Forget therapy - you improve your mental health just by sitting at a computer

A new therapy, called cognitive-bias modification, has allowed people to relieve anxiety and the strain of certain addictions. It doesn't involve a doctor or medications, just a few minutes a day on a computer performing some simple tasks.

There are only a few problems with conventional therapy: Itt's expensive, it takes time, and it forces the patient to have human contact. All of these things are very daunting. Combined with talking about your deepest secrets and having to hold in the rage when asked, "And how do you feel about that?" Let's just say therapy might not be a valid option for everyone. Psychiatric medications can be an answer, but it's hard to get those without therapy (or without having to wave a roll of unmarked twenties and get into some scary guy's van). Plus, they often come with side effects too extreme to make them worth the risk. If only there were some way to get all the benefit of therapy or drugs just from sitting in one's underwear, staring at the computer.

Now, thanks to cognitive-bias modification, there is!

Cognitive-bias modification is about as scary involves a patient spending around fifteen minutes a day in front of the computer responding to images displayed in front of them. The exact images are tailored to what the person needs. One side of the computer screen displays a positive image. The other side displays an image that they need to avoid. For anxious patients, one side may display their worst fear, while the other side displays a neutral image. For addicts, one side would display an image or word associated with their addiction, while the other side displays something comforting or normal.

Like most of us, the patient naturally pays more attention to their fears than to neutral images. They'll stare at the thing they most want to avoid. The computer program tries to channel them away from their fears. They'll be asked to describe the neutral side of the screen, or identify letters or numbers that appear on the neutral side of the screen. Anything to get them to stop paying attention to the side that bothers them. After a lot of repetition, the person is trained to ignore, or at least not have a huge reaction to, the thing that bothers them.

Cognitive-bias modification gets results after a few hours - and a few thousand repetitions of those games. A recent study of 36 people with anxiety showed that about half reduced or shed their anxiety after a few hours of cognitive-bias modification. The group was small, but the results were similar to those achieved by talk therapy or medications. More tests of cognitive-bias modification are being conducted to see if they're helpful in relieving other conditions. Someday there could be an app for mental health.

Via The Economist.

Image by imredesiuk/Shutterstock