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Nerd, interrupted: Inside a smartphone addiction treatment center

Leah Yamshon | Aug. 28, 2013
Those who suffer from nomophobia—the fear of being without a mobile phone—need a special type of rehab therapy and wellness programs to bring them back to reality.

The final step at both centers focuses on integrating tech back into the patients' lives in a healthy way. The therapists set strict usage boundaries, and patients practice using their devices at specific times of the day in certain circumstances. They also learn how to recognize when their usage is becoming problematic again.

When patients finish up mobile rehab, they still have a lot of hard work ahead. Restart patients head to a halfway house; both Morningside and Restart patients continue with group and individual therapy sessions. Depending on the severity of the case, a patient continues to meet individually with the therapist one to three times per week. Patients also attend group therapy sessions, and Restart patients attend biweekly ITAA meetings—that's Internet and Tech Addicts Anonymous, a 12-step program specifically for tech addicts. The transition back to normal life takes time, but both centers tailor after-care and continued therapy to each patient's needs to give them the best possible chance at succeeding back in mobile-centric reality.

Detox with a device-free weekend
A tech fast, Cash believes, is the first step toward healing a mobile addiction. It's hard at first, but participants eventually start to feel better after they go through the withdrawal period and readjust to using their phones in a healthy way.

Even if you're not a full-fledged addict, disconnecting every so often could prevent the dependence from getting worse. A weekend retreat in the woods without your phone might be just the right medicine.

In his mid-20s, Levi Felix thought he was living the dream. He was a big part of Los Angeles's "digital beach" scene, working 80-plus hours a week for a cool tech startup in the nonprofit sector. He worked hard, played hard, and was always connected, keeping his phone under his pillow when he slept—as a social media marketer, he had to stay on top of everything that was happening. He thought this lifestyle was fine, but while en route to the South by Southwest Interactive conference in 2010, he suddenly fell violently ill.

"A trip to the emergency room found that I had internal bleeding, and there was no specific cause," Felix says. His doctor guessed that it was stress-related. Felix quit drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and eating spicy food, and then took a month off of work to recover. But shortly after he dove headfirst back into work, he got sick again.

It was this recurring illness that caused Felix to reevaluate his priorities. He realized that his always-connected life was—slowly but surely—killing him. "I couldn't live like that anymore," he says.

Felix quit his job, kissed his smartphone and Facebook account goodbye, and traveled the world with his girlfriend for the next two and a half years. He took this time to meditate, to eat healthily, and to build a better connection with himself and other people without actually being connected.


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