Interviews

Digital Technology Empowers Mental Health Professionals

Philip-Kurian

 

Says, Philip Kurian, Country Manager, PCTA, Bangalore, in an interaction with EktaSrivastava, Health Technology

What is your current position? What are your main responsibilities?

I manage the India operations for Pearson Clinical & Talent Assessment (PCTA), a mental-health solutions provider. As the Country Manager, I drive business expansion for PCTA in market segments such as K-12 and government opportunities, besides deepening our reach in the clinical market segment. I strive to expand the use of scientific solutions for psychological issues that hamper peoples’ lives. You can visit www.pearsonclinical.in to learn more about what we offer to the markets.

What is PCTA and what products/services it offers to the markets in India?

PCTA is a part of Pearson, the world’s leading learning company that helps individuals around the world learn and live better. PCTA offers scientific, objective and reliable psychological tests or assessments that help identify psychological conditions and intervention solutions that help individuals over these psychological challenges in school, at the workplace and in daily living. These psychological conditions could range from emotional difficulties like depression and anxiety, learning disabilities such as dyslexia, to intellectual deficits and memory related difficulties, among a wide range of conditions. Our psychological solutions are used by mental-health professionals such as Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Social Workers and school professionals such as Special Educators, School Teachers and School Counsellors. The end beneficiaries of our solutions, as I mentioned earlier, are individuals from all age groups, from infants to the elderly.

What are the challenges Pearson faces in the mental-health space in India?

Current mental-health services in India do not adequately address the needs of our population due to various reasons such as shortage of trained professionals, ignorance of the presence of psychological services and cultural barriers such as taboos and stigmas around mental illness that prevent the masses from accessing such services. The other set of challenges include non-availability of scientific and psychometrically valid assessments that are based on high science. Professionals often have to rely on assessment and intervention solutions that are based on questionable research and not supported by empirical evidence.

The task for PCTA in India is two-fold: to create awareness and acceptance of mental illness in society and to enable mental-health and school professionals offer high quality assessment and intervention services to people. Our services arm, Pearson Academy India (PAI), through a nationwide network of PAIs, aims to bring these professionals closer to where individuals learn, work and live, so that individuals and institutions such as schools seeking our services do not have to go far. In fact, we are currently on a growth path for PAI and are expanding our footprints across the country. Any institution or individual that is associated with Psychology, Education, or training can become a PAI, to help us achieve our long-term goals for India.

Why is it important to identify psychological conditions/mental illness at the right time?

Mental illness, like any other illness that is not identified at the right time, has the potential to disrupt academic, professional and personal lives. An important difference between mental and physical illness is that the former has less tangibility owing to which it may get neglected in day to day living, and its presence may not be detected over a long period of time, unless the condition manifests through clearly observed psychological or behavioral aspects. Another point to note is that unlike physical illness and its care, dealing with mental illness is not only stressful for the person suffering from it, but often far more stressful for caregivers who may have to bear the brunt of their family member’s psychological struggles. Identifying mental illness or psychological conditions in a timely manner increases the likelihood of a better prognosis. As an example, if a child suspected of being at risk for dyslexia, the most common form of learning disability, is identified at an early age for this condition in his/her school education, this child can then be taught based on a profile of strengths and weaknesses presented by his/her learning disability. Such a customized education, called Special Education, is possible only when a child is screened or diagnosed through the use of scientific assessments.

Finally, mental illness has an economic, social and psychological cost not just for the individual and his/her family, but eventually for the nation.

How will digital technology help those seeking mental-health related services?

Digital technology by nature has the ability to overcome barriers of distance. With Internet penetrating cities and towns beyond the metros, as well as villages, it is possible to deliver mental-health services through technology, as a last mile connectivity.

Digital technology, besides reach, also offers the mental-health or school professional benefits such as portability and convenience. Traditionally, psychological assessments tend to be ‘paper and pencil’ tests that consist of printed material and other items of testing, which may be cumbersome to carry and manage. With digital assessments, the psychologist can administer a test from any place that has an Internet connection and in some cases, may even not need to be physically present when the client/patient takes the assessment! The test data and results can be securely stored online and accessed from any computer, in the future. Hence, digital technology will enable and empower the mental-health or school professional to reach out to a larger number of individuals, manage test administration, scoring and reporting more professionally and efficiently, and in general, be able to save valuable time for other professional activities.

What benefits can an individual struggling with psychological problems derive out of technology driven healthcare?

As mentioned previously, due to the reach of technology via internet, those with psychological problems who are unable or unwilling (due to stigma) to avail brick and mortar assessment or intervention services, will benefit immensely from the privacy and safety of technology driven mental health care solutions in this field. Over a period of time, both professionals offering such digital services and individuals benefiting from such services will realize the cost-effectiveness of this medium, besides other benefits.

Do you have any advice for a graduate student who is just starting out in the field of Psychology?

Any graduate student aspiring to enter the field of Psychology ought to be clear about his/her career goals from the field. Also, advanced students should research the most appropriate Masters/M.PHIL/PH.D programs, based on their research interests and future career aspirations, such as practice or teaching. Often Departments of Psychology and other allied disciplines lack the necessary infrastructure to offer practical training in assessments such as ours. We, at PCTA, encourage such institutions to integrate practical training on scientific assessments in their higher education curricula, so that students who graduate from these institutions develop a strong foundation in psychological assessment on which to grow their future professional competencies in the field of mental-health.

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