Can Mental Health Apps Replace Your Therapist?

Mental Health Apps Aren’t a Good Substitute for Therapy

 

Apps are available for just about everything these days, from shopping to travel to entertainment and beyond. Some apps claim to provide help with mental health and well-being, too.

But, are these an adequate replacement for in-person or virtual video visits with a therapist? 

Here’s what you should know about the benefits and limitations of mental health apps.

What are mental health apps?

Over the past several years, there’s been a surge in mental health apps. Researchers estimate that there are at least 10,000 apps available for download. Each one claims to provide a range of services, from online therapy and meditation guidance to telepsychiatry and symptom tracking and management. 

Increased development of mental health apps mirrors America’s increased awareness of mental health. That said, many health experts are skeptical about the usefulness of most mental apps because most aren't clinically proven.

Are mental health apps effective?

Certain clinically backed apps could become useful tools when used in conjunction with in-office or virtual video visits. If proven effective, these apps may help break down the barriers to mental health treatment, which is great news.

Unfortunately, unless an app is tested in a controlled setting, there is no way to determine if it can provide actual value for users. 

If the app is not connected to a therapist or healthcare system, it's essentially functioning in a vacuum. That might be fine for someone who needs help meditating or improving sleep hygiene. But, it’s not as helpful for someone trying to work through severe anxiety, depression, relationship troubles or PTSD, for example.

Unfortunately, even when they are developed with the best intentions, mental health apps rarely provide any evidence to support their efficacy. A study that looked into 73 iPhone and Android mental health apps found that while most claimed the ability to treat or diagnose mental disorders, only two provided evidence, and only one cited scientific research to back up those claims.

Are mental health apps a good idea for you?

While there isn’t current evidence that mental health apps are harmful in clinical settings, it isn’t difficult to recognize the inherent dangers of having countless unscientific, unregulated mental health apps assuming the role of a qualified therapist or psychiatrist. 

If someone with severe mental health problems decides to use an app instead of a certified therapist, they are less likely to see improvement. In severe circumstances, they could even be in danger. There's also the frightening issue of data privacy. Since our health data is the most private data we produce, only share yours with certified professionals who are legally obligated to keep it private. 

A comprehensive approach to caring for your mental health

While the field of digital cognitive behavioral therapy may hold promise, optimal mental health care still requires a human touch. To overcome mental and emotional challenges, most people will need more than an app. 

Using proven, time-tested techniques, qualified therapists can provide a personal, collaborative experience that helps patients learn coping strategies that allow them to heal and thrive. While a reputable app may help these efforts, research is continuing to show it should not be the primary source of mental health care.

Our caring therapists can help you live your best life. Contact us today! Online therapy is also available for those wanting to work with a professional therapist from the comfort of their home: