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Alumna, Faculty Member Charlotte Beard, PhD, Talks Therapists in Tech

Charlotte Beard

  Charlotte Beard is a two-time graduate of PAU, from both the MS and PhD in Clinical Psychology programs. She is a Clinical Psychologist with Kaiser Permanente and the Organization Leader of Ethics and Science with a new organization, Therapists in Tech. Two other alumni, Ashleigh Golden, PsyD, ACT, and Sarah Adler, PsyD, are also involved with the organization, which "offers support to mental health experts in tech to help them thrive."   It was the latter that made us want to learn more, especially as the fall term starts and our students and alumni are looking at an increasingly tech-based world of mental health modalities and applications. Not coincidentally, Dr. Beard is returning as an adjunct faculty member in the MS in Psychology program.   Please enjoy the Q&A:   How would you describe your time at PAU? And how did the university prepare you for a tech-based psychology career (or a psychology-based technology career)?   I like to tell people who ask me about PAU that it is like a “choose your own adventure” story. The diversity of research in the faculty and staff opens possibilities for areas of research that are specialized - and I think that no two graduates have the same journey.   I entered PAU with a goal to study Internet Gaming Disorder, which had just come out as a condition for further study in the DSM-5. My research advisor was Robert Wickham, PhD, who is a Social Psychologist and methods researcher. He helped me explore gaming in the context of self-determination theory and provided training in the statistical tools to refine and answer the research questions I had crafted. While at PAU, I published several papers, including two based on research I was able to conduct with the support of Dr. Wickham.   I also had a chance to explore my field with Dr. Bunge and Dr. Muñoz in the i4Health lab focusing on digital interventions – another foray into digital mental health. Likewise, I took Dr. Muñoz’s course on internet-based interventions. The content I developed in that course is the basis of an app that I am building for my organization, OpenWorld, which includes a cognitive-behavioral approach to treating problematic gaming. I believe that his course is now part of the PAU foundations of digital therapy certificate – which is a boon to our cause!   How would you say the fields of psychology and counseling overlap with technology and digital tools?    Integration of mental health with technology and digital tools is not just inevitable, it is essential. There are a few ways that digital tools can help improve mental healthcare. Most importantly, we have improved access. By digitizing our mental health tools, we increase access to different levels of care – whether it be psychoeducation, telehealth, helping people find the right kind of care, or building community: possibilities open when we remove barriers of physical location and time. Psychologists are on the forefront of innovation as clinical officers within organizations helping to translate what we know about the evidence base to engineers and developers. Sometimes tech and therapy can feel worlds apart. Jargon in both fields can create a sense of distance. In our TnT group, we sometimes have therapists requesting advice about how to use modern workflow apps like slack or Trello and provide a place for the conversation to happen. I hope we can help remove barriers between these communities. My work and consultation with startups has highlighted something very encouraging for me: founders and companies innovating in this space often care deeply about mental health and are driven by meaning-making and an authentic wish to contribute to the end user’s quality of life. We are aligned with that mission.   And how could tech companies and digital applications better utilize psychologists and counselors?   Mental health experts have a lot to offer and part of our job is to educate organizations about what we can add to their teams. Emerging companies can better utilize psychologists and researchers for a reference point for evidence-based care. For example, if a company aims to treat anxiety, we recommend a mental health leader on your team who can help navigate the literature and the development of the clinical product. There are other roles that therapists in tech can provide beyond direct patient care, including research and measurement design, DEIB leadership, translation of science concepts into consumer-based content, creating a training strategy for therapists – the list goes on.     Can you tell us more about Therapists in Tech?   Therapists in Tech (TnT) is a global community of over 700 mental health professionals dedicated to revolutionizing the digital mental health space by sharing and supporting the clinical voice. We aim to create a sustainable infrastructure to share knowledge with, mentor, and even create organizations that align with the values of our community. Therapists in Tech supports mental health experts in tech to thrive while redefining the existing system to amplify both clinical expertise and viable businesses. We foster inclusive, authentic connections and amplify marginalized voices. We support clinicians in tech roles to promote their clinical values, mental health, and ability to advocate for patient-consumers.   We aim to foster the connection between mental health providers and tech companies by providing insights and opportunities for tech veterans and therapists who are hoping to make a transition into tech. Our organization is fast-growing and evolving, and our initiatives so far have been supporting therapists through community groups (such as our slack community), providing a space for consultation, and brainstorming about unique challenges for clinical-tech roles (including our group discussions and support groups), and interfacing with tech companies to see how we can best position our members to bring their clinical skills to the table. Founded in 2020, we started with 100 thought-leaders from mental health and we're growing every day.     What drew you to get involved with TnT?   My research background is at the intersection of technology and mental health – including digital wellness and internet gaming. I started becoming involved in the tech/start-up space for my own organization and was receiving many requests for consultation. When I spoke with fellow therapists in the tech-startup community (including our founder, Grin Lord, PsyD, ABPP), we related on the opportunities and the challenges of the digital frontier. TnT was born out of a need for community support and connection among therapists, and creating a unified message to help our colleagues in tech. As our tagline says – tech needs our help, and we know a little something about helping others.   Can you describe your role as Director of Ethics & Science with Therapists in Tech? And can you elaborate on the need for ethics and evidence-based science in technology?   I am on the leadership team of TnT as the Community Leader for Ethics and Science. My role includes fostering community discussion, leading initiatives related to science and tech within TnT, and collaborating with my colleagues on leadership to navigate our growing presence and objectives.   My induction into the world of mental health startups exposed me to a culture that felt miles away from academia. The Silicon Valley adage “move fast and break things” lurched me from the careful and often slow process of academia. I approached the speed of innovation with enthusiasm, but we don’t have the option to “break things” when it comes to mental health care. The cost is much too high. Our training as clinicians gives us the tools to understand risks and benefits of treatment, risk management, working with human subjects in research, and providing clinical care with fidelity that is appropriate for the patient’s needs. At TnT, we are often talking about moving “mindfully,” observing our impact on each other, the field, and with attention to amplifying voices that haven’t had opportunities historically.   The explosion of services in the digital mental health space might leave consumers still wondering where to go and what constitutes quality care. That is one of my long-term initiatives at TnT. Part of how we hope to approach that problem is educating tech companies about how to build protections into their services for vulnerable communities and what level of care is appropriate for mental health severity.  My current projects include focusing on digital mental health and ethical AI and discussing with our members how we can contribute to the conversation as mental health providers. I am also working with our community on creating a series aimed at educating tech companies on the basics of what we do as clinicians with respect to risk assessment and move toward standardization with respect to evolving technologies and protecting patients. I’d like to see digital mental health companies have a chief clinical officer with a seat at the table who can address patient protection at the forefront.   How do you see Therapists in Tech evolving in the coming years?   TnT emerged from a need to help define what it means to be a clinician in the tech space. I think our community will help define roles within organizations that therapists can fill – from direct service providers to thought leaders. My biggest hope is that our community will help support each other while we navigate unexplored horizons in digital mental health.   TnT has a talented member base and each person on leadership brings something different to the team. I am focused on advocating and promoting the use of evidence-based research in tech and mental health and educating corporates and consumers about ethical practices in digital mental health, but there are certainly other initiatives.   In the immediate future, it is essential that we bolster and support our BIPOC colleagues as part of our overall mission at TnT and our social responsibility. My fellow colleagues on leadership, (led by Theresa Chan, PhD, Antoinette Amos, MA, and Jaclyn Satchel, LCSW-S) are doing that through community discussions and holding companies accountable. For example, we ask companies who are interested in connecting with our clinicians to demonstrate a commitment to pay equity, DEI recruitment, retention, and belonging efforts, and including historically underrepresented communities in the highest levels positions of their companies. We are aiming to use the privilege we have as psychologists, clinicians, and mental health providers to make changes to the culture of tech. Our hope is that the therapist influence in digital mental health is clear within corporate structures as well as for consumers.   And how would you describe the organization’s role within the landscape of existing entities such as APA, Headspace, and psychology programs in higher education?   We hope to be insiders, connectors, and collaborators. We are, by design, collaborative as we are at the crossroads of two disciplines and cultures. We welcome other voices and invite early career professionals and students to join our community to offer insights into professional development in digital mental health. I would be happy to collaborate with professional organizations that are hoping to create standards and guidelines in this space and connect them with our community members who are intrinsically motivated to meet (even on Fridays!) to discuss ethics in digital mental health. I think of the TnT Slack channel as the digital mental health “breakroom” for colleagues to DM each other across the globe, talk and solve problems together on a daily basis.   Now that you’re teaching at PAU, what opportunities do you see for our students in their career futures?   I am very excited to meet the incoming class in our M.S. program, where I teach the research methods and statistics series. Some of our M.S. students go on to the Ph.D. program to pursue clinical or research careers, but direct patient care is not always the goal. Now, more than ever, is a time where expertise in digital mental health is scarce and essential. I imagine students moving into decision-making roles that have an immense positive impact on the lives of patients. Some of our students will likely create or fill roles that are only beginning to come to life in the emerging landscape.