My phone is indispensible to me. It is practically surgically attached to my hand. At least once daily, I drop it accidentally because I forgot that I was actually holding it for no apparent reason (and it still works! Well, sometimes.) It helps me to keep appointments, gets me from points A to B with very detailed directions, sends me email or messages from SOMEONE (junk, business, personal, the person sitting next to me) and then there is my possibly unhealthy interest in Facebook and discussions about popular culture. I have love for my phone. She even has a name: Becky. She is my personal assistant.

So, I was greatly perplexed this morning after hearing a radio report about new mobile phone applications geared toward mental health. They called it, “A Therapist in your pocket”. Initially, all sorts of alarm bells started ringing. I listened carefully while visions of mobile phone-zombies running around letting their phones dictate their emotions for them ran through my head. I imagined Becky telling me that I had a Facebook addiction and that I must step away from the phone. Then the daydream took a twisted turn and Becky grew arms and legs and started running after me! Ahhh!!! But I digress. =)

Although there is something a bit foreboding about an inanimate object assisting with something as complex as a person’s mental health, the more I listened, the more I thought that maybe I should give the Mental Health app a chance before I completely dismiss it as a mind control effort by cell phone companies and the IT industry. My change of mind resulted because it seems these apps have been created by mental health professionals as a supplemental tool to regular talk therapy and has a real theoretical basis: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  Thus, it seems these apps might be a great way to keep the client self-aware and accountable for their own behaviors by providing them a tool to help monitor themselves.

Often, when using CBT, we therapists suggest things like a journal to help monitor moods and distorted thoughts so that the client increases self-awareness and has an outlet until their next therapy session. I have even suggested an online web database to assist in documenting dreams on this blog (see Dream Big. And write about it). Now, with the many leaps and bounds that technology is making, it appears that a person’s phone can now be used as a tracking system that the client can even share with their psychiatrists (the MD who handles psychotropic meds) and their therapists (LCSWs, LMFTs, Pyschologists, etc.), if they would like. Having access to honest and consistent documentation of moods would be beneficial to the therapist because it would provide insight into what the client’s stressors and triggers are beyond what is verbally reported and could possibly lead to more openness (or acknowledgement of habitual behaviors) in sessions.

One application, called “Mobile Therapy,” randomly alerts the cell phone user that it is time to indicate their current mood on the “mood map”.  It can become an automatic thing with little effort on the part of the user (thus making it more likely they will engage in documenting their moods).  Also because the times when the phone asks for the user’s mood to be tracked is random, this can be a great assessment tool to more appropriately identify the areas in the client’s life that most negatively or positively affects their mood as opposed to only having the client’s report about what they think caused their mood change. 

THEN…that is where the real therapist comes in, I believe. For example, the therapist can acknowledge when the client consistently has had a “bad” mood during a certain part of the day.  Once that is established, it can lead to the therapist and client working together to identify what it is that is happening during that time of the day that is adding to the mood decline.  Then come the interventions.

Sure, anyone can chart their moods, energy levels, sleep patterns, activities, foods eaten, or even how many times they dropped their cell phones, but it takes a mental health professional and a safe environment to really work on maintaining someone’s mental health. Particularly if the person who is using the application has a disorder and needs treatment or medication.  I don’t think a phone will know when it is necessary to refer to a psychiatrist or provide crisis intervention.   Although it does sounds like quite a wonderful tool, it is my opinion is that it should be used as just that, a tool and not a crutch. And because we are a generation that is already very reliant on technology, there may be a fine line here. And—whoops! I just dropped Becky.  =)

To learn more about NPR’s report on the new mental health mobile applications, click here.

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