Friday, December 3, 2010

Cybertherapy, placebos and the Dodo effect

By John Horgan,

When the media report on a new diet that supposedly helps people lose weight once and for all, I wonder, "Does anyone still believe these claims, given the dismal track record of diets?" I have the same reaction to new treatments for psychological disorders, such as "cybertherapy."

In a long, lavishly illustrated article in The New York Times, Benedict Carey reported that psychotherapists are harnessing virtual reality for treating social anxiety disorder, alcoholism, agoraphobia, gambling addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder and a host of other mental ailments. Therapists can, in effect, place an alcoholic in a bar, an acrophobe in a rooftop party and someone who fears public speaking in front of a large, restless audience. They then can manipulate the virtual environment to test patients' ability to cope with different situations.

Cybertherapy is about as effective—or ineffective—as more conventional talk therapy. This finding confirms the so-called Dodo effect, which was originally proposed by the psychologist Saul Rosenzweig in the 1930s, when psychoanalysis was spawning a host of variants. He speculated ... Read more>>

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