Can mental health apps replace traditional counselling?
I believe that mental health apps will play an important role in the future of mental health care by providing innovative solutions for the self-management of mental health disorders. Mental health apps have the potential to reach people who would otherwise not receive help by removing the barriers to treatment.I doubt though that they will ever replace the dynamic interaction that a client has with their counsellor.
Apps also encourage privacy and confidentiality as well as being able to seek help in the comfort of your own home. The ideal app will also have mental health practitioners onboard, ready to answer questions, plus a 24/7 support hotline for more severe cases.
Here are some of the top mental health apps available:
General Mental Health Apps
What’s up is an amazing free app that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) methods to help you cope with Depression, Anxiety, Stress, and more. Use the positive and negative habit tracker to maintain your good habits, and break those that are counterproductive. We particularly love the “Get Grounded” page, which contains over 100 different questions to pinpoint what you’re feeling, and the “Thinking Patterns” page, which teaches you how to stop negative internal monologues. Try it out for yourself.
MoodKit uses the foundation of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and provides users with over 200 different mood improvement activities. Developed by two clinical psychologists, MoodKit helps you learn how to change how you think, and develop self-awareness and healthy attitudes. The journal feature is a great way to practice self-care by reflecting on the day, noting any distressing thoughts, and documenting how you overcame them.
Quit That! is a completely free app that helps users beat their habits or addictions. Whether you’re looking to stop drinking alcohol, quit smoking, or stop taking drugs, it’s the perfect recovery tool to track and monitor your progress. Track as many vices as you want and find out how many minutes, hours, days, weeks, or years it’s been since you quit.
Mind Shift is one of the best mental health apps designed specifically for teens and young adults with anxiety. Rather than trying to avoid anxious feelings, Mind Shift stresses the importance of changing how you think about anxiety. Think of this app as the cheerleader in your pocket, encouraging you to take charge of your life, ride out intense emotions, and face challenging situations.
Self-Help for Anxiety Management (SAM)
SAM might be perfect for you if you’re interested in self-help, but meditation isn’t your thing. Users are prompted to build their own 24-hour anxiety toolkit that allows you to track anxious thoughts and behavior over time, and learn 25 different self-help techniques. You can also use SAM’s “Social Cloud” feature to confidentially connect with other users in an online community for additional support.
CBT Thought Record Diary
The centerpiece of cognitive-behavioral therapy is changing your emotions by identifying negative and distorted thinking patterns. You can use CBT Thought Record Diary to document negative emotions, analyze flaws in your thinking, and reevaluate your thoughts. This is a great app for gradually changing your approach to anxiety-inducing situations and your thinking patterns for future situations.
Talkspace Online Therapy
Can’t afford to visit a therapist but still wish you had one to talk to? Talkspace makes that possible. For just $25 per week, you can text message a trained professional as often as you need. They also offer services for individuals and couples, so if your significant other want to learn how to support you through your depression, they can download the app too.
Need a happy fix? With its psychologist-approved mood-training program, the Happify app is your fast-track to a good mood. Try various engaging games, activity suggestions, gratitude prompts and more to train your brain as if it were a muscle, to overcome negative thoughts. The best part? Its free!
MoodTools aims to support people with clinical depression by aiding the path to recovery. Discover helpful videos that can improve your mood and behavior, log and analyze your thoughts using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) principles, develop a suicide safety plan and more with this free app.
Eating Disorder Apps
Recovery Record is a great app for anyone recovering from an eating disorder and wanting to develop a more positive body image. Keep a record of the meals you eat and how they make you feel using the app and complete questionnaires that’ll help you track your progress over time. One user calls Recovery Record a “remarkable recovery tool”; “It helps me stick to my meal plan, provides an outlet to vent about my food concerns and helps me stay intact with my body to work with it rather than against.”
Rise Up and Recover
Rise Up + Recover is a unique app as it not only allows you to track your meals and how you feel when you eat them, but you can also transcribe your progress into a PDF printout. Pull up the Rise + Recover app on your mobile when you feel the urge to binge or skip a meal, and need quick coping strategies.
Unlike the other apps featured in this list, Lifesum is a broader resource for all things healthy living. The app allows you to set personal goals, from eating healthier, to building more muscle and getting in more steps each day. You can also enter your own personal data and let Lifesum generate a “Life Score” to get a personalized roadmap to better health. With reminders to drink water and eat regularly throughout the day, Lifesum is a great option for anyone trying to live healthier, but for people with eating disorders, this app can be used to help you redefine how you think about healthy body image.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Apps
nOCD was designed with the help of OCD specialists and patients to incorporate two treatments: mindfulness and Exposure Response Prevention Treatment. You can receive immediate, clinically-supported guidance when an OCD episode strikes, take weekly tests to assess the severity of your OCD, and have motivational support along the way. One user calls nOCD “a free therapist in your pocket!”
One of the most frustrating parts of living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can be dealing with intense anxiety despite the fact you know your worries are irrational. Worry Watch aims to help users identify their trigger points for anxiety, note trends in their feelings, reflect on when the outcomes were harmless, and change their thinking patterns for the future. Think of it as your personal, password-protect, worry diary.
Live OCD Free
Live OCD Free claims it has been shown to reduce OCD symptoms by 34% in just 8 weeks! The app guides users through Exposure and Response Prevention treatment, helps you to create practice goals, and provides a multitude of tools to help fight OCD at any given moment. You can also try their newly-launched forum (accessible from the website) for ongoing support from OCD experts and sufferers.
Created by the VA’s National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), PTSD Coach offers everything from a self-assessment for PTSD, to opportunities to find support, positive self-talk, and anger management. What’s great about this app is that you can customize tools based on your own individual needs and preferences, and integrate your own contacts, photos, and music.
Sometimes you just need to breathe and remind yourself you are okay. Breathe2Relax is made for just that. Created by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, this app is a portable stress management tool that teaches users a skill called diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe2Relax works by decreasing the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response, making it a great option for people
The Headspace app makes meditation simple. Learn the skills of mindfulness and meditation by using this app for just a few minutes per day. You gain access to hundreds of meditations on everything from stress and anxiety to sleep and focus. The app also has a handy “get some headspace” reminder to encourage you to keep practicing each day.
($12.99/Month; iOS and Android)
Named by Apple as the 2017 iPhone App of the Year, Calm is quickly becoming regarded as one of the best mental health apps available. Calm provides people experiencing stress and anxiety with guided meditations, sleep stories, breathing programs, and relaxing music. This app is truly universal; whether you’ve never tried meditation before or regularly practice, you’ll find the perfect program for you.
Suicide Prevention Apps
MY3 is aimed at people who are depressed and suicidal, and trains users to recognize suicide warning signs in others. MY3 asks you to choose three close contacts that you feel comfortable reaching out to when you’re down and keeps you connected to this core network. This best part of this app is that it helps you create your own safety plan asking you to think through and list your own warning signs, coping strategies and support network, so that you can easily act when you recognize your warning signs.