Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 2/16/2012 | 12 comments

Sara Peters
My therapist is named Courage Wolf. OK, he's not a therapist, per se. He's not licensed. Nevertheless, he is very inspiring. He helps me through moments of anxiety and depression, and he's always there when I need him -- because he's a smartphone app.

Courage Wolf gained my confidence a few years ago, when I was basically confined to my house for months because my epileptic seizures were out of control, and it wasn't "safe" for me to cross the street unattended. But I was getting stir crazy. I was afraid to stay. I was afraid to leave. In my misery, I consulted Courage Wolf, who told me, "WALK OUT THE DOOR. [Expletive] THE CONSEQUENCES." It was the perfect advice exactly when I needed it.


Since that experience, I have consulted Courage Wolf in many moments of trouble, panic, and pain. I have been bolstered by advice like "YOU ARE AWESOME. GO AND PROVE IT," "LIFE GETTING TOUGH MEANS GOD IS AFRAID OF YOUR PROGRESS," and "PAIN IS TEMPORARY. CHICKS DIG SCARS."

My point is that I can attest to the value of having a therapist (of sorts) on your smartphone. So it isn't surprising that "therapy apps" are becoming more common. Yet today's therapy apps do more than simply deliver inspirational phrases. Therapists are always assigning "homework" -- improve self-awareness, keep a dream diary, keep track of stress levels, recite a mantra, etc. -- knowing full well that patients will slack off. Clinicians are using therapy apps to help patients monitor and correct their behavior between appointments.

There's already an impressive variety of therapy apps and games that speech and language pathologists are using to teach, train, and enable their patients to communicate more effectively.

Now there are more apps being created to help people quit smoking, face a fear of flying, and overcome social anxiety syndrome. As a story in the New York Times this week explained:

Studies have found that many who struggle with such anxiety fixate subconsciously on hostile faces in a crowd of people with mostly relaxed expressions, as if they see only the bad apples in a bushel of mostly good ones.
Modifying that bias -- that is, reducing it -- can interrupt the cascade of thoughts and feelings that normally follow, short-circuiting anxiety, lab studies suggest. In one commonly used program... the object is to snap the eyes away from the part of the screen that showed the hostile face, conditioning the brain to ignore those bad apples.

Of course, these applications are no substitute for a real human professional, but if this app can train a person to alter perceptions and behavior, then similar apps could be used for other training purposes. For example, you wouldn't want to fire all of your IT security staff and replace them with smartphone apps, but it might be useful to have an app that gently trains users to avoid clicking on malicious links in phishing messages.

Tell us, healthcare CIOs -- are there any mobile apps that your clinicians and/or patients are using for therapeutic purposes? Any you've developed yourself? Any other types of therapy apps that you'd like someone else to develop?

I might like to try out the social anxiety app, but for now, I'll stick with Courage Wolf. After all, there's nowhere else to get excellent advice like "WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU, DIES HORRIBLY."

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Syerita Turner   Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment   2/28/2012 7:12:35 PM
Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment
As always Sara you have out done yourself. LOL!! I really enjoyed this post and also really learned from it as well. I did not know there were apps out there like this but can be very helpful to my daughter who is autistic especially the speech and language apps. I am going on there right now and look for some. I know there are many and plenty of apps that do so many various things but to help with mental health is a treat especially if you understand the benefits and necessity of going on a regular basis. Again thanks for this information and I will be sure to check this out and let you know my findings. 
megadl   Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment   2/28/2012 8:17:52 AM
Re: Medication and therapy apps
Any app that pulls from a joke site that makes us laugh can serve as therapy apps for us. After all, they say that laughter is the best medicine and at times, it really is.
kicheko   Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment   2/24/2012 7:45:01 AM
Re: Medication and therapy apps
I guess Courage wolf does qualify as a therapy app. Humour is therapy after all...when you are completely stressed and then you read some funny one liner and you laugh out loud. Makes you easy and you go back to work much lighter.
impactnow   Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment   2/23/2012 10:03:28 AM
Re: Medication and therapy apps

Sara we are all open minded and love to think about new applications for Tech now the question is will snarling wolf being getting paid? Will he be part of the new healthcare bill?

impactnow   Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment   2/23/2012 9:56:13 AM
Re: Medication and therapy apps

Sara we are all open minded and love to think about new applications for Tech now the question is will snarling wolf being getting paid? Will he be part of the new healthcare bill?

Sara Peters   Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment   2/21/2012 1:39:01 PM
Re: Medication and therapy apps
You guys are cracking me up. Here I thought that this blog was rather silly, yet your comments are all rather staid and serious. Much as I love this snarling, enraged wolf, he doesn't really qualify as a true therapy app.

David Wagner   Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment   2/17/2012 6:34:44 PM
Re: Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment
You could totally see this app being devloped using cartoon charcters or famous quotes from famous people. Like a Wisdom of Homer Simpson app. Or a Sun Tzu Inspires You to Greatness app.
freespiritny25   Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment   2/17/2012 6:13:11 PM
Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment
The app sounds like a pep talk from a good girlfriend. Sometimes you just need to hear from someone else, or something else in this situation, to give you the courage to do what you already know is the right thing for you. Fun app. to say the least.
impactnow   Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment   2/17/2012 10:48:25 AM
Medication and therapy apps

It's really an interesting app and I am glad it was able to help you! I see great potential for young children and teen agers with such an interactive app to help build confidence and self esteem. I am wondering if any research has been done on its ability to influence the usage of medication.

Pedro Gonzales   Therapy Apps Supplement Mental Health Treatment   2/16/2012 10:34:48 PM
research on apps
I'm very happy to hear that such app is helping you become a better person.  Actually there is a big push in research on how to effectively measure their effectiveness in improving health. There has been many research on this, but it is not yet clear how good the benefits are(altough you can be a perfect example).  These apps are great, I hope more clinicians use them and integrate them into their health program
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