The virtual therapy market makes it easy to see a therapist from your own home. Here’s how to find the best therapy app for you.
The popularity of therapy apps
It seems like you can do pretty much anything with an app these days, and that includes support for your mental health.
“The mental health app industry has exploded,” said Mona Potter, MD, chief of the pediatric and adolescent outpatient program and anxiety management program at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. “If I just go and look in my own phone, there are a lot of different options available.”
Therapy apps are a growing trend and the Covid-19 pandemic has only increased the need and desire for online counseling. According to a report by Grandview Research, the global mental health app market was valued at $40.05 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at an 18 percent annual rate for the next seven years.
There are many benefits to mental health apps. They educate people about mental health services and offer support when it is difficult to get an appointment with a therapist or if the patient feels a stigma toward therapy and therefore avoids face-to-face visits, says Dr. potter.
But not all apps are created equal. “Even for us clinicians, it’s hard to figure out how to sort through the apps to figure out which ones are legit and worth trying, and which ones are flawed or maybe not worth looking at,” she says.
There are some things to consider when choosing the best therapy app for you.
The Purpose of Therapy Apps
It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of therapy and mental health apps, but the first thing to consider is what you hope to achieve from using the app, says Dr. potter.
“For example, maybe you’re someone who feels a degree of depression. You’re thinking, “I’m not quite ready to start talking to anyone about this yet, but it might be helpful to see if this app can help me understand what depression is or if I have some tools that I could use,” she says.
Other reasons people turn to therapy apps include wanting help with sleep, anxiety, relaxation, or productivity.
Types of Therapy Apps
There are a number of different types of therapy apps for different purposes.
Follow or follow therapy apps
These apps allow you to track your psychological symptoms. You can use these alone, but often they’re used in conjunction with a therapist — and are likely to be more effective this way, says Dr. potter.
For example, people undergoing a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) may be asked to keep a symptom diary through an app, to share with a therapist. Or it could be monitoring food intake for someone with an eating disorder.
Therapy apps that teach a skill
Many therapy apps teach skills related to mental health, such as mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation. Likewise, many apps help track or improve sleep.
These apps can be used on their own or if your resident live therapist wants you to work on this skill. “We used to make our own scripts that people could take home or record them on their phones. Now they have a lot of options to go to,” says Dr. potter.
Full therapy apps
Some apps offer full therapy treatment, whether that’s working with a virtual therapist or coach, or by following a preset program, such as a CBT regimen for anxiety that allows you to watch videos, write in a journal, and learn mindfulness techniques. to manage your fear.
Look for privacy and confidentiality
Another super important thing to consider when choosing the best therapy app for you is the privacy and confidentiality of your information. “You want to make sure it doesn’t steal your data, it’s safe, and you don’t give up your mental health information,” says John Torous, MD, director of the division of digital psychiatry in the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s division of psychiatry.
dr. Potter brings this back to the real world of therapy. “In our clinical world, we are so big on privacy and confidentiality. In the app world, there is much less regulation around that,” she says.
The MIND website, which stands for M-Health Index and Navigation Database, and is based on the APA’s app evaluation framework, can help walk you through apps to see which ones have good privacy policies, among other things.
Consider whether the app is evidence-based
You’ll also want to consider whether there have been studies demonstrating the app’s effectiveness, notes Dr. Torous, who heads the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) app evaluation review working group. “So, is the app really going to help you?”
In the description of the app, the company will often mention whether they have conducted studies on their programs. Again, the MIND website can help you wade through the various criteria.
Involvement and costs
“While it’s simple enough to download an app and get started, sticking with it is a whole different story. Even with the most engaging apps, it’s hard to keep them going without some kind of human support,” says Dr. Torous, noting that even if the app doesn’t have a live therapist to work with, you could become friends with a friend or family member to keep you on track.
Also consider the cost of the app. Some apps are completely free, others are free to download, but you have to make in-app purchases.
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Best Therapy Apps to Consider
According to the APA, there are more than 20,000 mental health apps available. The best therapy app for you will depend on the criteria listed above, but here are a few to consider.
Suite of apps for US veterans
These apps “coach” users by providing information and tools to manage things like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and insomnia. For example, with Covid Coach, you can track mood swings over time, access self-care tools, set personal goals, and track your progress toward those goals.
Some apps in the collection are designed to be used in conjunction with live therapist visits, while others can be used independently (but are not intended to replace therapy).
(These are the signs that your therapy is working.)
The BetterHelp app matches you with one of 10,000+ counselors you communicate with via text message in private rooms. The rooms are open 24/7, so you can pop in at any time to write what you think and get notified once your counselor responds. You also have the option of talking to your advisor by phone or video chat.
A 2019 study published in JMIR Mhealth aand Uhealth found that those who used the app showed a reduction in the severity of depression symptoms three months after enrollment. It is important to note that one of the authors of the study is a community and support manager for the app company.
Torous also notes that so far there is not enough evidence to say that text-based therapy in general is a suitable replacement for live therapy. The cost to access a counselor through BetterHelp is $60 to $90/week.
Do you have trouble sleeping? This app could help. Somryst is a Food and Drug Administration-approved CBT-based app that addresses insomnia by training your brain to make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. You’ll develop a more efficient ‘sleep window’, learn strategies to break your brain’s association between bedtime and wakefulness, discover how to change your thoughts that contribute to poor sleep, and make lifestyle changes to improve your sleep. improve.
Somryst is a self-paced program designed to run over six to nine weeks. A nine-week treatment program costs $899 and requires a doctor’s prescription.
One of the best-known therapy apps, TalkSpace, pairs you with a therapist. You can send text, audio, picture and video messages at any time of the day or week. Your therapist responds daily, five days a week. You also have the option to have live video sessions with your therapist.
The cost for this type of access to your therapist starts at $99/week for you and your partner. This includes weekly live sessions and ongoing messaging support.
Intellicare is a free suite of apps developed by Northwestern University’s Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies. Users start with the Hub app, which then recommends other apps, including Daily Feats, Thought Challenger, My Mantra, Day to Day, and Worry Knot.
In Daily Feats, you set goals for actions you want to take to help you stay engaged and positive in your life — like complimenting someone or thinking about something you’re grateful for — then track your progress.
Thought Challenger helps you recognize and reformulate useless thoughts, while Worry Knot teaches you how to reduce your emotional response to worry.
According to Intellicare, its apps have been shown in clinical studies to be effective in helping those suffering from mild to severe anxiety and depression.
(Here are some therapist tips for coping with depression during Covid.)
Bloom claims his self-guided therapy app will help you manage stress and anxiety, improve your sleep, help you build better habits, and foster stronger relationships — all without interacting with a real person.
Instead, the CBT-based program combines daily interactive videos, journaling (journal entries are coded for privacy), and mindfulness practice to improve mental health.
There are several pricing options, starting at $10.49 per month, and it’s currently available for your iPhone or iPad.
Keep in mind
Therapy apps can be helpful depending on what your needs are and how willing you are to stick to the program or sessions. However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. “It’s very rare in medicine that we say ‘this is the best’. I can’t even say that about antidepressants, let alone therapy apps,” says Dr. Torous.
Next, here are the signs that you may need therapy.