There’s an App for That!

Technology can be used in a variety of ways to enhance mental health and aid in recovery from psychological disorders.   For example, patients can use smart phone apps to help them track moods and symptoms, implement coping strategies, and reach out for help from clinicians and peers when needed.   Most evidence-based, behaviorally-oriented treatments for mental health problems – such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) – require some degree of self-monitoring.  These types of treatments also strongly encourage daily practices to enhance well-being, such as journaling, identifying and challenging negative thoughts, diaphragmatic breathing, or mindfulness meditation.

Most of the teenagers and college students I work with are far beyond the old pen-and-paper logs and worksheets I was trained to use during graduate school.  It seems there’s an app for everything these days, and so many of these apps are relevant to mental health and wellness.  Today’s young people organize their lives on their smart phones anyway, so it is only natural that we would look to the smartphone to help them self-monitor their symptoms, complete their therapy assignments, and keep track of the strategies they use to help themselves.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of apps that are useful to people with mental health conditions.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The Recovery Record app helps patients with eating disorders self-monitor their meals and snacks as well as thoughts, feelings, and urges that arise around food.

The Insight Timer app offers a meditation timer, thousands of free guided meditation tracks, groups for like-minded meditators, and the ability to track quantitative statistics such as how many minutes the user spends each day in meditation.

DBT Diary Card and Skills Coach is an electronic version of the Diary Card used in standard DBT practice, which helps the patient track target behaviors and utilize DBT skills from the modules of Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness.

The nOCD app helps patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder implement their exposure and response prevention treatment while compiling objective, real-time data on their experience.

I am a firm believer that what transpires in the therapist’s office is only a fraction of the treatment package.  Most of the healing process results from consistent changes that patients and their families make on a daily basis at home, at school, and in various social settings.   Thanks to modern technology, individuals who are committed to improving their well-being are now able to hold new tools, literally, in the palms of their hands.

3 Replies to “There’s an App for That!”

  1. Are the proponents of these apps suggesting that a cell phone can replace parents as the key ingredient in the treatment of anorexia nervosa? If so, do they have any scientifically-reliable evidence to support this idea? The last time I checked, most of the apps to treat eating disorders are based on principles of CBT or DBT, both of which have produced poor results in clinical trials in the treatment of anorexia.

  2. Three of the apps I mention in this post (Insight Timer, DBT Diary Card and Skills Coach, and nOCD) are not meant to be used for anorexia nervosa at all. The first app I mention, Recovery Record, is meant to be used for eating disorders, but is not specific to anorexia nervosa. To my knowledge, the creators and proponents of the Recovery Record app have never suggested that this app (or any app, for that matter) could or should replace the role of parents as the key ingredient in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. Rather, the app is meant to be used as a tool to help patients self-monitor their food intake in the service of whatever their treatment goals may be, whether that is increasing nutritional intake (in the case of AN or other restrictive eating disorders), stabilizing nutritional patterns (in the case of BN or disordered eating), or eliminating binge eating episodes (in the case of BN or BED).

    I do not believe the Recovery Record app would be helpful for young patients with AN in family based treatment, and I would not recommend it for that purpose. However, I can see how it could be a useful supplement to CBT for adults with BN or BED. I can also imagine that the app could be useful for adults with AN who do not have parental support.

  3. Hello,
    I would like to invite you to attend 9th Annual Eating Recovery Foundation Conference is organized by Eating Recovery Foundation and would be held during Aug 04 – 05, 2017 at Denver Marriott City Center, Denver, Colorado, United States of America. This CME Conference has been approved with a maximum of 14.5 CME Credits.
    Conference Objectives are :
    • Identify innovative treatment approaches to improve prevention, detection, treatment, and patient outcomes for eating and related disorders
    • Discuss recent advances in research, clinical pratices, and tools appropriate for ranging levels of acuity on the behavioral healtcare continuum
    • Employ creative and effective strategies to support the individual, engage the family and leverage the support system in treatment and recovery
    Please pass this message to concern person or department.

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