How Will Psychology Look in the Digital Age?

The digital age offers psychology the possibility of expanding beyond a conception of the self and of treatment limited by space and time. The notion of a psyche or self somewhere in the digital galaxy, and the possibility of treating this psyche in digital interspace, challenges our psychological understanding of how we define the self and how we define treatment.

The actual notion of how we define self is being remodelled by the digital age. With endless access to information and vastly diverse opinions and perspectives of reality, we are no longer defined by the narrow geographical communities that we may find ourselves in. Our relationships and self-expression are often mediated to the world via digital modalities that erode depth and consistency of self and connectedness, but at the same time expand possibilities for self-expression and relatedness. We cannot help but recognise that we are part of an enormous, interconnected web of humanity. This more fluid and mercurial notion of a “digital self” may have implications for the manifestation of mental ill health and demands an aligned approach to treatment of the psyche. As we go deeper into the digital age, both therapist and client will increasingly find themselves immersed in this digital soup, and the “self” that develops treatments as well as the “self” that requires treatment will approach psychological healing within this context.

Psychological treatment in the digital age will offer an expansive, fluid and variable experience of the healing process. This mirrors similar expansions of psyche and healing beyond the boundaries of traditional psychological notions of self, located in the mind and healed through the avenue of the “talking cure” and its offshoots. The field of psychology is exploding with an understanding of other modes of healing besides the avenue of talking. An expanded notion of the human psyche that incorporates mind-body, self-other, right brain left brain and the “digital self” is fighting for space within the realm of the establishment rationalist, talking cure approach to psychology.

Body-cantered and expressive therapies (e.g. art therapy) and their accompanying conceptualisations of mental ill health are increasingly forming a credible part of how psychology understands pathology and healing. This expanded understanding of what generates healing also has expression in the way digital modalities are used. Just like somatic and expressive forms of healing often go beyond the office and the traditional therapist/client relationship characteristic of psychology, similarly, this expanded form of healing has and will continue to incorporate and find expression in the use of digital forms of psychological healing. Smart apps to manage stress, various services of online counselling and interactive online workbooks are increasingly being viewed as relevant and effective forms of psychological intervention. This also extends into online healing communities and peer support groups that offer more horizontal services less reliant on the knowledge of the elite professional.

Just like the “digital self” is so much more fluid and variable, similarly digital mental health interventions mirror multiple levels of relatedness and multiple possibilities for treatment that will increasingly become a part of how we heal the psyche. The “as if” notion of a “digital self” and the interrelatedness of a virtual healing space without too much connection or demand in which we can do the work of psychology without conventional restrictions of time, space and exclusionary knowledge will become the hallmark of psychology in the digital age.