Update On Online Mental Health Apps for Mental Health Professionals

The online technology news service TechCrunch.com published “Pseudo—Therapy Apps: the Fat Diet of Mental Health” on 11-12-15. This article was written by a therapist, and discusses the problems with some highly popular smartphone apps that claim to provide mental health benefits. The author discusses the claims made by the Happify, Joyable, SuperBetter, and Personal Zen apps, all of which make claims based on research that the author finds to have significant methodological problems.

He concludes that they are “pseudo-therapy” apps, and concludes, “Psychotherapy takes work-it’s not a quick fix. In many ways, it is analogous to physical exercise. Just like finding a workout that’s effective for you, fighting a psychotherapist can be a laborious process. And even after a psychotherapist or effective workout is found, you must invest time and energy into the process.” Obviously, this is a much more substantial process than using mental health App.

The Medical Daily online news site posted “CBT Works Best in Person, As Computer-based Programs Are “Unlikely to Cure Depression; Study” on 11-13-15. This article view reviews research in England “cCBT”, a computerized version of traditional CBT.  cCBT had been developed to expand access to psychological therapy and to try to reach people who, for various reasons, do not access regular, in person therapy. The study compared patients receiving “usual care” CBT treatment with patients participating in two popular cCBT programs, the Beating the Blues or MoodGym programs.    After four months, all of the groups had about equal outcomes, but only 18% of the patients it completed all sessions of the Beating the Blues program, while 16% it completed MoodGym. Study concluded that these cCBT programs suffered from a serious lack of engagement with the participants.  In Minnesota, Beating the Blues is provided by HealthPartners, so it will be interesting to see how their own outcomes findings will evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

On the other hand, the Washington Post published a more positive take on online mental health services, “It’s 3 AM and You’re Feeling Depressed. How Technology Is Transforming Mental Health Care,” on 11-11-15.  This article describes the Big White Wall site, an online service that provides help at all hours for people who are struggling with mental health symptoms. It offers educational resources, courses led by mental health professionals, and “virtual” peer support online discussions.  The article notes that the most active period on the site is between midnight and 4 AM.  The site relies on sophisticated algorithms to help connect users with information that is relevant to their concerns. The name for the site comes from the function which allows users to write or draw on virtual bricks to share their emotions. The wall metaphor symbolizes barriers that people sometimes experience dealing with mental health problems, and the service appears to provide helpful resources for people that do not, for various reasons, have a therapist or as adjunctive resources for people with a therapist. The service is reportedly working on refining the algorithms so that it will be able to respond gauge the severity of distress based on the writing from participants, and adjust responses accordingly. Users have the ability to use a “Report” button to alert staff to messages that are alarming. The article notes that this technology is not intended for people with severe problems, and outline functions are not intended to substitute for in-person services.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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