October 13, 2012
I’m glad I’m not the one who said it out loud. Are smartphone apps really the new surrogate therapist? So says Elizabeth Landau in her piece Smartphone Apps Become ‘Surrogate Therapists’ on CNN.com. Or, as Joshua Brustein leads off in his piece in The New York Times, Coming Next: Using an App as Prescribed, “Before long, your doctor may be telling you to download two apps and call her in the morning.”
When it comes to apps in the behavior management space, there are lots of choices out there:
Live OCD Free – An interactive app that utilizes Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) for the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – cost: $79.99
Moody Me by MedHelp – An iPhone app that allows consumers to track their mood, whether they have a mood disorder, want to track how medications affect their temperament, or just want to know more about themselves – cost: Free
Live Happy – An app that offers “happiness-boosting” activities, such as quiet reflection time, establishing and tracking life goals, and expressing gratitude – cost: 99 cents
PTSD Coach – Created with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, this app includes educational information about PTSD, a self-assessment program, and exercises to help patients relax and control their emotions – cost: Free
For a more extensive list of apps, see the OPEN MINDS directory of health management apps at The OPEN MINDS Tech List: Smartphone Applications.
While I don’t think any of these apps are “advertised” as replacing therapy as much as augmenting it, one unspoken question is how much of demand for face-to-face therapy time can be or will be replaced by these apps. It’s the question of technological substitution – just applied in our field.
Certainly there are varying degrees of “comfort” with this concept. A sampling of the comments to the CNN article give a flavor of the range of views:
“Considering the main mechanism for action in therapy is the Relationship, I don’t think you can say smart phone apps are “surrogate therapists.” I think they sound like a compliment to existing therapy, not a replacement.”
“Well anything that can help is a step in the right direction, but people should be careful not to avoid seeking therapy. Nothing is as effective as finding a qualified therapist and learning coping techniques.”
“I don’t see anything here stating that there’s been any research on any of these apps to see whether they have any positive effect, or even if they’re safe. If there has been no research, then they may in fact have negative effects.”
“Maybe this isn’t the best option! Maybe cell phones should stick to being phones and therapists should stick to therapists eh?”
What will the emerging hybrid “best practice” protocols look like? How much face-to-face therapy? How much tech-enabled face-to-face therapy? How much therapy with smart systems on-line and in apps? That question has not been answered in the treatment and support of consumers with the range of intellectual disorders and disabilities. But, I keep thinking of travel agents and bank tellers and stock brokers and…
Monica E. Oss
Chief Executive Officer, OPEN MINDS
For another free resource, see: Smartphones Aren’t Just for Consumers… all members
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