With close to 60% of smartphone users having downloaded a health-related, or mHealth mobile application, mobile therapy is playing a bigger and bigger role in 21st Century mental healthcare.[1] This growing popularity isn’t just limited to patients and clients, either – figures show that increasingly, institutions are catering to this demand with ever-more advanced digital blended care tools.

Before you start looking for the best psychology app, it’s important to take your time to understand the implications technology can have on healthcare, its benefits as well as its limitations. In this article, we’ll share some of the most popular apps that are recommended by mental healthcare practitioners.

Should Psychologists Use Apps? 

The short answer to the question is yes. As a blended care practitioner, using a psychology app could certainly help your practice.

Here’s how.

  • Improved Feedback and Communication 

Mental health apps can make it easier for therapists to communicate and keep in touch with their clients, an important part of establishing a strong therapeutic alliance for better health outcomes.[2][3]

Patients can use apps to log their mood, whether they took their medication or had a sleepless night. That can make it easier for therapists to track their clients’ behavior and progress and come up with tailored virtual care solutions. The alternative would be for the patient to write down their emotions and experiences or try to recollect them during the session, which isn’t always effective.[4]

  • Apps Can Help Patients Reach Their Goals 

While research is still in its infancy, various studies so far have shown that apps can help patients reach their therapy goals.

According to a 2013 review of mental health apps from the University of New South Wales, mental health apps have the potential to be effective and may significantly improve treatment accessibility. Eight papers describing five mHealth apps targeting depression, anxiety, and substance abuse met their inclusion criteria and four apps provided support from a mental health professional.

Results showed significant reductions in depression, stress, and substance use.[5]

  • Apps Are Available 24/7 

One of the primary limitations of one-on-one care is that patients can’t always receive the help they need when they need it the most.[6] If they are dealing with an anxiety attack, for example, having to make an appointment with their therapist to discuss the issue is not as helpful as being able to address in the moment either by instant messaging for advice or having access to online and mobile resources.[7]

Things can get increasingly complicated in areas with limited access to mental health care where patients have to travel long distances and spend ample resources to get the care they need.[8]

Mental health apps can facilitate more efficient communication between the patient and the therapist. Not only through the use of virtual interfaces such as video therapy and text message, but these applications can provide support and helpful resources when therapists are unavailable.

  • Data Collection and Storage Made Easy

Collecting patient data easily and frequently can be a very valuable tool in assessing the effectiveness of the methods of treatment.[9] However, proper documentation can also be slow, time-consuming, and often ineffective – this is one of the reasons behind calls for more advanced electronic medical records (EMRs) and electronic health records (EHRs).[10]

Some mental health apps provide great note-taking functions, others go further. Examples include apps that enable the practitioner to[11]:

  • Generate charts and tables for visualizing patient progress and the areas that need to be improved;
  • Improve office management through features that help therapists run their practice – examples include billing and scheduling; or
  • Even increase patient engagement through self-paced educational modules clients can take between sessions.[12][13]

Mental health apps can facilitate more efficient communication between the patient and the therapist.

The Limitations of Psychology Applications

As beneficial as they may be, there are some limitations to their applicability that psychologists should be aware of. Here, a few of the top considerations to keep in mind.

  • There’s Not That Much Long-Term Research

The use of mobile applications in the healthcare industry is still rather new, so the lack of longer-term longitudinal research shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Some studies are even methodogically flawed; for instance, a now-famous study conducted by Apple Watch showed that participants could improve their exercising habits if they used an app on the smartwatch, which monitored their activity and rewarded them with the watch for free if they reached a certain goal.[14] This use of negative reinforcement arguably played a role in prompting participants to reach their goals, and calls into question the validity of the study.

  • Lack of Industry Regulation

The problem with many e-therapy applications available today is that they are not regulated.[15] Even with some supporting evidence behind an app, the onus is on the consumer to carefully review it, ensuring its premise and evidential basis.

As a general rule, it’s a good idea to look for apps that have been tested and researched by government institutions or academic organizations.

  • Security Concerns

 Most teletherapy apps will enable some form of communication between the therapist and the client.[11] In all such cases, privacy and security of client information such as recordings and session notes are vulnerable to potentially unauthorized access from third parties.[16][17]

Staying within the regulatory framework as a blended care practitioner requires ensuring that all applications used are HIPAA-compliant and that the privacy of your clients’ information is protected.[18]

Currently, best practice guidelines – such as those advocated by the APA – clearly state that practitioners should inform patients if the app will collect any data on them.[19][20]

  • Clients May Be Reluctant to Use Them 

With myriad apps centered on boosting patient engagement and encouraging continued treatment, the issue is not that they don’t see the value and effectiveness of using a mobile health app.

Rather, privacy and security concerns are a key issue impacting adoption.[21] Most apps will request access to personal information and collect data through features such as GPS, which some clients may not feel comfortable with this type of invasion of privacy, fearing that their personal data is at risk.

The Best Apps for Psychologists

So, with the number of available mental health apps rapidly increasing, finding the right one can be a daunting task.

Below, you’ll find a list of the best apps for psychologists to help with your decision-making process.

App

Details

T2 Mood Tracker App for PsychologistsOne of the primary issues during therapy is trying to remember and accurately describe during certain moments. Often, patients may tend to either exaggerate what happened or downplay their emotions. An app that allows them to track their emotions and log them as they are feeling them can greatly benefit both the patient and the therapist.

T2 Mood Tracker can come in handy in this regard. Developed by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2,) this app comes with six pre-installed emotions – Depression, Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress, Head Injury, Stress, and Wellbeing – but you can also customize the options.

The app allows you to rate your emotions and will create graphics and tables that the patient can share with their therapists. That way they can both review the progress and identify patterns and triggers that affect the patient’s life.

Another great feature of this app is that it allows users to also write notes about important events that occurred in their lives.

NameT2 Mood Tracker
PriceFree
Good ForData Collection, Note Taking
Websitehttp://t2health.dcoe.mil/apps/t2-mood-tracker

App

Details

OptimismOnline App for PsychologistsOptimism Online is another useful app that allows patients to track their emotions and psychologists to identify patterns and triggers. Users have to share information on a daily basis about their symptoms and write down any notable events. The app will collect this information and comprise it into charts and graphs that will make tracking the effectiveness of the treatment plan easier.

What differentiates Optimism Online from T2 Mood Tracker is that this app also provides ample space for recording wellness plans and strategies and makes them easy to access by both parties.

The problem with this app is that it only syncs with iOS devices. Moreover, it doesn’t have a push notification to remind users to fill information about their mood every day.

NameOptimism Online
PriceFree Trial Version
Good ForData Collection, Symptom Tracking, Treatment Plan Creation
Websitehttps://optimism.en.softonic.com/

App

Details

TherapyNotes Behavioral Health SolutionsOngoing monitoring has been proven to improve therapy outcomes and patient satisfaction. However, psychologists must ensure that the sessions are productive too and that patients get the best care carefully crafted to fit the particularities of their case. That can become a challenge, especially of the therapists are working with multiple clients with similar conditions at the same time. The increasing administrative and bureaucratic burden doesn’t make it any easier for practitioners to focus on the task at hand and document the session properly.

Any good psychologist understands the importance of note-taking and will immediately see the value that this app can provide.

With TherapyNotes, you can get access to specialty note templates carefully crafted for your type of medical practice. That means that you can create custom treatment plans, progress notes, psychological evaluations, and so on.

NameTherapyNotes
Price$49+ monthly
Good ForNote Taking, Session Templates, Treatment Plan Creation
Websitehttps://www.therapynotes.com/

App

Details

Kareo App Psychotherapy SoftwareNote-taking and patient monitoring aren’t the only factors that psychologists must consider when running their business. Patient management and scheduling, billing, and insurance claims verifications are tasks that take a good chunk of a therapist’s time. Luckily, with Kareo you can take care of all these tasks with just one app.

One of the great things about this program is that there are no set-up fees or contracts needed and the first few months start at a relatively small price.

The platform is very intuitive and easy to use with little or no training at all. Moreover, it’s built both for desktop computers and mobile devices, so staff and other therapists can access the information easily from their phones.

As a downside, some users complained that billing must be entered separated from the charting, which can be time-consuming. Kareo upgrades its app monthly, so they might address this problem soon.

NameKareo Clinical EHR and Medical Billing
PriceOn Request
Good ForPractice Management
Websitehttps://learn.kareo.com/mental-health/

App

Details

Mobile Therapy App for PsychologistsOne of the strongest selling points of this app is that it has been created with the help of leading experts in psychology. And, with the number of applications out there that add little to no value to patients’ lives, software that has a clear strategy behind it is like a breath of fresh air.

Another strong suit of the Mobile Therapy app is that it allows therapists to create personalized questions and programs for each client. Then, the clients have to log in data and answer the questions the psychologist created. The data may vary from journal entries and information about their current situations to metrics like rating their anxiety levels.

The therapists can then access this information, monitor progress, and identify any concerning patterns early on.

Mobile Therapy is also HIPAA-compliant, meaning that they employ some of the most sophisticated security protocols to ensure the safety of their users’ data.

NameMobile Therapy
Price$49+ monthly
Good ForData Collection, Client Interactions
Websitehttps://www.mobiletherapy.com/

Final Thoughts

It’s estimated that hundreds of millions of Americans own a smartphone, and a huge proportion of the apps on these phones collect health-related information.

It’s clear that people are becoming more and more concerned with their health but, at the same time, there’s heightened demand for digital mental health solutions that are easy to access, intuitive, and hassle-free. While we can’t say that mobile devices will be replacing one-on-one sessions anytime soon, integrating digital solutions is a great way to help both therapists and patients in myriad ways.

Hopefully, this article will make it easier for you to find the best psychology application or at least know what to look for in one. Most importantly, always consider how the app fits the goals of the therapy.

References

  1. ^ Krebs, P., & Duncan, D. T. (2015). Health App Use Among US Mobile Phone Owners: A National Survey. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 3(4), e101.
  2. ^ Krebs, P., & Duncan, D. T. (2015). Health app use among US mobile phone owners: a national survey. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 3(4), e101.
  3. ^ Thompson, L., & McCabe, R. (2012). The effect of clinician-patient alliance and communication on treatment adherence in mental health care: a systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 12(1), 87.
  4. ^ Dong, L., Lee, J. Y., & Harvey, A. G. (2017). Do improved patient recall and the provision of memory support enhance treatment adherence?. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 54, 219.
  5. ^ Donker, T., Petrie, K., Proudfoot, J., Clarke, J., Birch, M. R., & Christensen, H. (2013). Smartphones for smarter delivery of mental health programs: a systematic review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 15(11), e247.
  6. ^ Catarino, A., Bateup, S., Tablan, V., Innes, K., Freer, S., Richards, A., & Blackwell, A. D. (2018). Demographic and clinical predictors of response to internet-enabled cognitive–behavioural therapy for depression and anxiety. BJPsych Open, 4(5), 411.
  7. ^ Naslund, J. A., Marsch, L. A., McHugo, G. J., & Bartels, S. J. (2015). Emerging mHealth and eHealth interventions for serious mental illness: a review of the literature. Journal of Mental Health, 24(5), 321.
  8. ^ Brooks, E., Turvey, C., & Augusterfer, E. F. (2013). Provider barriers to telemental health: obstacles overcome, obstacles remaining. Telemedicine and e-Health, 19(6), 433.
  9. ^ Naslund, J. A., Aschbrenner, K. A., Barre, L. K., & Bartels, S. J. (2015). Feasibility of popular m-health technologies for activity tracking among individuals with serious mental illness. Telemedicine and e-Health, 21(3), 213.
  10. ^ Kruse, C. S., Stein, A., Thomas, H., & Kaur, H. (2018). The use of electronic health records to support population health: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of Medical Systems, 42(11), 214.
  11. ^ Wisniewski, H., Liu, G., Henson, P., Vaidyam, A., Hajratalli, N. K., Onnela, J. P., & Torous, J. (2019). Understanding the quality, effectiveness and attributes of top-rated smartphone health apps. Evidence-based Mental Health, 22(1), 4.
  12. ^ Mueser, K. T., Torrey, W. C., Lynde, D., Singer, P., & Drake, R. E. (2003). Implementing evidence-based practices for people with severe mental illness. Behavior Modification, 27(3), 387.
  13. ^ Pekkala, E. T., & Merinder, L. B. (2002). Psychoeducation for schizophrenia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (2).
  14. ^ Panesar, A. (2019). Machine Learning and AI for Healthcare. Apress.
  15. ^ Novotney, A. (2017). A growing wave of online therapy. Monitor on Psychology, 48(2), 48.
  16. ^ Aguilera, A., & Muench, F. (2012). There's an app for that: Information technology applications for cognitive behavioral practitioners. The Behavior Therapist/AABT, 35(4), 65.
  17. ^ Torous, J. B., Chan, S. R., Gipson, S. Y. M. T., Kim, J. W., Nguyen, T. Q., Luo, J., & Wang, P. (2018). A hierarchical framework for evaluation and informed decision making regarding smartphone apps for clinical care. Psychiatric Services, 69(5), 498.
  18. ^ United States. (2004). The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration.
  19. ^ Childress, C. A. (2000). Ethical issues in providing online psychotherapeutic interventions. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2(1), e5.
  20. ^ APA. (2020). Guidelines for the Practice of Telepsychology. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/telepsychology
  21. ^ O'Loughlin, K., Neary, M., Adkins, E. C., & Schueller, S. M. (2019). Reviewing the data security and privacy policies of mobile apps for depression. Internet Interventions, 15, 110.

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