2008 from the US News and World Report.

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