Technology has become commonplace in everyday life of most Americans, mediating many forms of communication and societal interaction. The use of technology for mental health assessment and treatment has also grown rapidly, particularly during COVID. It now has created a research trail that routinely traverses behavioral and mental health areas that otherwise could have remained unexplored for decades.
Serving clients in geographically rural America to urban jungles, dedicated clinicians often equipped with nothing more than a tablet are finding new, validated ways to use technology for mental health. The rapid proliferation of empirical studies and validated tools points to many new opportunities as well as challenges for the everyday clinician trying to make sense of what to consider.
State of the Art in Technology for Mental Health
To summarize state of the art in technological innovation for mental health assessment and treatment, researcher Philip Harvey recruited almost a dozen notable colleagues to publish a review article. Their efforts recently culminated in a 2022 American Journal of Psychiatry article, Technology, and Mental Health: State of the Art for Assessment and Treatment. The team sought to identify existing categories of mental health technology and predict which technologies will continue to expand into the immediate future.
The authors carefully detail several areas that are becoming more clearly defined in the evidence-based, supported by meta-analyses and systematic reviews. They took the time to also cautioned that clinicians must be careful to fully investigate the research supporting the technologies they choose for mental health service delivery, as all that glitters is not gold.
According to Harvey and colleagues, validated technology for mental health assessment and treatment currently includes:
- Technology-based assessment of cognition and everyday functioning (i.e., Cognitive Assessments and Functional Capacity Assessments)
- Remote delivery of technology-based cognitive and functional assessments
- Clinical virtual reality
- Ecological momentary assessment (EMA)
- Smartphone therapeutic applications
- Computerized cognitive training and cognitive remediation therapy (CRT)
- Pharmacological augmentation of CRT
The Future of Technology for Mental Health
After thoughtfully reviewing the literature and offering examples of how these technologies can be used, the authors next noted the proliferation of studies now available in research settings but not yet used in clinical settings. They give examples of how many of these technologies will be used and predict how they will soon become accessible to everyday clinicians. They also encourage clinicians to keep an eye on the issue of access to technology. They outline how older age and socioeconomic status disparities interfered with mental health assessment and treatment through technology during COVID. They describe how some disparities make it difficult for providers to reach older clients and those living in low-income or rural areas. They also mention that more older people have Internet access than ever before, which can reverse the tide, allowing these newer technologies to become more widespread.
The researchers also note that the use of technology in mental health is already increasingly acceptable to clients and patients, exerting pressure that will continue to reduce healthcare disparities and increase satisfaction in those who have been denied access in the past. They also take the position that the access barrier is and must continue to be addressed by state and local governments. Meanwhile, practitioners will learn to offer accommodations to clients who stand to benefit from technology in mental health assessment and treatment.
The researchers summarize their extensive review article by stating that the combination of significant advancements shown effective through controlled studies and increased consumer demand points to increased use of these technologies in clinical settings. the future. They conclude by stating:
There is likely more to come in this broad area, and assessments and interventions that would have seemed like science fiction in the past are entirely commonplace now.