Dr. Lisa Strohman is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and CEO of the Technology Wellness Center, one of the first organizations dedicated to addressing the global issue of technology overuse and addiction. Working with clients of all ages, she helps people develop healthy relationships with technology and advises families on the warning signs they should look out for.
In her exclusive interview with Recovery.org, Dr. Strohman talks about why technology addiction is becoming such a growing issue, what its treatment and recovery looks like and how the government can step in to help.
You have such a varied background professionally. Does any of your past work tie into your current role as a clinical psychologist?
Lisa: I think I draw from all of those different areas. The behaviorism I learned is really helpful in psych observation work when I’m looking at patients if they’re uncomfortable or have anxiety. I do a lot of lobbying work for clients as well and help them solve problems. I get them to understand that their legislator works for them, so they should contact their Congressman or Senator or legislative aid if they have an issue they’re struggling with. There are a lot of things that I might have more information on than a typical psychologist, which enables to help me help my clients in the best way I can.
A lot of kids regularly check social media or e-mail, so what’s the difference between a frequent habit and a full-blown problem?
Lisa: Kids are pressured to check it a lot of times. But for younger kids, it becomes a problem when they can’t stand not having it. You’ll see high rates of anxiety and depression or anger if they’re being restricted from technology. Those are some of the warning signs that parents should look out for.
My partner and I developed something called a “Technology Use Continuum.” I hate the fact that most of the Internet addiction disorder folks call it a disorder and make it a diagnosable thing because it’s not even in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) yet. They’ve also taken the same questionnaire from our friends at Alcoholics Anonymous and utilized it for technology addiction. All they’ve done is change the verbiage.
What I’ve found is that there’s a different set of issues. We look at the physical, behavioral, interpersonal and typical aspects, so we developed our questions based on those. I can have a star athlete who’s a total addict, so I don’t need to address physical issues. But interpersonally, he might have no idea how to make eye contact or carry a conversation. It’s important for me to splinter it out, found out what area it might be impacting most and then address that instead of taking a blanket approach of saying it’s an addiction and then treating it as such.
What does treatment for technology addiction look like?
Lisa: All of the work that I do is outpatient. I use cognitive behavioral therapy, but look at each client individually and determine what their strengths and weaknesses may be. From my perspective, CBT is the most effective method because it gives an understanding of people’s thinking and behavior. Someone might be avoiding going to the movie theater at particular times because they need to be available for a certain person to call, or don’t want to miss a text from a certain person and don’t know how to disengage, so those are behaviors I might look at.
I may look at negative thinking because they might pull down a post quickly if it isn’t getting enough “likes.” I’ll ask how many posts they put up that they feel didn’t have enough likes, so that just opens up the gate of what these kids are dealing with. They’re really insecure and feeling uncomfortable with themselves, so that gets me into all these other areas.
There are now inpatient rehab centers for Internet addiction. Is this something you need to go into a detox for?
Lisa: No. I think those centers are facilitating and working with people who have co-occurring disorders. Some people are probably predisposed to having an extreme relationship with technology or being “computer addicts,” whether it’s people with paranoid tendencies or Asperger’s syndrome or other issues. The inpatient facilities are dealing with something that’s more medically-based and might need to be treated with medication or 24-hour care.
Because we’re becoming more dependent on technology, do you see technology addiction as something that politicians or even the government will eventually step in on?
Lisa: I hope so. I’m working on it here in Arizona and a lot of the legislative bodies are trying to put something in place. For example, if you have a 17-year-old who sends naked photos to a 14-year-old, that technically counts as an illegal child pornography act. That would be classified as a felony and require them to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Some states recognize there should be an exception between teenagers. Those are known and Romeo and Juliet laws, but other states haven’t caught up. Do I think a 17-year-old who sends a naked photo should be put in the same category as the Stanford student who raped a woman behind a dumpster? No. So, that’s a mission of mine which I self-fund.
We have to get to the legislators. I obviously can’t share personal information of my clients, but I can use my clinical experience. You need someone with an ear to the ground and because I have teenage clients, I know what’s happening ahead of time.
Image Courtesy of Dr. Lisa Strohman