Cybertherapy.. Really?

So after reading Kelsey’s post I was more interested in the fear circuitry. And then it just happened to fall into my lap after reading the New York Times that scientists are using what they token as “cybertherapy” to help ease phobias, social challenges, to gain insight into how people are affected by interactions. Researchers are populating digital worlds with autonomous, virtual humans that can evoke the same tensions as in real-life encounters. People with social anxiety are struck dumb when asked questions by a virtual stranger. Heavy drinkers feel strong urges to order something from a virtual bartender, while gamblers are drawn to sit down and join a group playing on virtual slot machines. And therapists can tell patients at the very moment those sensations are felt.

So researchers have used this therapy and have shown that people internalize these virtual experiences and their responses to them — with effects that carry over into real life. Both the Canadian and U.S. army has used cybertherapy for training officers and treating post-traumatic stress reactions.

I read through a number of studies about this line of healing and my opinion is it’s essentially a good way for psychiatrists to get to the root of phobias or anxiety. It’s essentially a way to face a fear without actually facing it. Also I found it really interesting that patients receiving this treatment want to know where it is coming from and are more open to confess more of their personal flaws, fears and fantasies to virtual figures than to live therapists conducting video interviews.

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3 thoughts on “Cybertherapy.. Really?

  1. This makes me think of the movie Surrogates with Bruce Willis (yes, a pop culture reference..) I think this is a really cool idea but it makes me a little uneasy. I’m just thinking about all of the time spent online and in chatrooms and I wonder when that is finally going to backfire/negatively impact face-to-face social interactions. I worry we are going to breed a generation that is incapable of having real interpersonal interactions and I feel like options like this only encourage the avoidance of human interaction. I also wonder about how well the virtual and real world transfer: if people work through their social anxieties online, will this success really carry over into real interactions?

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  2. Scientists and therapists are using the internet to reach more people with their therapies in a very interesting way. For instance, at the University of Chicago Eating and Weight Disorder Program, they have a study that uses the internet and specifically chat rooms to develop support systems among parents of children with eating disorders. The internet is creating really interesting ways of delivering mental help to people would otherwise would not be able to get it.

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