A computer-based, self-help system for the space age

HOUSTON - (June 26, 2002) - Soon we can throw out the self-help books and motivational tapes and make way for a computerized system designed to help people work through issues such as conflict resolution or mild depression.

Under development for astronauts on extended missions, the system will assist in preventing, assessing and managing social and psychological problems. But, with some modifications, the system has the potential to benefit everyone - whether living and working in extreme environments, submarines or oil rigs, or on a farm, in a suburb or big city.

"Researchers have shown that people are often more comfortable revealing sensitive information to a computer, rather than to a clinician, and they are more likely to acknowledge problems using computer-based assessments," said Dr. James Carter, a researcher on the National Space Biomedical Research Institute's (NSBRI) neurobehavioral and psychosocial factors team.

"The stresses of long-duration space flight such as separation from family, loss of privacy and limited social outlets can lead to mood disturbances, loss of sleep, conflict, work problems and, potentially, depression," said Carter, who serves as senior researcher at the Interactive Media Laboratory at Dartmouth Medical School and is a licensed clinical psychologist. He has co-produced an NIH-funded interactive media program that teaches cancer patients how to manage the side effects of cancer treatments.

A virtual space station will serve as the setting for the program, which will provide assessment, treatment, prevention and education. The program will integrate graphics, audio and video multimedia designed to create a realistic environment.

The prototype will include three modules for users - conflict management, treatment of mild depression and psychological self-assessment. The goal is to prevent these problems from occurring, but if they do, crewmembers will have the program on board to provide

Contact: Liesl Owens
National Space Biomedical Research Institute

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