Innovations in digital interventions for psychological trauma: harnessing advances in cognitive science

Erik Andersson, Emily A. Holmes, David Kavanagh


A range of digital psychological interventions have demonstrated a positive impact on trauma-related problems in controlled trials, but there is room for further improvements in their form, reach and impact. Most to date have been adaptions of established face-to-face treatments. In this paper, we highlight a complementary emerging route to their development, which draws on advances in cognitive science theory and research and applies them to clinical contexts. Three examples are given regarding laboratory research with potential applications to digital interventions for trauma-related mental health problems: a digital game to reduce intrusive memories of trauma, novel cognitive techniques for worry, and digitally supported mental imagery to enhance motivation for functional behavior change. Much of this research is still at an early stage, meriting a balance of optimism and caution. However, even if only a few digital applications of cognitive science constitute substantial improvements to complement current treatments, their potential for large-scale use at low unit cost may provide significant benefits across populations.