Mobile Devices in Psychotherapy: Bane or Benefit?
Every therapist has probably had the experience of a client’s cell phone ringing in the middle of a session, usually at the most inopportune moments. So it might come as a surprise for some therapists to hear that these devices might actually help with therapy. I think that smartphones and other mobile devices have the potential to enhance therapy in many ways and that we’re only starting to explore these possibilities.
One straightforward example is measuring mood and symptoms with mobile apps. I realize that many therapists don’t use ongoing measures in their therapy practice. However, I have found that using brief, repeated measures provides significant value in my practice. It provides a way to track progress with enough sensitivity to pick up small changes over time–or the lack of changes. It allows the client and I both to quickly assess how the week has gone. And it illuminates patterns in symptoms or growth–when we track these on a graph over time and then note the timing of significant life/therapeutic events, we can learn things together about what might be happening for a client. For example, we might learn than a person’s anxiety symptoms got significantly worse after a schedule disruption or a change in diet. Measurement scales can be standardized, where the scores have meaning in relationship to some clinical and normative data. Or scales can simply be a self-monitoring tool, a scale that helps an individual rate levels of symptoms, but where the scores don’t have any specific meaning related to clinical standards.
So I was particularly excited when I learned of this new application for Android phones developed by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), T2 Mood Tracker. It has several categories of symptoms to rate: anxiety, depression, general well-being, head injury, post-traumatic stress, stress, and a custom category that will allow users to create their own scales. It also will graph the ratings, allow you to enter a note for a particular date, and allow the notes to be password protected. It even will allow the user to set reminders to enter a mood rating.
While T2 Mood Tracker is not yet available for the iPhone, there are plans for an iPhone app in the first half of 2011. And while I haven’t had a chance to look at it closely, I did notice that there is a different app in the iPhone app store called MoodReporter that also seemed to track symptom levels and allows you to add a brief note.
T2 has also developed an app for the iPhone and Android called Tactical Breather, designed to be “used to gain control over physiological and psychological responses to stress.” This highlights another fruitful area for mobile phone application development: apps to teach specific coping skills, for example, use of soothing imagery and anxiety reduction breath training. I haven’t yet seen any good apps with this type of content–would love to hear of any you have found.
What roles can you see, if any, for mobile devices in psychotherapy?