Self-Regulated Cartel Opposes Technology That Can Help More People Without Accessing Licensed-Professionals

February 14th, 2012

No, I’m not talking about the legal profession–I’m talking about therapy. The Times has a piece about new apps that can help heal your mind. And, experts are opposed to these apps, even if they can reach so many more people (at a lower cost) than all professionals.

Not for long, if some scientists have their way. In the past few years researchers have been testing simple video-game-like programs aimed at relieving common problems like anxiety and depression. These recent results have been encouraging enough that investigators are now delivering the programs on smartphones — therapy apps, in effect, that may soon make psychological help accessible anytime, anywhere, whether in the grocery store line, on the bus or just before a work presentation.

The prospect of a therapy icon next to Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja is stirring as much dread as hope in some quarters. “We are built as human beings to figure out our place in the world, to construct a narrative in the context of a relationship that gives meaning to our lives,” said Dr. Andrew J. Gerber, a psychiatrist at Columbia University. “I would be wary of treatments that don’t allow for that.”

The upside is that well-designed apps could reach millions of people who lack the means or interest to engage in traditional therapy and need more than the pop mysticism, soothing thoughts or confidence boosters now in use.

“That is what makes the idea so promising,” said Richard McNally, a psychologist at Harvard whose lab recently completed a study of 338 people using a simple program accessible on their smartphones. “But there are big questions about how it could work, and how robust the effect really is.”

I agree there are grounds for caution here. Bad therapy–much like bad legal services–can really, really hurt someone. Though, the ability to improve access to justice (or therapy) may help the masses, and those unable to afford the services of professionals. Though, with soon-to-be-universal health care, this barrier may be less for therapy. Or, with the inevitable rationing and waiting lists, apps may be a good way to improve treatment.