American Psychological Association

119th Annual Convention
Washington D.C., August 4-7 2011




Lee Ritterbrand


2011-An E-Health Odyssey - or, The Internet as an Instrument for Change




At the 2011 APA Convention, there is a definite theme of technology as tools and influences in our daily lives, with the APA Convention itself (in the huge Convention Center) set up with family-friendly and special-needs facilities, and several “laptop charging” areas which I observed heavily in use, with seemingly as many people walking around with laptops as with phones/”smart devices”. Yes, notes being taken on iPads too.). The big buzz among members was how “cool” a new APA Convention app is; there is a futuristic “Net” area with comfy seating and WiFi. One hears constant references by presenters to “the new media” and “social media” and “apps” and Facebook (especially), as well as the power (and permanence) of Google search information and the power of social-like professional networks which serve as both c.v. and discussion group tool – e.g., Linked-in. The list goes on. Topics reflected new advances in practice, education, and research.

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Coincidentally, this week is another anniversary: In 2001 the presentation I chaired - at the invitation of Zimbardo - was titled
2001: A Cyberspace Odyssey - Integrating the Internet into our 21st Century Lives. We reflected on the power of the Internet and envisioned what life might be like in the 21st Century. Here & Now. Then came a few not-insignificant things: 9/11, Facebook, Kindle, iPads, iPhones, VR, Kindle, apps for apps and 'Twittermania'. And 'here' we are.

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Invited Address: Lee M. Ritterbrand, Ph.D.

2011: An E-Health Odyssey – or, the Internet As the Instrument for Behavior Change

Dr. Ritterbrand was introduced by Azy Barak, the preeminent researcher and bibliography-keeper in the area of Internet-facilitated applications for mental health. Dr Ritterbrand himself has been extensively involved with both studying and implementing cutting-edge applications.

A classic scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey
sets the stage, as the omnipotent computer - named Hal makes it clear who is in control, while politely explaining that he knew they were planning on unplugging him. This he would not allow.

The audience shared reactions and Dr. Ritterbrand honed in on how that clip speaks to the fears of a computer “taking over – being able to think and act on its own. One can not fight technology of course, and Ritterbrand quoted Freud (shown in a sketch by Dali looking very much like Steve Jobs!) who was well-known for his love of antiquity but not necessarily for his suspicions (like Chaplin’s) of technology, industrialization, etc: “If there had been no railway to conquer distance my child would never have left town and I should never need to telephone to hear his voice”.

On to “e-Health” generally, and some of the computer applications (online now) which are seen as having a huge potential impact on our thinking about programs. Ritterbrand sees a continuum of Internet offerings, ranging from offering information online to deployment of “robust systems”, such as those he will describe. His presentation used multi-media - not Powerpoint, as some inquired about – but I and others have requested some further information and photos of some of the links he projected onscreen.[ I will add links and/or photos as I polish these “asynchronously live” reports into articles, and now I focus on getting these reports out within hours of their happening, while people are still buzzing about today’s events. ]

Ritterbrand presented a scrolling list of mental health sites, so long he only showed a small part of it. The applications/web destinations include the availability of online counseling – “using computers to have a discussion with someone, usually real-time or asynchronous”. There are a great many online groups as well. He cited one as particularly interesting – http://apps.facebook.com//healthseeker – which is “actually a gaming platform”. And there are gaming-oriented sites or interfaces, such as games for health projects like medplaytech.com.

There is also a growing number of virtual applications, found for example in systems like “Inworld Solutions” or on SecondLife, where one employs an avatar. (He, like some, finds himself getting “kind of lost”, making this route effortful.)

Lastly there is the pervasive “wireless apps explosion” All kinds of statistics show “significant growth” over the past 12-24 months in terms of customer use, leading some (like Wired magazine) to declare “The Web is Dead”. Not quite so, however, as total use by percentage of communication tools/devices may be diluted, some areas of Internet use are growing, in part reflecting, including for example video sharing. [My take on this is that “devices” are immediate impulse gratifiers and data senders, computer monitors *may* be easier on some eyes and ears.] In any case, it is clear (including among convention goers at APA” that mobile app use is “on the rise” relative to “web consumption”. Understatement. A search he did yesterday found 720 iPhone apps at the moment.

Now when it comes to “Internet Interventions” the debate tends to be focused along the lines of “guided” versus “fully automated interventions”. [Each has unique benefits and risks, imho.] His group is working towards developing the “completely automated app”, the main argument being that is “not limited by human factor”. [Like Hal or Spock might argue?] On the other hand, he knows the evidence is strong that one cannot simply use something which “works” offline and take it online with the same results. He cited Dr. Barak’s meta-analysis of clinical online applications, and a book which has garnered much attention as of late, "Hands on Help".

As to benefits Ritterbrand cited several articles about “Internet Intervention Modes”, and described his focus on “mechanisms of change”.

Dr. Ritterbrand also discussed “issues of access” (including how a large chunk of Australia is without Internet access).

Then we were treated to some screen shots of some of the products he’s been working on, including an automated system of self-monitoring and self-educating oneself in the pursuit of improved sleep skills – among insomniacs. In addition to this Shut-i application there’s another product geared towards engaging children suffering from pediatric encopresis: Ucanpooptoo. I spare the details…

Running now to a related presentation, this presented by Ali Mattu, a psychology Intern at NYU and active member of APAGS (APA’s group for graduate students).




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2008 Convention Highlights:

Grand Theft Childhood | Opening | Malcolm Gladwell | College Success, Love, Hate, More | My Life With Asperger's
My Space, You Tube, Psychotherapy, Relationships... | Aaron T. Beck - 2008 | The Mind and Brain of Voters

2009 Convention Highlights:
Internet: Pathway for Networking, Connecting, and Addiction | Opening | Virtual Psychology & Therapy | Q&A with Zimbardo
Seligman: Positive Education | Future of Internet Media | Sex, Love, & Psychology | How Dogs Think

2010 Convention Highlights:
Online Support Groups & Applications | Evidence & Ethical Practice | Opening Ceremony | Sir Michael Rutter: Resilience
Group Memory | Psychology in the Digital Age | Steven Hayes: What Psychotherapists Have that the World Needs Now


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