Disruptive Innovation in the Practice of Psychology

It is hard to believe that 2015 is coming to a close.  My niece once reasoned about why time seems to fly by as we get older, “For a 5-year-old, one year is 1/5th of your life; for a 45-year-old, one year is 1/45th of your life!”  Time is definitely relative, and it seems to be speeding by.  Do you think we can extend the same relativity of time to the changes that the practice of psychology is seeing?

As graduate students, it seemed as if we were entering a profession that was well-established with time-honored and well-researched skills and practices to learn.  With each passing year, new discoveries in the connections between the human brain and behavior are found.  Over time the God-words of psychology transform from “eclectic” to “integrative;” CBT moves over for DBT; and, mindfulness and evidence-based practice seem to be dominant buzzwords.  Simultaneously, technology in our world is advancing at a rapid pace, and disruptive innovation is a term I believe we all need to understand.

Disruptive innovation is the kind of technological innovation that produces products and services that lead to the phasing out (i.e., extinction) of existing dominant technologies.  Along with this we see entire occupational classifications approach extinction as well.  The automobile eliminated the need for farriers to shoe horses.  Electricity phased out the need for candle making as a dominant light source.  More recently, cell phones are replacing landlines.  Email has replaced snail mail.  You get the idea.  In each of these technology industries, while remnants of old technologies remain, workers are displaced.

So why is this relevant to the practice of psychology?  We are witnessing similar disruptive innovations in what we do.   What once was reserved for the consulting room is transforming into something that can be delivered digitally.  We have The Telemental Health Institute (http://telehealth.org) where psychologists can earn CEU credits as they learn all there is to know about delivering psychotherapy digitally.  Our clients can access digital apps to help them regulate mood (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dbt-diary-card/id479013889?mt=8), evaluate stress and anxiety (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ecbt-calm/id356997070?mt=8), and build a support group to combat bullying (http://codeblue.io).  There are apps for guided relaxation (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.t2health.breathe2relax), tracking PTSD symptoms over time (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ptsd-coach/id430646302?mt=8), and learning to be more optimistic (http://www.findingoptimism.com).

Innovations in the practice of psychology are not only digital.  We also are seeing growing demands for psychologists to be brought directly into medical settings to deliver services to medical patients in both specialty medical practices such as cardiology, dermatology and rheumatology, as well as primary care clinics serving children, teens and adults.  Changing the setting of psychology practice also changes the nature of the services.  And, there is a huge demand for a workforce that is not yet trained to deliver these services.  Graduate programs are just now starting to add curricula that address practice issues in primary care and integrated behavioral health settings.  The existing workforce of psychologists who are interested in expanding into medical settings must seek additional training and practice consultations to ensure that the services they provide meet the medical needs of patients in these settings (http://www.umassmed.edu/cipc/certificate-programs/pcbh/overview/).

Will all of these innovations DISRUPT our profession?  I frequently overhear psychologists voice concern that private practice may be a dying industry because of all of these changes.  Being an eternal optimist who always sees obstacles as problems to solve, I remain an optimist in this regard as well.  I truly believe that private practice will continue to exist.  I also believe that the nature of private practice will transform in order to survive disruptive innovation.  Our challenge then is to explore the ways that we all must transform what we do so that we do not become obsolete.  Our conversations must become more creative and definitely more collaborative.

My primary goal as I begin 2016 holding the office of President of the Minnesota Psychological Association is to work hard to encourage creative conversations about transforming what we do while also preserving the ability for psychologists in Minnesota to practice independently, whether that be in independent businesses or within larger organizations.  We must move forward into a world filled with disruptive innovation thinking not as psychologists who are competing for a limited number of clients, but as professionals who can work as collaborative competitors.

Collaborative competition.  We MUST work as collaborative competitors.  Doing so will allow us and our psychology practices to thrive.  These are exciting times to be a psychologist!  Disruptive innovation in psychology means that more and more people receive psychological services than ever before.  Psychologists are needed now more than ever before; we are in demand.   We all must step forward to lead the way as more settings become open to our expertise than ever before.  Are you up for it?  Will you sit on the sidelines observing the innovations happening at a rapid pace?  Or, will you join me to lead the way and find innovative solutions we all seek in the face of change?

Robin McLeod, Ph.D., L.P., is the 2015 MPA President-Elect. She founded and owns a small private practice behavioral health specialty clinic with two locations: Woodbury & St. Paul.  You may email her at [email protected].  Her websites are:  http://www.cpwmn.com and http://www.cpspmn.com

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