Oct
06
2007

Let me help you – get off the couch and on the computer

A new way to help: Therapists in England are using a new computer game -- Fearfighter -- to work with the backlog of patients who have long waits getting appointments of psychological treatments. Patients are getting off the couch and logging on to a computer for help. (Flickr photo by semi-awesome)
A new way to help: Therapists in England are using a new computer game -- Fearfighter -- to work with the backlog of patients who have long waits getting appointments of psychological treatments. Patients are getting off the couch and logging on to a computer for help. (Flickr photo by semi-awesome)
A post a while back about the potential for becoming addicted to playing video games is still generating comments. Now comes word from England that psychological help is being offered through a video game.

It’s a new concept for dealing with an overloaded therapy field. People in England wanting to see a therapist may have to wait up to six months before they can get an appointment.

Now along comes “Fearfighter,” a psychiatric computer game that allows users to download their problems and issues into the online computer game. A British health group has endorsed the program as a way to deal with panic attacks, mild depression or phobias. And the British National Health Service will pay for people to use the service.

The treatment is especially effective for people dealing with phobias. Regardless of what they’re afraid of, they receive much of the same treatment and questioning from a therapist. The new computer game handles a lot of those routine tasks, allowing patients to deal with some of their issues while they’re waiting to have an actual appointment with a person.

Getting people over those problems often involves getting the patient to think in a new way. Through questions and responses, a computer can be programmed to help people turn their viewpoints around.

Another strength to “Fearfighter” is that it is anonymous. Patients who might be shy about opening up their thoughts to another person find they can be much more upfront with a computer.

Through the program, patients learn how to recognize the signs of things that trigger their fears with the thought that they’ll then be able to know how to avoid those traps in the future. Another component of the treatment, patients watch actors going through scenarios of problems they face and see new ways of coping with them. The program can also give directions on how to cope with the fears patients are dealing with. “Fearfighter” gives patients homework, assignments on how to deal with the things that they’re afraid of.

Health professionals monitor the activity and are available to communicate with people using it who need immediate professional help. So far, a couple thousand patients have received treatments through the program and the British therapy community figures it should enable them to reach twice as many patients.

Do you think this is a good way to help people deal with their problems? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

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