Bringing Emerging Technology into the Clinical Process: Implications for Engagement and Treatment

If you have ever wondered how to begin attending to, listening for, and asking questions about a patient’s use of technology, this video might give you some ideas.  In it my colleague Lesa Fichte, LMSW, University at Buffalo School of Social Work, and I, discuss the role of technology, people’s relationship with technology, and how to integrate it into the treatment process by listening, inquiring, and learning.


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Social Justice & Technology Revisited


I have written before about how technology often makes life easier for a large number of the population while simultaneously disenfranchising others.  The good news is that this does not have to be the case.

The example I used in the past was the Starbucks App which allows customers to use, gain rewards for, and reload their account on their smartphone, while making it more cumbersome and difficult to tip baristas.  This again does not have to be an inevitability, but requires Starbucks to enhance the functionality of its App.

So I was pleased to discover (special thanks to my student Marissa for bringing this to my attention) this week that come Wednesday March 19th, Starbucks will be rolling out an update to their smartphone App which allows just that.  You can read more about it at Forbes here.  You will be able to download the update from places like iTunes, and include your tip easily.

While some may dismiss this as a first-world problem, I cannot emphasize how powerful a shift I consider this to be in terms of workers’ rights in the service sector.  I am convinced it comes in part as a result of advocacy by and for workers, and sets the bar higher and yet attainable for corporations to maximize their value to customers while not disenfranchising their employees.

How can you help advocate for social justice in the technology you use?  First, simply by mindful usage.  Take a few minutes today to open your smartphone and make note of the Apps you use most frequently.  Next, ask yourself, who, if anyone is disadvantaged by my using this App?  Just thinking about the connections can be a powerful mental exercise.  Notice how complicated it can get fairly quickly:  If I use Evernote frequently, I am less likely to write things down on paper, which may be good for the environment but may also disenfranchise industrial workers in paper mills.  Hold on, did I say that you had to stop using Evernote or lobby for paper mills?  No, I’m asking us to sit with the complexity of a problem here for a minute to see the larger systems at play.  Technology has always resulted in job loss for some even as it may provide workplace improvements or quality of life for others.  It’s when we don’t think about these things in a more complex way that we stop innovating social justice itself.

Part of what I’m trying to encourage us to see is that social justice, workers’ rights, unions, and any person or group committed to social justice needs to keep pace with innovation and in fact keep innovating themselves.  Technology always runs the risk of disenfranchising people, especially workers.  If the McCormick reaper in a few hours does the day’s job of three workers, what happens to those three workers?  We are still living in a capitalist society in the US, and it is unlikely that as technology improves and reduces the need for human workers that all of these people will be able to afford to turn their minds and lives to the pursuit of art and culture.  Everything isn’t always getting better for everyone in the current system, and we are seeing overcrowding in occupations ranging from factory to legal work.

If social justice advocates, and social workers are to continue to help the disenfranchised, they are going to need to keep pace with technological developments and continue to think innovatively about 21st century equity in complex and sustained ways.  And by the way, thinking, “the gap is just going to get wider, the social fabric is unraveling,” is not an example of innovative thinking, but defeatism that exempts us from the work of innovation.

This brings me back to my social work colleagues, and my continued urging for them to keep pace with emerging technologies, especially if you are touting the concept of social innovation.  Social innovation without leveraging emerging technology will ultimately lead to future disenfranchisement.  If you have a social innovation department in your social work program that doesn’t leverage technology you are not being socially innovative.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I know that the answer to social injustice will inevitably need to integrate emerging technology into it.

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The Changing Landscape of Social Work


Recently I had the great opportunity to be a scholar-in-residence at The University at Buffalo’s School of Social Work.  For three days I met with students, faculty and staff to speak about emerging technologies ranging from Twitter to video games.  During one morning, Dean Nancy Smyth and I sat down for a series of informal discussions around various topics, and the University was kind enough to let me share these videos with you.  If you want to learn more about how I can come to your institution to do the same thing, please contact me.

How to Use Social Media and Technology to Develop a Personal Learning Network:


If I Don’t Use Social Media and Technology in Social Work Practice What Am I Missing?



Social Work is Changing:  Integrating Social Media and Technology Into Social Work Practice



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Saving Ideas

cave painting

Sometime, over 40,000 years ago, someone decided to put images of human hands on the cave pictured above.  It turned out to be a good idea.  This painting has given scientists information on life in the Upper Paleolithic, raised questions about the capacity of Neandrathal man to create art, and sparked debate about which species in the homo genus created it.  Other later cave paintings depict other ideas: Bulls, horses, rhinoceros, people.

I wasn’t there in the Paleotlithic but I doubt that the images we are seeing in caves were the first ones ever drawn.  I imagine that drawing images in sand and other less permanent media happened.  I suspect that the only reason we have cave paintings is because at some point somebody decided they wanted to be able to save their idea, to keep it longer or perhaps forever.

Every day, 7 billion of us have untold numbers of ideas.  So what makes a person decide that an idea is worth saving?  What makes us pause and make a note in our Evernote App or Moleskine journal?  What inspires us to make a video of our idea on YouTube or write a book?  We can’t always be sure that an idea is a “good” one or even what the criteria for a good idea is.  It usually comes down to belief.

In the past several centuries, the ability to save ideas was relegated to the few who were deemed skillful or divinely inspired.  Books were written in monasteries, then disseminated by printing presses, and as ideas became easier to save, more people saved them.  But, and this is very important, saving an idea doesn’t make it a good idea, just a saved one.  Somewhere along the line we began to get the notion that only a few select people were capable of having a good idea, because only a few select people were capable of saving them.  Even in the 21st century, many mental health professionals and educators cling to the notion that peer-reviewed work published in journals is the apex of quality.  If it is written, if it was saved by a select few it must be a good idea.  If you have any doubt of what I’m talking about just Google “DSM V.”

With each leap in human technology comes the power to save more ideas and then spread them.  People who talk about things going viral often forget that an idea has to be saved first, and that in essence something going viral is really a form of society saving an idea.  If anything, technology has improved the democratization of education and ideas.

This makes many of us who grew up in an earlier era nervous and frustrated.  We call the younger generation self-absorbed rather than democratizing.  We grumble, “what makes you think you should blog about your day, take photos of your food, post links to cute kitten videos?”  We may even take smug self-satisfaction that we aren’t contributing to the static.  I think that’s a bad idea, although it clearly has been saved from earlier times.

40,000 years from now, our ideas may take on meanings we never anticipated, like cave drawings.  Why were kittens so important to them?  In the long view I think we remember that people have to believe they have an good idea before they take the leap of faith to save it.  The citizens of the future may debate who saved kitten videos and why, but it will be taken as given that they must have been important to many of us.

What if everyone had the confidence to believe that they had an idea worth saving?  What if everyone had the willingness to believe that it just might be possible that their idea was brilliant?  Each semester I ask the students in my class to raise their hand if they think they can get an A- or higher in the class, and most do.  Then I ask them to raise their hand if they think they can come up with in an idea in this class that could change the world.  I’ve never had more than 3 hands go up.  That’s sad.

This is why I admire the millennials and older groups who take advantage of social media and put their ideas out there.  I doubt that they are all good ideas, but I celebrate the implicit faith it takes to save them.  Anyone, absolutely anyone at all, can have a good idea.  It may not get recognized or appreciated, but now more than ever it can get saved.  Saving an idea is an act of agency.  It is a political act.  Saving an idea is choosing to become just a bit more visible.  On the most basic level saving an idea is a celebration and affirmation of the self.  Think about that, and dare to jot down, draw, record or otherwise save one of your ideas today.  I just did and it feels great.  Then maybe you can even share it with someone else.

What makes a person decide an idea is worth saving?

You do.


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Want To Help Stop Youth Cyberbullying? Let Your Kids Raid More.


The above title is misleading.  In fact it is as misleading as the term cyberbullying, which is an umbrella term used from experiences which range drastically.  “Cyberbullying” has been used to describe the humiliation of LGBT youth via video; the racial hatred of Sikhs on Reddit, the systematic harassment and suicide of a teenage girl by a neighboring peer’s mother; a hoax wherein a Facebooker pretended to be a woman’s missing (for 31 years); and the bad Yelp reviews of a restauranteur in AZ.

Wait, huh?

My point, exactly:  All of the things described above are different in scope, intentionality, form of media used, duration, and impact.  We need to keep this complicated.  This is not to take away from the horrific acts that people  have perpetuated with social media, or excuse them.  Rather I think we need to help kids and their parents find more nuanced ways to make sense of the way newer technologies are impacting us.

Social media amplifies ideas, feelings, and conflicts.  It often dysregulates family systems.   Growing up, many family members didn’t need to learn the level of digital literacy that today’s world requires.  Parents may be tempted to put their children in a lengthy or permanent internet lockdown.  I hear the threats, or read them, all the time:  No screens.  You’re unplugged.  She’s grounded from Facebook.

Please don’t do that.

I’ve worked with a number of young adults who have had the experiences of being on the receiving end of hatred, stalking, harassment and intrusion delivered via the internet.  And thank goodness that their parents didn’t unplug them as kids.  Because they stayed online they got to:

  • learn how to ignore haters
  • see/hear others stand up for them in a social media setting
  • come to the defense of a peer themselves
  • increase their ability to meet verbal aggression with cognition
  • make the hundreds of microdecisions about whether to “fight this battle”
  • seek out support from other peers
  • form strong online communities and followings that helped them cope with and marginalize the aggressors

More and more, online technologies are becoming a prevalent form of communication, and to take away access is to remove the hearing and voice of youth.  To do this is disempowerment, not protection.

I’ve said before that parents need to take an engaged approach with kids in order to be there to help kids understand and process the conflicts that are communicated through and amplified by social media.  But this time I want to go further, and suggest that one way to help kids achieve digital literacy in terms of social skills is to let them play more multiplayer video games.

Many of you probably saw that coming, but for those of you who didn’t, let me explain.  21st century video games are themselves a powerful form of social media.  Multiplayer games allow individuals to band together as guilds, raids, platoons and other groups to achieve higher endgame goals.  Collaboration is built into them as part of the fun and as necessary to meet the challenges.

There are exceptions to this, but it has been my experience that people don’t begin systematic personal attacks on each other when they are in the middle of downing Onyxia.  They are too busy joining forces to win.  I am convinced that much hatred we see in the developed world is there in large part because of boredom and apathy.  Games provide an alternative form of engagement to hatin’

Look, I’m not saying that people playing games never say sexist things, swear, or utter homophobic comments.  But I can say that I have heard more people, adults and children, stand up to hatred in World of Warcraft than I ever have in the 2 decades I worked in public school settings.  I’ve seen racism confronted numerous times in guild chat, seen rules for civility created and enforced over and over, always citing a variation of  the same reason:  “We’re all here to have fun, so please keep the climate conducive to that.”

Video games provide powerful interactive arenas for diverse groups of people to collaborate or compete strategically.  They capture our interest with a different sort of drama than the sort that we see our youth struggle with in other settings.  In fact, for many individuals video games provide a welcome respite from the drama that occurs in those other settings.

Social media does indeed amplify nastiness, harassment and hatred.  It also amplifies kindness, hope, generosity and cooperation.  If we don’t lean into social media with our kids, they’ll never know how to use it to amplify goodness in the world.  Worse yet, if we cut them off from connecting with the world online we’ll deprive them of the necessary opportunities to recognize and choose between good and evil.

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Alphabet Soup: The Perils & Promise of E-Learning


CMS stands for Content Management System, which Wikipedia defines as  “a computer program that allows publishing, editing and modifying content as well as maintenance from a central interface.”  Several of the universities I have taught or teach at use a CMS called Blackboard.  It has several iterations; Blackboard Vista, Blackboard 9, etc.  Faculty are encouraged to use Blackboard by many college administrators, but I have yet to talk to a faculty member who has enjoyed using them.

Blackboard is the latest skirmish in a struggle between faculty and administration that I have seen go on for 2 decades in educational settings from Pre-K to PhD.  It usually goes like this:

Technology A is developed in the private sector.  Some enterprising developer of Technology A decides to take it to Educational Setting B.  This takes a while, as it is often hard to find the decision maker in Educational Setting B.  An administrator or administrators finally see the potential of Technology A, and Educational Setting B buys a very expensive version of Tech A.

Tech A is presented to the faculty of Setting B.  “This is a great resource,” they are told.  They are encouraged to use it.  Some enterprising faculty try it, but become confused or bored with it and stop.  The rest of the faculty never try it.  Administrators of Setting B get frustrated, and often mandate the use of Tech A.  They invest more money in consultants to come in and offer training.  This often consists of scripted powerpoints, or nowadays video tutorials.  Sometimes an in-house Tech A supporter is hired.  The supporter is avoided, because s/he is associated with a top-down administrative initiative.  Slowly the faculty begins to use Tech A as little as possible as rarely as possible.  Administrators get frustrated, and begin to answer every Faculty complaint with a thinly veiled, “if you only used the expensive solution we bought you you’d have more time to do X,Y or Z and there would be no more problems.”

Meanwhile, in the outside world, Technology A is now obsolete, because in the time it takes educators to change we have developed, beta-tested, and marketed better stuff.  We’re now on Technology Q, but when Educational Setting B is approached by the salespeople for Technology Q, they are rebuffed by administrators, who say, “Look, our faculty never used Technology A, so we’re not going to waste money on Technology Q.”  Technology Q folks stop trying to design a product that would work really well for educators, because if no one buys it, well, what’s the point.

OK, back to the particular brand of  technology called CMS, content management software.  In this case, people have begun to confuse the software, which allows you to upload content into a course shell, with E-Learning.  At its worst, this stifles creativity, because it misses the point that education is not about content but about facilitating learning.  In a recent TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson put it this way: “Teaching properly conceived is not a delivery system.”

By now, many educators and learners, will have heard of MOOCs, Massively Open Online Courses.  The Pros of MOOCs for E-Learning are several, most notably the provision of access to educational resources to people who may be disenfranchised in some way.  People can enroll in MOOCs for little or no money, take them after their workday or on weekends, and view and review material at their own pace.

But their are costs, literally and figuratively.  Many MOOCs require entire production teams to create “professional” looking media.  (The Khan Academy does a great job with less polish, but it often produces less formal media which some may consider less professional.)   And ultimately, MOOCs are not going to be free, and seed money will need to be replaced.  In my hometown for example, EdX is beginning to look at ways to generate revenue from future courses.

Not all E-Learning should or does take the shape of a MOOC.  Not all E-Learning is scalable, at least not at first.  Perhaps most importantly, not all E-Learning needs the same kinds of technology to make it good education.

There is a lot more to creating a good online educational experience than converting a syllabus into learning modules.  The content management software can be used to powerfully enhance E-Learning, but in many cases it lends itself to being used as “pedagogy management software” instead.

I was reminded of this recently as I have been developing an online course.  And the ironic part was that I was being stifled not by the administration but by myself.  I had been given free rein to produce a course by the university administration.  They were and are extremely supportive, encouraging and confident that I can teach something well.  But I let myself get sucked into Blackboard.  I started thinking that I had to produce a certain size and shape widget.  The fact that  I could create class modules became an internal mandate to fill them with material.  I began to feel oppressed.

It wasn’t until I noticed that the only one expecting me to do that was me, and maybe the software, that I realized I could get off the treadmill.  And I had to, because for me education is about facilitating learning, not putting content into student’s heads.  In this case, a large part of the course is about social media and gaming, so a large part of my work will be about using social media with the students, playing games with them, and then discussing those experiences.  I’ll certainly use Blackboard when it makes sense, but I’m not going to be assimilated by it.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  Many educational settings wouldn’t be so encouraging of  faculty creativity and thinking outside the box.  Many of my colleagues instead find themselves scolded and asked, “why aren’t you using the box?”  I have several colleagues who are engaging educators who have been avoiding E-Learning because they like the interaction with students, as if E-Learning has to be inherently non-interactive.

Fortunately a lot of administrators in higher education are also instructors, so hopefully we can begin to bridge this divide.  These technologies are all relatively new to us, so there really shouldn’t be any hard and fast rules on how to educate students online.  We’re pioneers, and we’re going to make lots of mistakes, but if we can remember to think of education as a laboratory for innovation rather than a delivery service, we may have some epic wins as well.

One Bostonian’s Thoughts On Social Media

 MA Cambridge Charles River view of Boston


How does one begin to carry on with one’s life and work when the tide of history overwhelms a society?  This week I have had numerous conversations with colleagues about the myriad and often conflicting ideas and feelings we have been asked to hold alongside each other.  Initially I had been asked by one supervisee if I was going to write about the bombings in Boston, and my immediate response to him was, “No.”  I have seen too many colleagues either consciously or unconsciously use their social media to self-promote during times of tragedy.  Although I am a believer in the importance of self-promotion in building one’s business, this is not the time.

Hundreds of people in my Twitter feed and online seem to agree.  From therapist to marketing types, people noticed when your automatic Tweets continued unabated as the events of this week were unfolding.  And whether they were individual or enterprise level businesses, the response was pretty much the same, “turn it off.”

And I agree, now is not the time to self-promote one’s business or market, which ironically leaves those of us with social media back at where Web 2.0 all began.  Not for marketing, but for community.

So what I did want to discuss today I sincerely hope will be heard as sharing thoughts and feelings across the range of you all, who reading this are to some extent part of my community.  And why I want to discuss the topic of social media today is to offer some ideas to keep in mind as we go through the next piece of our history together.

Social media collapses time and space.  As I listened from my locked down house simultaneously to Twitter, the police scanner via Broadcastify, Facebook and other platforms, I heard firsthand how information and misinformation could spread far more quickly than it could have on 9/11.  Social media use and technology in general played a huge part in the ability to share, identify and ultimately capture one suspect.  It also hindered investigation at times by creating chatter that looped back to law enforcement in ways that were more confusing than helpful.

As someone who lives 2 miles from the explosions, a mile from where Patrol Officer Collier was killed, and far too close to the 7-11 and site of the carjacking, the week and especially last 48 hours were horrifying, confusing and anxiety-provoking for me.  But social media allowed me to reach out to friends, family, and colleagues, collapsing space in a way that brought a lot of comfort and support.  I can’t say enough about the gratitude I felt that the ping of Facebook and Twitter were heard consistently amidst the constant sirens and other sudden noises that hypervigilance brings.

Social media helped me express more pride as a Bostonian and New Englander could have ever imagined, as memes like this one popped up on and were shared by me on Facebook:



For those of you who aren’t locals, this pretty much summarizes how we people in the Hub of the Universe are, and how we dealt with things this week.

Unfortunately, social media also collapsed the space between MA and Arkansas, when we were subjected to this Tweet:


As enraging as this post was, social media allowed many of us in Boston to respond to this, including yours truly, with our Bostonian blunt arguments and a dash of humor thrown in:

nate comment

Social Media allowed thousands of people to respond alongside me, causing Bell to say to the Associated Press, “I really didn’t think about it going to Boston and was generally expressing my personal view of how I would have felt in that situation myself.”

This is one thing I hope we all can keep in mind over the next days and weeks, that we can remember the power of social media to collapse space and time and reach and impact a global and thus diverse audience.  Such a collapse can help bring comfort or quicken the pace of misinformation; bring a city together or divide a nation.

Social media amplifies feelings and emotions.  I hope colleagues can keep this in mind as we continue forward through the next days and weeks.  Social media can amplify love and community, and it can amplify hatred and racism.  It can amplify hysteria or reasonable thinking.  Social media can amplify comfort and applause, and it can amplify grief and vicarious trauma.

Please think before you tweet, post or share.  Ask yourself what you are shouting into the village square, what you are bringing to the conversation.  If you think you have something important to say, say it.  When in doubt, refrain.  Turn off your autobots advertising your wares or workshops for a bit.  And above all please remember that you are speaking to people you may not even imagine, whose experience of what has been happening ranges from the loss of an intellectual argument to the loss of a limb to the loss of a loved one.

How does one begin to carry on with one’s life and work when the tide of history overwhelms a society?  I’d like to suggest the answer is, carefully, thoughtfully, humbly and compassionately.

Continuing Education From Pax East


For those of you who may not know, Pax East is a yearly convention here in Boston celebrating all things video game. This year I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to present there on “Rethinking Gaming Addiction.” If you are interested in seeing what the presentation was about, you can view the Prezi here:



For those with the stamina, you can find a video of the presentation here:



And if you want to just listen to it in MP3 form, you can do so here:


Like this post?  I can speak in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.  And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book.  You can also  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!



Twenty-Three Apps for the 21st Century Therapist



Mobile applications have a lot to offer therapists.  Whether you are looking for games to play with patients, productivity or billing tools, or something to help you research, there’s an app for that.  Many supervisees, students and consultees have asked me lately what apps I recommend, so I thought it was about time I gave you a list sampling those I find most helpful and fun.  Many are cheap or free, and available for the iPad, iPhone and Android:

1. GoToMeeting

Planning on doing online therapy?  Gotomeeting has desktop and app versions of videoconferencing software, which is HIPAA-compliant.  The app version allows you to attend meetings, but the meeting needs to be initiated from the desktop version.  I use this program for the majority of my online sessions with patients and supervisees.

2. IbisMail

If you are juggling multiple roles or a portfolio career, or simply want better therapeutic boundaries, this is the email program for you.  Installed on your iPad or iPhone, this program allows you to set up automatic filters, so you can sort through junk mail.  But it also allows you to set up folders for patient emails, so that you can have them all in one place.  Then it is up to you to decide when you review your patient communications, rather than have everything coming through one inbox.  Supports multiple email accounts.

3. Flipboard

If you are wanting to add value to your twitter followers or consultees, this is a great app.  It provides a slick intuitive interface on your mobile device that pulls in stories from feeds you set, from you Facebook account to the Harvard Business Review blog.  When you find something you want to share, the app allows seamless sharing on a variety of social media platforms.  In a few minutes you can browse and share selected readings and keep up to date on current interests.

4. Bamboo Paper

This app allows you to write notes on your iPad.  It is great for note-taking during evaluations, and allows you to send these notes to Evernote as a .pdf or email yourself a copy.  NOTE: Doing this is not HIPAA-compliant if you have distinguishing identifying information in the note, so I recommend you refrain from using the cloud-based features if you have any concerns about patient privacy.  If you are using it for workshops or other personal uses, however, no worries.  And if you keep the notes local to your password-protected device, it can be a great tool.

5. Evernote

I was hesitant to add Evernote due to the recent hack they experienced, but their quick and effective response to this have actually made me more confident that this cloud-based note-taking device is still useful.  It is NOT HIPAA-compliant, so I don’t use it for patient notes ever.  That said, it is great for dictating notes about workshops, blog ideas, snapping pictures of things for study aids, and a myriad of other useful tasks.  The notes synch up between every device you have them on, so you’re always up to date.

6. iAnnotate

One of my favorites.  iAnnotate allows you to mark up .pdf files on your mobile device.  If you need to sign off on a document someone emails or faxes you, no more scanning, printing, scanning again stuff.  And if you are a student or researcher this is a must-have, as it supports highlighting and annotating research articles.  Synchs with Mendeley and Dropbox so you can store your research library with notes online.

7. 1Password

How can you make your mobile device more secure and use your web-browser more safely?  This may be the answer for you.  1Password installs on your mobile or desktop, and allows you to save and generate extremely long and secure passwords.  The level of encryption can be adjusted for the most cautious of password protectors.  This program also synchs over the cloud so that you always have the up-to-date passwords on all of your devices.  Even more convenient, it can bookmark your sign-in pages.  All of this is secured by double-password protection on your iPhone.  Stop using the same lame password for everything and start generating unique hard-to-crack ones for true HIPAA-compliance.

8. Mendeley

One part social network, one part research library,  Mendeley allows you to store research articles and annotations online and on your device.  It allows you to network with other colleagues to see what they are researching, share articles, and store all of your articles in one place.  Often it can even pull up the bibliographic entry from the web just by reading the .pdf metatag.  Geeky research goodness!

9. PayPal

This is one option for billing patients and paying vendors that is good to have.  You can invoice by email, transfer money to your bank account, and keep track of online payments on the website.  The app works well in a pinch if you aren’t ready to swipe cradit cards in your office.  NOTE, each transaction has a small fee.

10. Prezi

I’d love to see more therapists using this one.  This presentation software allows you to create dynamic visual presentations on your computer or mobile device.  You could use it to convert boring DBT worksheets to a dynamic online presentation.  Prezi supports importation from powerpoint, and provides free online hosting of your prezis as well as tons of templates and tutorials.  If you do public speaking, upload some of your prezis on your LinkedIn profile to give potential clients a vivid sense of your work.  You can see a sample here, but bear in mind that it would make more sense if I was there giving the talk.  🙂

11. DCU

I haven’t been to a bank in over 2 years, and this app is the reason why.  Digital Credit Union’s Mobile Branch PC, allows me to deposit checks from patients via my iphone.  Just login, scan the checks, and in 10 minutes you’ve done your deposits for the week.  Meanwhile, the online interface allows you to keep track of your spending easily and export to Excel or accounting software if you need to.  Great for tax season!

12. Dropbox

Dropbox is a great and free way to store non-private information on the cloud.  The app allows you to email items easily, so I use it to email intake instructions to patients, press kits to people inquiring about keynotes, and a number of other items.  I also keep all my DBT worksheets on it so that they can be sent quickly and easily to patients should they be feeling in need of extra support between sessions but not acute enough to warrant hospitalization.

13. TED

This app allows you to stay inspired and experience innovation daily, by beaming TED talks to your mobile device from the offical TED site.  You can favorite, search, and share your favorite ones, or hit “Inspire me” for random ideas.  As I wrote this, I was listening to Amanda Palmer speak on “The art of asking.”  This app can allow you access to ideas outside of the filtered professional bubble with therapists often get ourselves stuck in.

14. Line2

Want a second phone line on your iPhone?  This app allows you to have one.  You can port your practice number to it, and stop carrying two cell phones.  At $9.95 a month you can have unlimited US/Canada calling, at $14.95 a month you get a toll-free number and virtual fax.

15. CardMunch

Tired of keeping all those business cards from a shoebox?  CardMunch allows you to snap photos of a colleague’s business card and convert it to a digital one which it stores in your contacts.  Synchs with LinkedIn.

16. Micromedex

Keeping up-to-date on medications is pretty daunting, but this app, with frequent updates, helps you keep track od a medication, its Black Box warnings, contraindications, drug interactions, adverse effects, alternate names, standard dosages and more.

And now for some games!

17. Plants Vs. Zombies

This game is great for helping patients who want to learn about strategy and pacing.  Choose a certain number of plant types to plant in order to stop the zombies from overrunning your backyard.

18. Zombies, Run!

Continuing my zombie kick, this game is better than any pedometer I’ve ever used.  The more you walk or run, the further you progress in this game of fleeing zombies.  Go on multiple missions, play with friends, and even train for a 5K.

19. Kingdom Rush

This game is a classic tower defense game, which helps patients learn to make choices, control impulse spending as part of a winning strategy, and work on pacing, problem-solving and a host of other cognitive abilities.

20. Minecraft Pocket Edition

This mobile app version of Minecraft is a great way to connect with a patient’s gaming, and the app allows you to play together on a wireless LAN, so you can fight for survival or create an amazing construction right from your office together.

21. Flower Chain

This is a completely nonviolent game that focuses on setting up a chain reaction of flower blooms in order to complete each level.  Great eye candy, and a fun game for clearing the mind after a difficult session.

22. Trainyard

This puzzle game requires you to plan out and design multiple railroad tracks.  The trick is to set them up and pace them so that they all meet their goals without running into each other.  Great prompt for talking with adolescents about how they can learn to negotiate peer relationships in the same way, or learn to compromise with adults in order to get along with them.

23. Lavalanche

This puzzle game is reminiscent of Jenga, in that you have to dismantle a tower without letting the Tiki Idol fall into lava.  Another great one for executive function capacity-building around sequencing, planning and problem-solving.

So there you go, give some of these a try and let me know what you think.  Have a favorite app that you want to share?  Please feel free to comment and include the link.

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Epic Every Day: What Video Games and the Millenials Can Teach Us If We Let Them


The term millennial refers to the generation following mine, Generation X, who were born between the early 80s and 2001.  There certainly may be some differences in the millennial cohort in terms of race and social class, but in my experience working in both urban and suburban settings, technology use is not one of them.  In fact, technology has probably exacerbated some of the traits millennials are known and often criticized for.  Social media has made expression more democratic and amplified, and millennials cite self-expression as extremely important.  Growing up with the internet has also placed them in the same social and informational spheres as their parents more than previous generations, making them more civic-minded than rebellious, and having different, some would say overly dependent, attachments to their parents.

Common complaints about millennials include that they are entitled, tethered to their parents, unable to tolerate longterm goals, averse to sustained effort and require a constant stream of praise for the most minimal pieces of work.  The other side of this coin is worth noting, too:  Higher sense of self-expression has led to millennials’ higher acceptance of diversity in others; they are more comfortable with switching jobs or organizations they work with and working outside the box in general.  Yes, they may also have a higher tendency to blame external rather than internal things for their problems, but having come to self-awareness post-9/11, can we really blame them?

In my work, I often encounter children, adolescents and young adults who are failing in school for a variety of reasons.  These “millennials” avoid attending, and often the blame is placed on excessive video game use.  They are seen to be escaping from reality, and although I can understand this perspective, it also puzzles me in some ways.  Video games would in many ways seem to me to be going from the frying pan into the fire:  They are rife with failure; in fact the statistic Jane McGonigal gives us is that people are failing 85% of the time in playing video games.  MMOs often require even more collaboration, sharing and critical thinking between individuals than classrooms in any given 30 minute period.

Millennials are often criticized as post-academic workers as well, for having less job loyalty, a need for constant feedback, and expecting that feedback to be praise.  In more affluent school districts I often heard their parents described as helicopter parents, who would email school minutes after receiving the report card to begin to debate the grades and exert pressure on educators to change them.  This has led to such grade inflation in my experience that my graduate school students are hurt and insulted when they get a B+ on a paper, sometimes to the point of tears.  I can’t remember a class I had in college where I wasn’t listening to a lecture, millennials are constantly asking for more small group work.  I’ve even had a call on occasion from a parent about their child’s performance.  Did I mention that I taught in graduate school?

From the above criticisms you’d think I was down on millennials, and you’d be dead wrong.  Because I think for the most part the millennials are happy, tolerant, and more likely to help others voluntarily than other generations, and the Pew Research on them bears this out.  And I think that a major reason for this is that they play video games.

The video games of today and the past decade have morphed from Pong and Space Invaders to Halo and World of Warcraft.  They have set up myriad game worlds where survival and thriving requires critical thinking, social collaboration, and lots of trial and error for mastery.  These games have also been played by over 90% of the millennial population, and I would suggest that the result is that millennials have been conditioned to be more collaborative, expect feedback to be quick and positive, and be more connected to others through technology.

Then we send them to school,  and it is frustrating for a majority of them, a majority of teachers, and a majority of parents.  Rather than encourage them to be “lifelong learners,” education as it is currently structured aims to produce a very narrow form of educated person, one that Sir Ken Robinson describes in his TED talk as an “academic professor.”  In addition, we all start to become impatient with millennials to adopt our own often individualistic notions of what adulthood is.  They need to stand on their own two feet, work without constant reassurance, and memorize things that they could just as easily Google.  All to get into the right college, and all to get a good job.

We criticize the millennials’ work ethic for many of the same reasons:  They won’t take individual responsibility for projects, they have trouble working independently, and they expect an award merely for being present.  They need to take things more seriously and get their nose to the grindstone, no one has time to hold their hand anymore.  These are all complaints I have heard levied against adolescents and young adults in my work, and the implicit message is that it is time to grow up.

One of the greatest things we can learn from millennials is something that I think they learned from video games, and that is how to destigmatize, and even enjoy, failure.  The epitome of this for me is the Heron’ The Greatest Spelling Bee Fail/Epic Win of All Time—which was posted on YouTube originally by the millennial who flubbed it.  This ability to have a sense of observing ego and humor about oneself is something many of us in psychotherapy work with our patients for years to achieve, and yet as a generation millennials seem to have grasped it more easily.

Part of my work with gamers is often to explore this paradox:  Why is it fun or okay to fail in video games so much, and so intolerable in work or school?  Sure, part of it is that play is a magic circle according to Huizinga, which is marked apart from real life.  But games impact the same brain, the same emotions that exists inside and out of that circle.  And if that is the case, there must be some transferable skills.  We work on how to destigmatize failure

Innovation requires lots of trial and error, and lots of failures.  As educator Lucas Gillispie said at a recent education conference in Second Life, it makes little sense to penalize so harshly when students get 69%.  Rather than see it as having acquired more than half the knowledge assessed, we make it a source of embarrassment and usually require they repeat the entire exercise, class, or grade.  Millennials have grown up with a split view of failure.  On the one hand, video games have helped them understand that failure can be fun, even if you’re failing 85% of the time.  On the other, they are put in educational environments where the A is everything, and the goal of learning is to get high marks rather than enjoy the creativity and critical thinking.   In fact, A’s are so limiting!  Why not focus on a high score which can always be improved upon in school?  If the best you can do is an A, then you have to resort to accumulating the most A’s possible, which is less intrinsically rewarding and dynamic.

Many detractors will say that millennials need to get with the existing program, that what I am suggesting is dumbing down a curriculum, or that I am being too Pollyanna and that some jobs just aren’t capable of being fun.  But for over a decade companies like IBM have found success modeling work environments on MMOs, and schools which institute dance classes notice higher math scores. And the solution to our economic and occupational troubles may not be the return of a “work ethic” or more job, but the creation of new types of schools and jobs, work we can’t even imagine yet because it hasn’t been innovated or invented.  Can you imagine some 14th century youth telling his farmer dad, “I don’t want to work on the farm.  I’d like to create and use something that applies pressure and ink to paper to make reading and writing something we can all do.”

It probably isn’t a coincidence that the word “epic” has become ubiquitous over the past several years, with so many millennials and others playing video games like World of Warcraft.  And it has come under fire by many of my colleagues, who maintain that in a culture where everything is Epic, nothing truly is.  I’m not saying that everything is Epic, but I am saying that there can be some Epic every day.  It’s what they call teachable moments, flow, success, even the Epic fail that we can laugh off with colleagues before redoubling our efforts to nail it next time.  What we’re really learning here is how to tolerate frustration.

Millennials know that “epic” is a superlative, they’re not devaluing the currency of that word.  If anything, I think that this is a sign that Buddhist thinking is becoming more integrated into the 21st century:  It is Epic that we are here alive in this moment, that we want and fear so much, and the struggles that ensure from those things. There are a lot of levels left to unlock and problems to be vanquished in the world, and we need to cultivate optimism and positive psychology at school and in the workplace, not stomp on it.

Millennials often have that sense that there can be some Epic every day.  Video games offer worlds where there can be some Epic every day, too.  Let’s start noticing it.

Like this post?  I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info?  And, for only $2.99 you can buy my book.  You can also  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!