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Frederick Muench Ph.D.

Technology and Mental Health: Using Technology to Improve Our Lives.

Technology and Mental Health: Using Technology to Improve Our Lives.

It appears that the popular health media has forgotten that widely available technologies can improve peoples' lives-rather than just turn us into socially avoidant impulsive sexters. Granted, many new technologies likely impact our mental and physical health negatively. For example, research suggests that electromagnetic radiation is more likely to penetrate a child's brain than an adult's, so you should probably take precautions. Yet there are numerous technologies that help individuals improve their lives.

While most individuals immediately think of traditional talk therapy as the primary path toward self-improvement, there is a long history of using technologies for the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders. According to David Baker, Director of the Archives of the History of American Psychology (, technologies within the mental health field have been most notably used for testing and diagnosis.

One of the most interesting, and bizarre, was the Psycograph phrenology machine patented in 1905. Based on the theory that the shape of the skull could determine personality traits, the Psycograph would analyze the shape of your skull and provide a printout detailing the characteristics of your personality. Baker highlights that instruments such as the Psycograph were quite technologically advanced but ultimately based on flawed science. Newer technologies, such as electromagnetic brain stimulation of the vagus nerve for severe depression are promising and have their roots in technologies like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which was developed in the 1930s.

It's interesting that the medical devices used by mental health professionals, such as electromagnetic brain stimulation, are not the ones that will make the greatest impact on our wellbeing. It is the everyday inventions that offer the greatest benefit. Take the good old fashion landline telephone, it allows individuals in rural areas to connect with mental health counselors thousands of miles away. Internet based screening tools and interventions allow for millions of people around the world to be screened for mental health problems and begin the process of change from their own homes. Text messaging can remind us of our behavior change goals when we need it most (e.g. put down the cake). And the explosion of smart phones with high speed broadband will allow us to instantly access hundreds of peers in targeted social networks while standing on a crowded bus. These technologies help us to connect on a level never seen in history; and for individuals less likely to seek professional help, they provide a confidential self-paced avenue towards change.

New technological innovations designed to improve mental health are both exciting and frightening. Technologies are short-cuts that amplify everyday experience. Consequently, they can be significantly more beneficial, or harmful, than traditional self-improvement methods. The goal of this blog is to discuss how specialized and everyday technologies can improve our lives, as well as highlight the weaknesses and pitfalls of using technology to assist in behavior change. Widely available technologies such as web-based assessment tools and interventions, mobile phone applications, virtual reality applications, and consumer biofeedback and monitoring devices will be emphasized. I look forward to this exciting and constantly changing journey with you.

About the Author

Frederick Muench, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the Director of Digital Health Interventions at North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital in the Department of Psychiatry.