There’s an App for That: More on Digital Technology and Therapy

Recently, the use of virtual technologies within the context of therapy, psychotherapy, and counseling has become quite the hot topic. The New York Times reported on two ways that virtual technologies have been incorporated into therapeutic practice and referral. First, incoming patients interacted with an avatar to share their feelings, concerns, and fears—and ended up being more honest and open with avatars than with actual people. Secondly, some therapists are helping patients face their fears, phobias, and anxiety triggers by interacting with these things virtually within the therapy session.

Now, National Public Radio is highlighting a third way that virtual technology is augmenting how therapists and counselors can interact with their patients: mobile apps. No, apps are not providing or replacing therapy. The human component is essential to psychological growth and progress, especially the interaction and communication that facilitate that growth. But apps are allowing therapists more insight into the lives of patients in between sessions. So far, therapists have been working with apps specifically aimed at stress, depression, and schizophrenia—all struggles that are usually treated with therapy, a technique that apps are particularly well-suited to.

With therapy, patients will often work on changing their behavioral patterns, and they’ll sometimes be given “homework” to work on between sessions. Sometimes this involves goals to meet each day, such as making the bed or going for a walk. Other times, it involves keeping track of each day’s landscape: mood fluctuations, sleeping patterns, exercise, meals, activities, etc. With a mobile app, tracking these things is far more convenient than pen and paper, ultimately making patients more likely to stick with it. Apps also provide more robust information to therapists, showing variation throughout each day and week and even tracking changes over time. And especially with younger patients who love to text, they’re offering up more information and commentary into the ‘log’ portion of the app, which gives therapists more to work with. Apps will never replace the essential role of a therapist or counselor, but it’s heartening to see such how they’re helping therapists to do an even better job.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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

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  • mark


    December 2nd, 2010 at 3:30 AM

    this is hilarious…first we start to have problems due to technology and then we proceed to use technology to help us in our recovery process? no thank you, I prefer the old-school way of going about things with my counselor.

  • jessie t

    jessie t

    December 2nd, 2010 at 5:45 AM

    I know that we all say that devices like this are not taking the place of a human therapist but I still cannot help but believe that they are! Apps to help with therapy and find out what is going on in patients lives between sessions?! Hello! How about just asking them about the things going on in their lives and let the patient have the chance to communicate the things that are going on. Personally this just feels like the lazy way out and I have a fear that because o this reliance on digital apps then patients who really need face to face interaction and help are going to fall through the cracks and not ever get the help that they need to recover.

  • Steve Z

    Steve Z

    December 2nd, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    I support anything that makes the data that can be used to treat me better more precise.

    More precise data->Better understanding fr the professional->Better treatment->More effective and better recovery for me :)

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on