Magazine article Management Review

Computerized Therapy: New Doctor in the Office?

Magazine article Management Review

Computerized Therapy: New Doctor in the Office?

Article excerpt

COMPUTERIZED THERAPHY: NEW DOCTOR IN THE OFFICE?

Thirty-one-year-old Helen (*) has been plagued all of her adult life by a poor self-image, negative thoughts from a traumatic childhood and an inability to concentrate on work. Now Helen and many others may be able to receive the psychotherapeutic help they need through a computer program they use at work.

Developed by a California psychiatrist, the Therapeutic Learning Program (TLP) helps people identify, evaluate and prioritize psychological problems, talk through difficulties, explore the obstacles to problem-solving and set up a timetable for implementing goals. Greenwich, Conn.-based UST is the first corporate user of the program, but as other corporations grapple with skyrocketing mental healthcare costs for employees, "electronic shrinks" may become common fixtures in today's offices.

Mental healthcare utilization rates among employees have risen 57 percent faster than other medical services, according to John Mahoney, director of the Health Strategies Group at Alexander & Alexander, a Manhattan-based employee benefits consulting firm. TLP's potential to reduce employees' healthcare costs was one selling point for UST managers. "Before we bought TLP we calculated that it would pay for itself if only ten people used it," Robert Fuller, director of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at UST, says. Currently, more than 40 people have used it and Fuller is pleased with the results. "EAPs are going to be increasingly pressured to contain costs and expand their services. TLP [provides] a way to do both."

TLP also knocks down the barriers that prevent people who need help from seeking it, according to Fuller. Employees have usually been quite cautious about revealing to their employers when they're having a problem, and Fuller thought TLP would neutralize that fear. He had already observed the importance of employee confidentiality when he set up an information and referral hot line for mental health problems. Utilization of such services jumped from one percent to 11 percent because of the hot line, partly because of its anonymity, a feature also held by TLP. EAP counselors do meet several times with employees using TLP, enabling them to identify those with problems requiring more extensive intervention.

Not surprisingly, the computer program is generating controversy within the medical community. Although non-directive computerized theraphy has existed for two decades, its popularity has waxed and waned. …

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