Should you trust therapy apps? | The Tylt

Should you trust therapy apps?

Most therapy apps have two goals: to increase access to qualified mental care and to reverse the stigma surrounding mental illness. If you have the opportunity to keep your therapist in your pocket, why wouldn't you? The coronavirus pandemic has created even more demand for telemedicine, and therapy is no exception. Even so, some still worry the virtual nature of the apps could prevent worthwhile treatment. Would you trust a therapy app?

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As NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji and Lauren Hodges put it, a global pandemic has refigured the way the world works, including how everyone is able to seek care. When it comes to mental health, in-person therapy is no longer possible for many, and with the pandemic itself weighing on the hearts and minds of people across the country, experts say it's important to not let therapy fall by the wayside. 

According to Hodges, sitting down for a teletherapy session can feel just like an in-person session: 

So get set up on your phone or laptop, make sure you've downloaded the right app, find a comfortable, private spot away from your family or roommates. Go into a closet if you have to! Make sure your Wi-Fi is good. And just like regular therapy sessions, you can write down some stuff you want to talk about beforehand. Or you could just wing it and see what comes up for you.

Hodges reminds readers to be sure their therapist is a licensed professional. 

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Still, some experts worry that therapy apps can't entirely fill the gap when it comes to treating patients, particularly in dire situations. Critics say the apps could do more harm than good in life-threatening situations. One of the most popular therapy apps, TalkSpace, has been criticized for its patient-therapist anonymity policy, which can ultimately put patients and others in harms way. The Cut's Drake Baer reports:

...Talkspace is anonymous; users have to volunteer emergency-contact info for therapists to be able to act on it.

Baer paints a picture of what patient anonymity looks like in practice:

...when clients would muse about committing suicide — “suicidal ideation” in the literature — the only instructions therapists reportedly received was to tell the client to call the suicide hotline, phone 911, or head to the hospital.

Having a credible virtual therapist can be life-changing for some, but the help offered by apps has an end-point that comes sooner than that of in-person care. In an app setting, most patients will find anonymity to be essential in order to protect their privacy, but when a patient puts themselves or others in danger, a therapist with no contact information for the patient cannot hope to be of service. As Baer puts it: "...it in the face of mortal danger, can a text message provide the care needed to help people through a crisis?"

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Although not all therapy apps are created equal, a report from the National Institute of Health shows mental health apps can help with a broad range of psychological disorders.

After seeking answers to the value and efficacy of therapy apps, NIH concludes they have "significant potential to deliver high-efficacy mental health interventions."

Given the global shortage of psychiatrists and the lack of mental health care access in rural regions, apps have emerged as a viable tool to bridge the mental health treatment gap. Technology is well-poised to transform how mental health treatment is delivered and accessed, but this transformation requires the combined mobilization of science, regulation, and design.
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Although therapy apps can provide value in certain situations, particularly during the current pandemic, some argue apps should be used as a supplement to in-person care, rather than a replacement. 

If you find you are struggling with your own mental health, here are some resources provided by NPR and the CDC.

The Department of Health and Human Services has the National Helpline. That's 1-800-662-4357. There's a group called Integral Care. They run a hotline with 15 languages. They're at 512-472-HELP.
And because this can feel like a really hopeless time for some people, I want to share the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is 1-800-273-8255. Please call if you're thinking of hurting yourself. There is definitely help waiting for you, no matter your situation.
FINAL RESULTS
Culture
Should you trust therapy apps?
#LoveTherapyApps
A festive crown for the winner
#DontTrustTherapyApps