Kyle Faust, PhD
Kyle Faust, PhD
MGH psychologist

“Video games, apps and websites are often designed with input from behavioral psychologists to make them as engaging as possible,” says Kyle Faust, PhD, MGH psychologist. “In some cases, games or digital technology are incentivized to keep users spending as much time as possible using these technologies because it allows them to run more advertisements to make more money. It’s become a growing problem; about 8 to 10% of Americans struggle with gaming disorder, gambling disorder and or problematic digital technology use. These numbers are likely to continue rising as virtual and augmented reality make these technologies more enticing.”

James McKowen, PhD
James McKowen, PhD
MGH psychologist,
clinical director of ARMS

The Mass General Addiction Recovery Management Service (ARMS) is working to address this by expanding its current programs to include a novel treatment track for teenagers and young adults. ARMS tapped Faust to create and lead this new program, relying on his expertise in the overuse of digital technology to achieve positive clinical results.

“ARMS is part of the Psychiatry Department, and we work with people ages 13 to 26,” says James McKowen, PhD, MGH psychologist and clinical director of ARMS. “We target this age group because as they near age 18, patients may no longer fit into many adolescent programs. Research, however, indicates the frontal lobe – which is responsible for decision making, reasoning and judgement – isn’t fully formed until age 26, so we have this niche where we believe we can make a substantial impact.”

Research has shown this age group is largely impacted by negative outcomes from gaming, gambling and problematic digital technology use. In this new treatment service within ARMS, patients will report about their overall screen use and if it negatively impacts their social, occupational or academic life. Symptoms such as preoccupation with these technologies, excessive time spent, withdrawal symptoms or an inability to successfully reduce screen time despite the negative consequences are typically assessed. If patients meet a certain number of these and other symptoms, they might require clinical support and intervention.

“We see people sometimes having trouble at school because they game all night and don’t get enough sleep,” says McKowen. “They may be stealing their parent’s credit card and racking up charges in online games, buying tokens to level up their play. Or, they may pass on hanging out with friends to stay home and play videogames. These are all scenarios we can address.”

The clinic will begin accepting patients in July. Treatment will include cognitive behavior therapy utilizing an evidence-based approach tailored to individuals struggling with these disorders. Care will be offered remotely to patients throughout Massachusetts, while some in-person appointments will be available at the Wang 8 location.

“It’s exciting to develop this because I think it will help a lot of people,” says Faust. “Being at MGH and Mass General Brigham, there is a lot of opportunity to research novel treatments that can potentially improve outcomes even further, so I feel very grateful for the opportunity.”

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