Every few weeks, Kenneth Wengler, a graduate student studying biomedical engineering, will take a look at Stony Brook-related science and research news.

The future of space exploration lies in deep-space travel. NASA knows this well and plans to send astronauts to asteroids by 2025 and Mars by 2030.

On deep-space missions, many behavioral issues may arise, including stress, anxiety and fatigue. If an astronaut on a near-Earth mission experiences one of these problems, they can talk in real time with a therapist either by video or voice calling.

One major complication with deep-space missions will be the communication delay between astronauts in space and people back on Earth. This delay will be an estimated 40 minutes for a trip to Mars.

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To overcome this challenge, Adam Gonzalez, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine, has received a three-year grant from NASA for the research project “Asynchronous Techniques for the Delivery of Empirically Supported Psychotherapies.”

“We are looking at different self-management packages for these types of symptoms,” Gonzalez said. “Also at different modes of communication and delivery of these treatments.”

Self-management is a technique used to treat behavioral disorders involving less direct interaction with the patient. If a patient is suffering from depression, the therapist would present the patient with skills to manage their symptoms themselves.

When real-time communication is possible the patient and therapist can sit down together and go over the skills and steps that can be used to manage their symptoms; if the patient is having difficulty implementing the skills, they can contact their therapist using some form of telecommunication to clarify the skills.

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“What we would prescribe or recommend to manage sad mood or anxiety, those skills would be presented whether it be in a written format or through a video message, or PowerPoint,” Gonzalez said. “The therapist serves almost as a coach, so they are going through the skills, and if they have difficulty implementing or carrying out, putting some of the skills into practice ,then they go back to the therapist and say, ‘Hey you know I tried to do X, Y, and Z. It’s really not working for me. What do you suggest?’ ”

When there is a 40-minute delay in communication, this form of therapy can be difficult. Figuring out what method of delivering the self-management skills astronauts would best respond to is the main goal of Gonzalez’s work.

One strategy that Gonzalez is looking into is “having an electronic platform that could hold different self-management treatment packages that participants could then access,” he said. “And then that would be supplemented with different modes of communications with a therapist, for at least a 40-minute delay. Whether it be through text based communications, like emailing, or through video messaging where they would basically have a video blog, and the therapist would send back a video message after 40 minutes to try to replicate what they expect to happen.”

Gonzalez said the knowledge gained from this project can be translated to telemedicine in general, and he is excited by the potential impact this could have on the community.

“It’s exciting to be involved in NASA, but also to see it have a larger impact potentially on the community in Suffolk County more broadly,” Gonzalez said.

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Featured image credit: bissartig

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