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.
SEIZE THE DAY. BY THE THROAT.
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."