Psychology program implements telemedicine in treatments

Joshua Ceballos/Assistant News Director

The University’s Department of Psychology has started implementing technology such as game-like programs into their treatments, though only to a limited degree.

Jeremy Pettit, director of the Psychology Department and the Child Anxiety and Phobia Program, spoke to Student Media about the different studies and services that his office performs.

Pettit, along with the Center for Children and Families, works with children and teens who suffer from anxiety and use what he called a “cognitive behavioral approach.”

Pettit said that this approach focuses on thought patterns and behaviors that may contribute to fears and anxieties. To treat these issues, his department gradually exposes patients to their fears over the course of their treatment.

One of the ways that the University is using technology in their treatments, according to Pettit, is telemedicine.

“[With telemedicine], treatment sessions are happening via video conference, sort of like Skype. A family can be at home and see and talk with a treatment provider who’s here at the clinic,” Pettit said.

These treatment sessions are just like the ones done on-site at the clinic, but technology has made it more accessible to families who may not be able to travel, he said.

Pettit described some of the specific types of thought processes and behaviors observed and treated in his office.

People without high levels of anxiety, according to Pettit, have good adaptability when it comes to their environments and know how to use their attention to attend to threats or non-threatening stimuli. People with high anxiety, however, have trouble differentiating between threat and safety.

“Individuals who are high in anxiety tend to be less flexible in their attention deployment,” said Pettit. “In some instances, we see them being vigilant for possible threat or danger in an environment, even when they don’t need to be.”

Pettit said that in order to reshape this kind of thought process in patients, there have been a number of programs made available on computer and smartphone to assist in or facilitate treatment. One program in particular that FIU uses is called Attention Bias Modification Training and the simplest version uses only dots and faces.

“In each trial [of which there are hundreds], they will see two faces. In many instances, one of the faces will have a neutral expression and the other face will show an angry or threatening expression,” he said.

Pettit said that the faces are shown and then quickly disappeared, to be replaced by a blank screen and a dot in the place where the neutral face was.

By repeating this same trial over and over, it is believed that this will gradually shift a person with anxiety’s attention from the angry face – where they have been seen to mostly focus on – to the neutral face and thus train them to pay more attention to non-threatening stimuli in their daily lives.

Beyond this game-like treatment, Pettit said in his group, there are no “gameified” treatments being used. He did say, however, that research has been done to develop gameified forms of ABMT that may be more effective than what they have now.

Image retrieved from Flickr.

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