Technology & Psychology

PT NEWS EDITOR SARAH SMITH TALKS WITH ROGER GOULD, M.D., ABOUT HIS COMPUTER-ASSISTED THERAPY PROGRAM.

Self-help has long been a popular industry, but Roger Gould is ushering a new form into the computer age with his Therapeutic Learning Program (TLP), a portion of which is now online at www.masteringstress.com. Based on decades of research in adult development, the program offers users an in-depth, interactive tool to assess "what's bothering you, what you can do about it and what's holding you back," as Gould puts it.

Sarah Smith: Is computer-assisted therapy going to change the future of psychology?

Roger Gould: I see it as something that's going to be parallel, alongside therapy. It's not at all in competition, because the main issues of therapy are the main issues in our program. To be happy, you have to have a good personal life, a good work life and your health. If any of those things aren't working well, you have to make modifications to them. And that's what this is all about.

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SS: How does TLP work?

RG: It's a 10-session program that explores in very fine detail each person's specific problem. It's what therapists do over a long period of time, but the computer does it systematically. It's a way of taking the art form of psychotherapy and making it an educational program that's applicable anywhere in the world. It sharpens your thinking and improves your development. But it's work. It's not a pill.

SS: Why would someone want to use a computer and not talk to a person?

RG: Most people would prefer, under ordinary circumstances, to talk to someone. We are storytellers. But there's a difference between storytelling and listening and actually doing cognitive work.

This program forces people to do the hard thinking that gets results. When people start using the program, the impersonality vanishes, because they're working so specifically on their own particular situation.

SS: What are the benefits of TLP over traditional therapy?

RG: We have a kind of discipline that therapists don't, not because they're inadequate, but because of the nature of our medium. The therapy field is in chaos. If it's ever going to advance in knowledge--which it hasn't because it's been repeating the same old things in different languages for the past 40 years--you have to have some stake in the ground that says this is what psychotherapy is, rather than hundreds of varieties multiplied by thousands of people putting their spin on it. This approach of taking what we know, putting it down in a program and trying it out with people, without the personal variable, is a way of finding out what really works and why.

SS: How is it different from self-help books?

RG: Books have a bunch of concepts--often good concepts --with examples, and you have to apply them to yourself. Our approach is more detailed and personal. We're helping you apply it to yourself and think precisely. Plus, people have to question the source of self-help. The issue is quality. We've been doing this for so long. It just happens to be on the Internet now, but with more people comfortable with computers, it's all flowing together.

STATISTICS WIRED WORLD

Just a few years ago, terms such as "dot-com" and "surfing the Net" meant nothing to the average American. Today, millions are clicking their way through the Web. How psychology will respond remains to be seen, but there's no question that computers and the Internet are a substantial part of 21st-century life.

163.4 MILLION

Number of Americans who haw access to the Internet

40.9 MILLION

Number of Americans who use the Internet for health care

21 HOURS

Average amount of time people spend online at work, per week

36

Percentage of people who regard the Internet as a necessity

35

Percentage of households with a computer

9.5

Average amount of time spent online at home, per week

USER BEWARE

Quality control is the biggest problem in online therapy, say those at the forefront of the burgeoning field. Some organizations have recommended guidelines, but the Internet remains an unregulated medium.

Marion Jacobs, Ph.D., an adjunct professor emerita at UCLA, compared Roger Gould's computer-assisted Therapeutic Learning Program with traditional therapy and found positive results. However, she points out that not all sites are clearly backed by solid research. "The Net is not a tightly controlled thing," Jacobs says. "I think there is room for wariness on the part of the public."

Others agree. Psychologist Marlene Maheu, Ph.D., says that experts who practice online are open to tremendous liability, but she thinks that computer-based techniques can work, if they are supported by research. As Jacobs says, "It's a case of how the Internet is used. It's a vehicle and it depends on the quality of the materials put out there."

--Sarah Smith

PHOTO (COLOR): Roger Gould, M.D., offers a type of online therapy.

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