2015-08-28 / Health & Wellness

Doctors say new technology is changing the face of psychotherapy

Wearable device helps put patients at ease
By Sylvie Belmond


MOOD-ALTERING TECHNOLOGY—In a simulated psychotherapy session, psychologist Dr. Joseph Nicolosi Jr., left, demonstrates new devices that can help patients cope with anxiety, depression and trauma. 
Courtesy of David J. Ross MOOD-ALTERING TECHNOLOGY—In a simulated psychotherapy session, psychologist Dr. Joseph Nicolosi Jr., left, demonstrates new devices that can help patients cope with anxiety, depression and trauma. Courtesy of David J. Ross A new patient sits anxiously in the office of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi Jr., a Thousand Oaks-based clinical psychologist.

Uneasy about meeting the doctor for the first time, the woman’s eyes remain locked on the floor. She has an anxiety disorder that makes it hard for her to speak or even move sometimes, and she’s tuned out the world around her.

But Nicolosi has something to show the woman.

“Do you want to try it on?” he asks.

He’s referring to a Thync, a wearable device activated by a smartphone app that has the ability to lower a patient’s anxiety.

After she is fitted with the device, the woman smiles, staring outside and noticing for the first time that it’s a beautiful day. After 10 minutes of treatment, the doctor asks her how she feels.


IN THYNC—A patient has a Thync device attached to her forehead. Thync emits neurosignals that help its wearer to feel calm or energetic, depending on their need. 
Courtesy of David J. Ross IN THYNC—A patient has a Thync device attached to her forehead. Thync emits neurosignals that help its wearer to feel calm or energetic, depending on their need. Courtesy of David J. Ross “Better,” she says.

Nicolosi said new technology is changing the face of psychotherapy.

Virtual-reality goggles, wearable mood-altering technology and other high-tech gadgets can help patients cope with anxiety, depression and trauma, he said.

The 34-year-old doctor is a Westlake High School graduate who earned his master’s degree from California Lutheran University and attended the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Westwood. He earned his doctorate in 2009.

Nicolosi, who also practices in Encino, said the new technology helps his patients get the most out of their therapy sessions.

“I just love psychotherapy and integrating the technology,” he said. “I have a passion for helping people discover their potential and overcome difficulties that they weren’t able to overcome before.”

Anxiety and depression are leading psychoses, Nicolosi said.

People who are apprehensive about psychotherapy and looking for a different approach may find the high-tech methods intriguing and helpful.

Nicolosi said men, unlike women, are often opposed to receiving therapy.

“But men like gizmos,” he said, “so the new technology may encourage them to give it a shot.”

Nicolosi’s specialty is trauma therapy, far different than his father’s. Joseph Nicolosi Sr. is a leader in the field of reparative therapy, the psychology of treating men who want to distance themselves from homosexual tendencies.

The younger Nicolosi said his goal is not to change sexual tendency but to help people work through the issues that trouble them.

Immersive therapy

Nicolosi believes technology represents the new wave in psychotherapy.

A virtual-reality device called the Oculus Rift immerses patients in a simulated environment fraught with anxiety but without the risks.

“The perceived danger can be adjusted, allowing the patient to be exposed to a given situation in the safety of the therapist’s office,” Nicolosi said.

The Oculus Rift is primarily used in the gaming industry. In psychotherapy, the device is used to mimic real-life situations that patients have to deal with.

Playing with brainwaves

Using an electromagnetic module attached to the forehead and connected to a smartphone, the wearable Thync mood-altering device emits neurosignals to help the wearer feel either calm or energetic, depending on their need.

The device is available to consumers, but Nicolosi is using an adaptation that makes the technology applicable to psychotherapy.

He said the device helps put patients at ease, allowing his therapy to delve deeper.

“Some people feel embarrassed to talk about certain things, but if they are in a calm state induced by Thync, that helps them to communicate more,” he said.

If a person is depressed or sad, the device’s electromagnetic impulses stimulate neural pathways that can assist mood elevation.

One of the doctor’s patients said he values the therapist’s approach to innovative treatment.

“I think it (technology) can’t replace talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. But it defi- nitely can assist as a tool to bring calming effects to clients and to help them achieve healing,” said the man, who asked to remain anonymous.

At first, the Thync device created a “weird sensation,” he said, “but overall it calmed down my inner distress.”

Changing minds

In addition to Thync, Nicolosi has employed an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing device in some sessions.

The therapy can help people overcome the effects of psychological trauma by changing the image associated with it and bringing new emotions to light, he said.

The procedure replicates what happens when people are in deep sleep by allowing the subconscious to re-categorize bad memories so they no longer have a debilitating effect.

While other therapists move their fingers back and forth in front of a patient’s face and ask them to follow the hand gestures with their eyes as they recall a disturbing event, Nicolosi uses tactile stimulation with a handheld device to achieve the same effect.

While tech tools are useful, Nicolosi said, they should not replace traditional psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals.

To ensure the best possible outcome for patients with emotional and other psychosomatic conditions, the new devices should be used as an adjunct, not a substitute, he said.

Return to top