Computer to replace shrink

A new form of psychoanalysis which involves the patent sitting in front of a computer answering questions could replace the traditional talk therapy.

Cognitive-bias modification (CBM) starts to have an effect within a few 15-minute sessions, and requires no drugs nor the discussion of feelings.

The patent sits down in front of a PC and uses a program that subtly alters harmful thought patterns.

Yair Bar-Haim, a psychologist at Tel Aviv University who has been experimenting with it on patients, told the Economist  that it has already been shown to work for anxiety and addictions, and is now being tested for alcohol abuse, post-traumatic-stress disorder.

It works on the idea that many psychological problems are caused by automatic, unconscious biases. Similar biases may affect memory. A person might interpret the fact that their mate has walked past without saying hello as meaning that they have ignored you. Another might just assume the friend did not see them.

The trick of the computer is to alter such biases, and it turned out to be easy. The computer shows someone two words or pictures—one neutral and the other threatening.

If you have social anxiety you might see a picture of a neutral face and a disgusted face. An anxious person instinctively focuses on the disgusted face. But the software forces them to complete tasks involving the neutral picture.

Repeating the procedure around a thousand times, over a total of two hours, changes the user’s tendency to focus on the anxious face. This is then carried out into the real world.

Top shrink, Emily Holmes of Oxford University, said that the computer is like a vaccine against inappropriate anxiety.

The computer is coming up tops against traditional “talk therapy” too.

Normally the success rate of standard talk therapy is about 50 per cent and the use of drugs has a similar success rate.

The strange thing is that not all disorders can be treated by the computer. It does not work with responses such as a fear of spiders or snakes which might be hardwired evolutionary programming.

It looks like science has finally come up with a way of treating all those neuroses which are caused by er… science.