Not too long ago in our history, mental health still remained a taboo subject. Society as a whole didn’t fully grasp what it meant to not be okay. Most people didn't realise the connections between body and mind, nor did they recognise how vital mental health is to overall health. And perhaps most importantly, they did not realise the possibility of help and healing for these mental issues.
This has all changed in the past few decades and now more than ever, society is focused on prioritising our mental health. No longer are mental disorders stigmatised or seen as unusual. It is recognised that extraordinary numbers of us will experience some mental health concerns over our lifetime.
1 million other Australians suffer from depression and roughly 2 million have anxiety. Approximately half of the Australian population is expected to deal with a mental health condition in their lifetime. And we’re far from the only nation experiencing this. The data shows that mental health concerns are occurring in significant numbers across the globe. There may be many reasons for this, but there’s little doubt that our busy, technology-fuelled lives aren’t playing some role in adding to our stress.
No matter why they generate, whether impacted by stress or not, mental health issues are troublesome and debilitating. Those who suffer can find peace, comfort, and direction with professional help. Nowadays, that can be as simple as downloading an app.
We've entered a realm in which pursuing therapy is as easy as downloading a mobile app to your smartphone. No need to wait to schedule a doctor’s appointment. Now you can essentially carry a therapist with you in your pocket. In the past couple of years, many people have taken to sharing their problems via an online space. Therapy-focused apps can connect you to a licenced professional who can deliver you the therapy you need via video, text chat, or a phone call.
This innovation of pocket therapists can be viewed as tremendously beneficial. Without location as a detriment, those living in very remote areas or who are homebound can have access to high-quality mental health care online. Yet there are other potential implications of these web-based therapy services---some of which may not be entirely positive. When it comes to health and wellness, it's important to examine the facts carefully when it comes to any tool, resource, or service.
In this post, we're going to take a look at some of the leading online therapy apps available today. We’ll also discuss why these apps might be useful to you and what you should consider when using them.
The Era of App-Based Wellness
Is it any surprise that you can now receive counselling via an app? It shouldn’t be. We're living in a day and age when wellness is something that we largely control ourselves using mobile applications and other personal devices. We can manage our weight and nutrition by tracking our eating habits. We can track exercise and record our achievements. And we can speak to a therapist or counsellor virtually. With apps, office visits are no longer a requirement for certain ailments, especially those which occur in the mind.
While we are a long way from replacing medical professionals with robots, the advent of technology in the palm of our hands has made it easier than ever before to manage our own well-being. (Truthfully, we never will replace doctors and nurses, as there is no substitute for certain innate human abilities and skills, such as empathy.)
On our devices we’ve got meditation apps, fitness tracking, blood pressure monitors, etc. Why should mental health be any different?
The therapy apps currently available today work in different ways. At the most basic level, you might use an app that has therapeutic properties but doesn't directly connect you to any professional. These apps fall under the umbrella of use for general stress and anxiety and may be most appropriate for those whose mental health issues aren't especially severe. These types of apps can involve tasks like journaling, mood tracking, or gratitude lists. Others provide guided meditations or self-help recordings. While these tools can be extremely effective, they are not nearly as intensive as working with a therapist----either online or in person.
When we talk about having a therapist in your pocket, we're mostly talking about apps that connect you directly with mental health professionals. Some of these apps offer one-on-one contact with a single therapist while others connect you to a group or team that acts as a singular voice. Depending on the app and the chosen service, you might speak one-on-one to a therapist via text or through video counseling. The various apps on the market seem to employ different levels of professionals, from trained volunteer listeners to licenced therapists, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists.
What draws many people to these types of therapy apps is that they are typically quite affordable. However, you'll likely find that the cost is elevated according to how personalised the therapy is or according to the level of your chosen professionals’ credentials. Largely, the price of using an online therapy app should be considerably less than traditional, in-person treatment.
Why These Apps Can Be Beneficial
There are a great many reasons why an individual in need of mental help guidance would elect to use an app. For those who have never previously tried therapy, or who may have reservations about seeking traditional therapy, an app can be a great “gateway.” Apps can introduce hesitant individuals to a valuable resource, and it is possible that they might continue to pursue their app-based treatment, or eventually move on into face-to-face counselling.
Some therapy clients may find that the lack of face-to-face contact is part of the appeal. There’s a feeling of safety and anonymity when you’re interacting from behind a screen. This could allow certain people to open up more readily, and could make therapy a bit less intimidating. And many people, young people especially, often prefer conversing by text. That makes therapy apps the perfect medium for them to access help.
Yet another reason that someone conscious of their mental health issues might choose a therapy app is the flexibility it offers.
Traditional counselling requires appointments and usually involves a set schedule. A therapy app gives patients the ability to engage on their own terms and in their own time frame. Having a particularly rough day? Your online therapist can be contacted easily and quickly.
Trusted Mental Health Apps
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular mental health apps out there.
Talkspace is already used by 1 million people, making it one of the leaders in therapy apps. Talkspace matches you with a single therapist who you’ll work with on an ongoing basis. The professionals are licenced therapists who have more than 3,000 hours of clinical experience. With Talkspace, you can sign up for the plan that best suits you, including Unlimited Messaging Therapy, which might be ideal for the person who really needs to talk things out over text.
7 Cups of Tea is a therapy app that can be used in a few different ways. Like Talkspace, 7 Cups can connect you with a licenced professional therapist. You can use the app or the website to search for providers based on various topics or mental health issues. This is a useful feature, especially if you have a specific problem you need assistance with. But 7 Cups is something of a community, too. The company bills itself as an online emotional support service, because not only do they offer professional e-therapy, they can also connect individuals with trained volunteer listeners. This provides a free and completely anonymous service. You can choose which listener to interact with, or connect with others via groups on the site. Additional resources (also free) give you opportunities to practise mindfulness or take mock mental health tests.
For those who simply need a listening ear, 7 Cups could be a good place to turn.
Another option is BetterHelp, which promises “Convenient, affordable, private online counselling. Anytime, anywhere.” Over half a million people are using BetterHelp to get matched with an expert therapist who is ready to listen.
Like Talkspace, counsellors on BetterHelp are licenced professionals who will interact with you confidentially. Each therapist has an advanced degree and at least 3 years and 2,000 hours of experience. Unlike Talkspace, however, BetterHelp operates on a flat rate fee system. This gives you unlimited access to your therapist, who you can contact via live chats, phone calls, messages, or video conferences. Your membership includes these methods with no additional charges or limits. For some seeking online therapy, this lack of restrictions could prove very helpful and comforting.
Perhaps you can get help from a therapist who is not exactly human. Woebot is an AI chatbot that interacts with users through chat messages in the app. Woebot uses the principles of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) to offer practical tips and skills to users. While it might seem unusual to seek out mental health assistance from a bot, it seems that Woebot’s responses can be quite enlightening. And because CBT is based on using skills and reframing one’s mindset, Woebot can truly offer some useful guidance.
This app was created to help users dealing with common issues of anxiety or depression. This app clearly is not a substitute for interacting with a therapist (or a real person) but it could still prove a valuable resource nonetheless.
Moving Forward with Therapy Apps
If you’re considering trying out a therapy app, why not give it a go? There are just a couple of things to keep in mind.
Not a replacement for in-person therapy or treatment
While many people have found therapy apps to be beneficial, it’s important to remember that these approaches are not an equivalent replacement for traditional, in-person counselling or psychiatric treatment.
There’s undeniable value in face-to-face conversations. Not only does this involve human interpersonal contact, which has many advantages, it allows therapists the ability to read a patient’s body language. Physical cues can offer a great deal of insight into a patient’s mental state, so this could be an important element in treatment. Video conferencing for therapy could arguably be comparable to this, but some patients will simply prefer the support of an in-person relationship.
Perhaps most importantly, online therapy is not the solution for every type of mental health concern. Some mental health disorders will require more intensive therapy, the prescription of medications, or even hospitalisation. This may not be the case for a majority of users of these therapy apps, but if you feel that you require more aid than an app can provide, do reach out to a mental health professional in your area.
May not be cost-effective
One of the major advantages claimed by these therapy apps is the affordability they offer. In some cases and in some locations, this may indeed be the case. But depending upon your needs and your preferred methods of therapy, you might find that online counselling is not saving you money in the long run. If expense is a consideration, gather more information on associated costs before signing up for a service. If you’d prefer traditional in-person therapy, you may also find that there are income-based services in your area offering lower-cost treatment.
Has some drawbacks
It’s important to be careful where we get our information from, especially with regards to a sensitive topic such as mental health. There is plenty of misinformation out there, so when selecting a therapy app or other useful resource, be sure to do your research.
For more information on digital mental health resources in Australia, head to this site.