Say Hello to Your Virtual Therapist: The Field of Computational Psychiatry

The way we diagnose and treat mental illness may soon be transformed completely by machines. The new field of computational psychiatry utilizes cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and machine learning to diagnose and treat mental illness.

For example, a new study has found that AI and machine learning algorithms helped predict instances of schizophrenia with 74% accuracy, according to IBM scientists and the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. According to Futurism, psychiatry is a discipline “in transition thanks to the transformative impact of processing power.”

Say Hello to Your Virtual Therapist: The Field of Computational Psychiatry

An End to Subjectivity

Subjectivity and the difficulty of conducting large-scale studies are issues that have been engrained within the practice of clinical psychology for a long time. Researchers believe that computational psychiatry may signal an end to this challenge, and reveal the path to a new era of diagnostic accuracy and understanding by improving our ability to quantify and analyze different behavioral aspects.

But how does computational psychiatry really work? A few different ways. Some researchers in the field “apply mathematical theories of cognition to data mined from long-standing observations to effectively diagnose and predict cognition, while other use virtual environments to enable the pure study of human behavior,” according to a recent article published by Futurism.


Reshaping Our Understanding of Mental Illness

Virtual Reality offers a realm in which behavior can be closely studied and analyzed under carefully controlled conditions that might not be easily replicable in the real world.

The MIT Technology Review recently published an article that offers the following example:

The subject controls an avatar in an immersive virtual environment while interacting with another avatar. This allows researchers to study interpersonal behaviors such as distance, regulation, gaze direction and posture.

VR can also be used to help ex-soldiers overcome symptoms of PTSD and has also been successful in helping those affected by depression overcome their symptoms by increasing self-compassion.

Aside from VR, machine learning also a lot of potential when it comes to treating and diagnosing mental illness. According to Futurism, Woebot, a chatbot that “uses cognitive behavioral therapy principles to help combat depression” is a prime example. After a small test run of the app, researchers apparently described the results as “promising.”

Computational psychiatry has the potential to help a limitless amount of patients, but it must be noted that the field is only in its infancy. It isn’t clear how exactly these treatments will impact the mind or the brain, but we should expect to see important new insights in the coming years.


Filling the Mental Health Workforce Gap

With recent expanded mental health coverage came expanded access to mental health care—a good thing. However, the nation’s healthcare system doesn’t have enough psychiatrists to treat an increasing number of patients who have recently gained access.

After family physicians, psychiatrists are now the second most highly recruited physicians, according to the Forbes and the 2017 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives.

With the help of apps like Woebot and other advanced forms of Computational Psychiatric treatment, we may be able to treat and even provide care for those affected by mental illness. In turn, this would ideally reduce the demand for care and help fill the workforce gap, something urgently needed.

According to the Forbes, in some areas of the country, “the lack of psychiatrists in outpatient centers and in private practice is triggering a spike in healthcare costs as people with behavioral issues seek care in hospital emergency rooms.”

The truly shocking revelation in the Forbes article is that in many of the mental health professions there are counties in Missouri that do not employ a single psychiatrist of psychologist or behavioral analyst.


Attracting Mental Health Talent during a Workforce Shortage

There is a lack of an adequately trained psychiatric workforce, according to a report by the National Council for Behavioral Health. However, the talent is out there if you know where to look. In the face of a workforce shortage, competition often runs high and you may be left high and dry if you don’t have the correct approach with your candidates.

If you’re interested in finding the very best mental health talent available or you need help finding ways to beat the competition, our healthcare recruiters can health. Our recruiters have past experience in the healthcare and medical fields, which gives them unique insight into your talent search.

Contact us today if you’re in need of top mental healthcare talent.