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ASU Department of Psychology goes online for teaching, and therapy


Department of Psychology goes digital

Virtual lab meetings, journal clubs and research conferences are just part of the adjustments made by the Arizona State University Department of Psychology in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ASU Clinical Psychology Center also now offers psychotherapy through video conferencing. Photo courtesy: Amith Nair, unsplash.com

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April 10, 2020

Virtual lab meetings, journal clubs and research conferences are just part of the adjustments made by the Arizona State University Department of Psychology in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ASU Clinical Psychology Center also now offers psychotherapy through video conferencing.

“COVID-19 has been a shock to all of us, professionally and personally, and the first need is always to address the immediate realities and figure out how to stay afloat while still moving forward," said Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor and chair of the Department of Psychology. "But, to paraphrase Plato, necessity can also be the mother of innovation, and we in the Department of Psychology are using this challenge to add new approaches to our repertoire. One benefit of changing to digital distribution is that we are increasing our capacity to help people in their own homes, and potentially at a greater scale than ever before. Although this is a stressful time for all of us, these new changes have also created growth opportunities.”

Telepsychology at the ASU Clinical Psychology Center

The Clinical Psychology Center has modified its community interventions from in-person and group delivery to a telehealth distribution model.

Remote telemedicine has grown 53% year over year since 2016, and telepsychology services will likely follow that trend. In spite of this adaptation rising through need, this sort of training is invaluable for the modern PhD student hoping to become a clinician in the current age.

“The recent challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased stress and worry, isolation due to social distancing, and lack of access to in-person therapy, requires alternative methods for providing mental health services,” said Matthew Meier, assistant clinical professor of psychology. “To meet our community’s needs, ASU's Clinical Psychology Center has rapidly transitioned to telepsychology services. Telepsychology can be as effective as in-person therapy, and it increases access to needed psychological services. In addition to individual therapy, we have added a brief, online group therapy program that focuses on how to cope with stress.”

Previous research by Cady Berkel, associate research professor, demonstrated that technology-based interventions helped to improve attendance and participation in lower-income areas.

The major benefit of this shift is that rural communities and families who lack transportation or have inconsistent work schedules can now temporarily receive interventions like the Family Check-Up 4 Health or the New Beginnings Program.

“There is a silver lining in the response to this pandemic. Payers, including Medicaid, used to not pay for telehealth. This was one of the contributors to health disparities in rural communities and even urban families lacking transportation. They have temporarily changed this policy in light of COVID, so that we are better able to serve all families as we socially distance,” Berkel said. “We are also planning a study of the effects of telehealth on social isolation, prior to and following the current COVID situation.”

Beyond online lectures: Virtual opportunities for undergraduates

The students of Psi Chi are using online instruction as an opportunity to test out a virtual research conference and mentorship program.

Recently, the psychology department hosted a virtual alumni mentorship session with alumni from Facebook, private practice and higher education. Undergraduate students heard about each alumnus traveled a path from ASU to industry and asked live questions to the mentors calling in from across the country. 

The annual Arizona Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference will be virtual this year, with galleries about the research and Zoom presentations in place of a conference room of posters.

“One of the nice things about a virtual conference room is that students now have a citable presentation that they can add to their resumes/vitaes and can also share their research with a broader audience. This isn’t limited to attendees at a physical event,” said Mike McBeath, professor of psychology and co-advisor of ASU’s Psi Chi society.

The psychology department’s student success center also shifted tutoring services online. The student success coaches are available through Zoom, and academic advising now hosts one-on-one virtual meetings with students to discuss academic and career goals.

Research labs have also continued with weekly virtual lab meetings and data analysis.

“This is certainly a trying time for everyone. It’s our responsibility, though, to do our best to turn lemons into really good lemonade. I’m proud of how our students, staff, and faculty in psychology are working in a collaborative, supportive and compassionate way to not only address our immediate challenges but to do so in a way that points to a better future,” Neuberg said.

Information about common issues psychology students might face in remote learning environments can be found in the department’s resource library and Q&A bank. Neuberg and Dawn Phelps, the director of academic advising, have also been hosting a virtual Q&A office hour every week to answer additional questions psychology students have.

Online graduate program changes

The online graduate certificates in Addiction and Substance Use Related Disorders and Applied Prevention Science are formatted for an online digital learning experience already, and the students in the prevention science program recently added a component of analyzing ethics in prevention during the COVID-19 epidemic. Students also analyzed how prevention programs could help reduce hardships for people during this challenging time.

Additionally, the department just launched a joint online master’s degree program in political psychology with the School of Politics and Global Studies, which is now accepting applicants.

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