Technology to Support Therapy: 4 Mental Health Apps Reviewed

Side view of young adult with short hair in athletic clothes half-seated on railing wearing headphones and using phoneIt may be fair to wonder whether technology supports mental health, but there is little doubt some technology has the potential to support treatment efforts. HIPAA-compliant video chat and screen-sharing software enables people to receive mental health services they might otherwise not receive. Several software programs help professionals maintain more efficient and secure notes and billing. Even some apps offer benefit to those working on improving their mental health. A few such apps are reviewed here to give an idea of what is available in the marketplace.

Anxiety Release Based on EMDR

This app costs $4.99. It offers a brain training session, an introduction in which users are encouraged to become aware of their body sensations and familiar with alternating tones in each ear intended to mimic bilateral stimulation used in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). It is best to use headphones with this app. Guided meditative sessions to relieve anxiety follow. Before and after each, users are prompted to identify their level of anxiety on a zero-to-10 scale. The app contains three anxiety-release sessions. The first two are narrated while tones alternate in each ear and correlating light spots alternate left and right on the screen. The third session is not narrated. It also walks users through the “safe place” resource often used in EMDR. If the Logbook feature is enabled, the app will record the user’s anxiety level before and after each session to track progress over time.

The app is not a substitute for EMDR sessions with a licensed mental health professional who has received adequate training. EMDR is far more complex than the app, which does not include elements critical to EMDR. The alternating lights on the app are not far enough apart to generate the same eye movements as would be used in an EMDR session. However, users may find the app useful for relieving some anxiety symptoms.

Brain Waves – Binaural Beats

This free app is meant to help people with sleep, relaxation, focus, and other brain functions. It is based on the 1839 discovery of binaural beats, whereby two different waveforms are presented in stereophonic earphones to each ear, with the perception of a third “beat” frequency occurring as the difference between the two auditory inputs (Atwater, 1995). Research indicates particular brain states generate particular brain waves, but there is much debate over whether these waves can generate brain states.

Specific brain waves correlate with the following activity levels:

  • Delta (up to 4 hz): Sleeping, healing
  • Theta (5-7 hz): Meditation
  • Alpha (8-13 hz): Relaxation
  • Beta (14-30 hz): Concentration, creativity
  • Gamma (over 30 hz): Higher forms of stimulation

Presets can be selected that generate sine-wave sounds from a mobile phone, or users can set their own frequencies in each ear using “Set L” and “Set R” buttons. The waves are to be played at a moderate volume and generate in real time with no loops. Headphones are required for this app.

Several presets were tried. The “Relax” and “Meditation” frequencies seemed to be particularly true to their names. While the effect may be placebo, it was a pleasant experience.

PTSD Coach

Created by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, this free app is directed toward veterans but may be useful for anyone experiencing posttraumatic stress. It includes information general to posttraumatic stress and an assessment to take as many times as a user wants to track progress of symptom reduction. The assessment can be scheduled so the user remembers to check in.

This app can be a useful resource for people struggling with posttraumatic stress and in need of quick coping resources.

A favorite feature is a list of coping tools to use when feeling triggered. Users can select from a list of symptoms, such as “Angry” or “Disconnected from People,” and be provided with applicable tools. Users can also select from a list of tools for coping with symptoms—and they’re good tools. Users can even create their own tool, such as music paired with pictures of loved ones, pets, or peaceful scenes.

This app can be a useful resource for people struggling with posttraumatic stress and in need of quick coping resources. Of those reviewed, this app was my favorite.

SOAR

The app intends to assist those who fear flying. While the app download is free, the content is not. As of writing, the complete SOAR video course is priced at $480 for 20 days. Add two counseling sessions and the price is $595 for one month. The “Take Me Along” mp3 download, which talks a person through the various stages of a flight, is $29.95 for two days. Other downloads start at $19.95, some including DVDs, and all downloads have time-limited access. The app includes a tool to schedule individual counseling.

Some things are included with the app at no additional cost: a turbulence forecast and weekly group phone counseling. Information to dial in can be found on the app.

Budget-conscious users may start with the group phone counseling and some individual downloads, determine for themselves if helpful, and purchase more if desired.

Conclusion

The apps reviewed here are only a small sample of what is available online. They provide a taste of technology and what may be on the horizon in support of mental health. Since each person’s therapeutic experience is unique, it is encouraging to see mental health apps increase in number and quality, as they add to the variety of tools for therapists and the people they help.

Still, apps are best looked at as supplemental to in-person therapy, particularly between sessions. Apps are limited in scope and cannot accurately diagnose or assess conditions. For the most effective support and personalized tools, reach out to a licensed therapist in your area.

Reference:

Atwater, F. H. (1995). The hemi-sync process. Retrieved from https://www.monroeinstitute.org/node/954

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Bud

    June 19th, 2017 at 10:59 AM

    We might not necessarily think that highly of the apps that are free but hey, I’ll take what I can get at a certain point

  • Bradley

    June 19th, 2017 at 2:05 PM

    If this is your only access to any sort of mental health care then I would definitely encourage everyone to take advantage of the resources that are there for you.
    It might not would be your very first choice but if it means this or nothing then come on, take that which is available.
    It would at least be a decent starting point for you and if you ever found something that you thought that you would like better or that would provide you with more of the kind of care that you desire then you can certainly go for it.
    This is not the end but it could be a fantastic beginning for you.

  • traci

    June 20th, 2017 at 9:30 AM

    I don’t see any of the on the App Store? Are they under different names?

  • Cal

    June 20th, 2017 at 11:20 AM

    I have so many issues with insomnia keeping me awake all night that I definitely want to take a look at the one that stresses binaural beats and brain waves.
    At this point I am desperate searching for anything that might can help me get more rest than what I currently do.

  • Pate

    June 23rd, 2017 at 1:04 PM

    While I don’t think that there is anything which would ever take away from the benefits of working with a therapist one on one and developing a working relationship with that person, I also understand that for some people both geographically or financially this is not going to be an option for them.

    There are so many available resources out there today though that I hope that more people will gain the tools that they need, no matter which venue in which they can find them, and will utilize them so that they can become the healthy and whole person that they deserve to be.

  • Trinity

    June 25th, 2017 at 8:16 AM

    We need to spread the word that these things are out there because I don’t think that there are tons of people who know about them. So share!

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