Useful guidelines to help you safely navigate the brave new world where technology and talk therapy intersect—namely, mental health apps and telepsychology.
By Deborah Serani, PsyD
What’s your take on mental health apps?
Mobile software applications, or apps, are programs to use on mobile devices like smart phones, tablets, and laptops. Apps that address mental health issues have exploded in popularity in the last few years, offering help with diagnosis, symptom assessment, tracking behavior, and well-being exercises.
Whether you want to learn how to do mindful breathing, monitor your mood, or get guidance in reframing negative thought patterns, you can find worthwhile apps that are available for free (as well as other options that require purchase).
Carefully chosen mental health apps can be helpful in tandem with your psychotherapy—and they can be enormously valuable for people who cannot find or afford mental health care. I wholeheartedly endorse the use of these technological assistants for many of the patients I work with, as well as for friends and family who are not in therapy but are seeking greater emotional welfare.
One caveat: It’s important to remember that use of a mental health app should never take the place of professional mental health care if you’re experiencing significant symptoms of depression or anxiety.
There are a number of factors to weigh when choosing a mental health app. First, it’s a good idea to read reviews and ratings from previous customers. You also consider the following:
EASE OF USE: How simple will this app be to use in your daily life? Can you navigate its directions without too much effort? Are techniques or tips easy to understand and follow?
EFFECTIVENESS: Does the app have measurement tools? If so, what issues are monitored? How well does the app track your symptoms?
PERSONALIZATION: Does the app address your unique needs? If so, how well can the app be personalized for you?
FEEDBACK: What kind of feedback does the app offer? Do you find your interactions with the app helpful?
VALIDITY: What evidence-based research is behind this app? Are there any clinical studies demonstrating its effectiveness?
SECURITY: What kind of data security does this app use? Will your personal information be kept confidential and private? Will the data collected by the app be sold to marketers or other companies?
What about teletherapy?
Telemedicine, telehealth, telepractice, telepsychology, teletherapy … these interchangeable terms can be confusing, but they all refer to the same thing: delivering medical or behavioral health care in a virtual space while practitioner and patient are physically in different places.
Teletherapy (not to be confused with the radiation cancer treatment of the same name) can be a convenient way to get mental health treatment without having to leave the house—especially if there aren’t many practitioners available where you live.
However, teletherapy is not recommended for moderate to severe depression, nor is it appropriate for crisis care.
A few things to keep in mind:
LOCATION: Treatment guidelines direct that you work with a therapist who lives in the same state as you. This relates to insurance, licensure and malpractice requirements. So if you live in California, you can’t work with a therapist in New Jersey via teletherapy. It has to be with a therapist in California.
PLATFORMS: Protecting your privacy online is very important. Is the tele therapist using a service that is HIPAA-compliant? Skype and Facetime are not HIPPA-compliant for teletherapy, so your sessions would not be confidential.
PROCESS: Understand that teletherapy will be a different experience than in-person psychotherapy. Because you’re communicating through a computer screen, your therapist may miss subtle verbal and nonverbal cues that are more easily sensed when face-to-face. Also, the audio or visual feed can fall out of synch, or the connection may disconnect due to WiFi issues, which can be frustrating and impede your progress.
Printed as “Technical assistance”, Fall 2017
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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