Can An App Really Make You Less Anxious?

I've seen quite a few apps pop up over the past few years geared towards mental health. Some claim to help reduce anxiety, depression, stress - really you name it and there's an app for it. Truth be told, I have a few apps on my phone for meditation and mindfulness. I've even recommended some to clients before. But how well do they really work? And if they do, how are they going to change the mental health landscape?

This NPR article from 2010, talks about the potential benefit of mobile therapy apps. One app, when tested on 60 participants found that users were able to develop "self-awareness in moments of stress, develop insights about their emotional patterns and practice new strategies for modulating stress reactions." Other apps discussed in the article helped teenagers with depression track their mood and individuals with schizophrenia utilize breathing techniques and muscle relaxation to decrease their stress. 

Since 2010 there have been many more apps made specifically for mental health. If you google "mental health app" you'll get 59,0000 results, many of which are articles like "the top 10 mental health apps" or "8 ways to use your phone to benefit your mental health." Clearly, these apps aren't going away, so what's are the plus and minuses of these apps? Here are my thoughts...

What I like about all these apps - 
1. They increases access for someone seeking mental health assistance. 
One of the biggest problems in the mental health field is stigma. Stigma prevents people from seeking help, it stops someone from talking to their families or friends about how they're feeling and it prevents us from getting better. Having an app on your phone though, when you're depressed, or anxious, stressed or angry, can be extremely useful. A phone app can be private, no one has to know that you're taking five minutes away to check in with your app. 

Another issue with access is that some people can't afford to go to a therapist or don't live near a therapist. For these reasons, having a little help on your phone could be very useful. 

2. There's variety. 
Now that there are so many therapy apps you can most likely find the right one to fit your needs. I have three different meditation apps on my phone for one simple reason - sometimes one works better than another. If I'm a little irritated and I start to find that the voice of this app is annoying, I might switch to that app and vice versa. 

Point being, variety is good. Because no therapist can be a perfect fit for every client, there isn't a single app that can be a cure-all for everyone either. 

3. Convenient and Affordable.
This goes along with #1. If you have a therapist you probably understand how difficult it can be sometimes to reach them. Perhaps they're with a client or it's 1am and they're in bed. Having a therapist in your pocket means that no matter what time of day it is, you can reach them. 

These apps are also affordable. An app can be free or just a few dollars. 

And here are my concerns:
1. Privacy. 
Sure all of these apps claim privacy, but often an app asks for access to media files or other information on your phone and with hackers out there, no one can guarantee 100% security. 

2. Nothing beats face to face. 
Perhaps I'm biased, but you'll never develop a rapport and relationship with an app like you will an actual counselor. I like the idea of using apps in conjunction with therapy or in times when you simply can't see a therapist. I think they can be beneficial then, but if you're looking for a well rounded experience, nothing beats face to face counseling. 

Now tell me would you use one of these apps? Or perhaps you already do, and if so, which ones do you like? I'd love to hear from you!

On a personal note:
When I have suggested using certain meditation apps, my clients reported a decrease in stress. While there are a few apps I like, I suggest you look around and explore your options if you're interested in finding the right one for you!

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