Slate had a very interesting article about whether an app or computer can be an effective form of
psychotherapy. For someone who has been on the front lines of community mental health in urban
areas of Boston and Springfield for 30 years, you would think I would be outraged at this concept. Quite the contrary, I think that this approach has great promise for a certain type of client motivated to help themselves. Virtual healing is a way for the world to help each other. Unfortunately, the world is using virtual reality to bully each other and forcing all of us into being bystanders watching others bully others.
There is clearly a way in which a motivated person, probably a millennial or someone raised in the digital era, could interact with a computer program to offer good advice based on a person’s difficult situation. When someone is motivated to face a problem and break it down into steps necessary to interact with an app, the client is two-thirds of the way to solving the problem. Their motivation to succeed is a is the main ingredient for any effectiveness at achieving their goals. Working with difficult traumatized clients does not involve clients that are motivated to change. They are burdened by generations of trauma that has trapped them into destructive behaviors.
It is important to realize that there are two main ingredients that allow computer-based therapy to be useful. First, the client has to believe in his or her computer. As a baby boomer, I’m not that fond of interacting with my computer. I do what I have to do for business and certainly don’t pursue personal interests on my computer. Second, the client has to be motivated to change a specific problem that is not deep-seated and rooted in generations of trauma, poverty, and oppression.
Psychotherapy with seriously traumatized people requires the presence of an active, listening human being substituting for what the traumatized clients missed during their early childhood. When early
attachments do not occur, clients will need a long-standing relationship with a skilled therapist and
possibly medication. Apps for this type of traumatized client could be helpful in symptom
management in conjunction with ongoing psychotherapy with medical backup, not just an app.
Psychotherapy doesn’t always have the correct answer. When a domestic violence victim returns to his or her abuser, they know that that’s not the correct decision. They are motivated by deep, and often generationally created, trauma-based problems. Computers and correct answers won’t help them but could be very useful for motivated clients or when directed by a professional therapist to assist in managing dangerous and destructive behaviors.