Date of Award

Summer 6-29-2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

Department

Counseling and Human Services

First Advisor

Sara Bressi

Second Advisor

John Jackson

Abstract

Nearly 25 percent of adults in the United States are diagnosed with a behavioral health condition, most commonly depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. Each of these diagnoses is associated with significant disruptions in affect regulation which encompasses the capacity to up and down regulate emotions. Best practice treatment for these conditions includes psychotropic medications combined with individual or group-based psychotherapeutic modalities which regardless of the therapist’s theoretical orientation attempt to promote affect regulation through skill transfer and strategies for observing one’s ability to regulate emotions. Similarly, attention to regulatory capacity is central to many emerging self-help technologies involving smart phone applications. These technologies encourage users to observe, track, and offer strategies for regulating feelings through sleep, exercise, nutrition, alcohol use and many others. However, while anecdotally reported, few studies have examined the ways in which smart phone applications are incorporated into psychotherapy. In response, the current exploratory study used focus groups comprised of masters prepared behavioral health clinicians (N=25) to examine the appropriateness, accessibility, practicality and acceptableness of smart phone technologies as an adjuvant tool in the clinical setting. More specifically this study explored the use of technology to promote self-observation, skill transfer and subsequently affect regulation. Results suggested clinicians frequently use smart phone technologies in their practice and find these applications to be appropriate for tracking a range of symptoms (e.g. mood, substance use, sleep disruptions) and for promoting coping skills (e.g. meditation applications). Clinicians also reported these applications were fairly accessible and practical for use. Results indicated clinicians are judicious in their use of smart phone applications based on the client’s developmental needs and their particular symptom presentation. While these technologies were deemed effective, accessible and practical, focus group participants were wary of the impact of technology on society and the developing mind, citing that overuse of technology could promote an exacerbation of social isolation and loneliness. Further, practitioners reported that use of technology in psychotherapy could disrupt the interpersonal relationship in treatment. Respondents also reported they were unclear how to vet applications and desired additional training on their use in treatment. In conclusion, while smart phone applications were used and helpful for promoting affect regulation, future research needs to further examine best practice strategies for integrating smart phone applications into psychotherapeutic treatment, as well as refine technologies to fit more closely with the goals of psychotherapy.

Keywords: Technology, Mobile Applications, Affect Regulation, Clinical Utility

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