Aaron Bergman PhD '18

Mobile Mindfulness

Smartphones have already transformed our lives in a myriad of ways — from the way we shop to the way we socialize.

Aaron Bergman PhD ‘18, a Pacific University doctoral student in clinical psychology, believes the ubiquitous devices also have the potential to help people struggling to find lasting recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

With the backing of the Berglund Center, he and two other doctoral students have worked to develop an app for patients undergoing Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP).

Bergman and his collaborators — Vanessa Somohano PhD ‘19 and Josh Kaplan PhD ‘19 — study MBRP under the direction of Sarah Bowen, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor within the Pacific University School of Graduate Psychology. Bowen is a pioneer in the field of MBRP, which has been implemented by treatment centers, prisons and Veterans Affairs centers nationwide.

Intended for those already in recovery, MBRP is an eight-week program that combines meditation practice with cognitive and behavioral strategies. It aims to help patients become more attuned to their thoughts and feelings, break habitual patterns that can trigger relapses, and learn skills to meet the daily challenges of recovery.

Bergman’s app, called MBRP Mobile, gives users ready access to program-specific resources, including meditation audio files and support materials that have traditionally come in the form of paper handouts.

“When you get a bunch of paper handouts, they tend to get shoved into a backpack and forgotten for a week,” Bergman said. With MBRP Mobile, “the content of the intervention is more effectively integrated into the daily lives” of patients.

Bergman says professionals in his field are just beginning to appreciate the potential of mobile technology designed to support clinical services.

“A device that people interact with throughout the day has the potential to have a much larger impact than 50 minutes of therapy once a week, at best,” he said.

One of MBRP Mobile’s features is what Bergman calls a meditation pedometer. The My Minder feature tracks the amount of time users spend listening to meditation audio files. It also asks them to rate their mood and substance-craving levels prior to each meditation practice. The app uses the information to draw a visual comparison between the amount of time spent meditating and moods and craving levels.

The initial version of the app will undergo scientific study. Bergman and his team have partnered with an addiction-treatment provider in rural Oregon to study the prototype’s effectiveness.

“This project would not have happened without the support of the Berglund Center” and its director, Andy Soria, said Bergman.

“You can’t just hand a bunch of mad scientists a check,” he quipped. “Andy provided us with the contacts, training and support to turn our vision into a workable prototype.”

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