Like the rest of the health world, behavioral health has adapted to new technology over the years for treatment and self-monitoring. Most of the technology represents tools for behavioral health professionals, but recently developers started producing apps for clients. The first behavioral health app came out in the early 2000s, and now there are over 800 apps just devoted to behavioral health. These apps can be accessed on almost any smart device and help users cope with their symptoms, share their stories, and suggest actions to relieve stress. The use of these apps has received much attention during the pandemic. Many behavioral health professionals support the concept of these apps when used correctly. So, do these apps serve their purpose, and what is that purpose?
When seeking a behavioral health app, patients need to make sure it is a reliable source. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that out of all the apps that claim to support and help behavioral health issues, only one percent of them are professionally evaluated and have behavioral health professionals currently supporting them. If clients are seeing a mental health professional, they should not stop sessions once they find an app. Many professionals, including Philip Harvey, Ph.D., believe that it can be very beneficial to use an app and see a licensed therapist. Still, the app cannot be a substitute for behavioral health visits. These apps should be a useful tool to help clients monitor their mental health between sessions.
There are many pros when using a reliable mental health app—the obvious factor being convenience. You can access an app anytime and anywhere. Apps can be helpful for some people that may not be able to visit a mental health professional as frequently as they would like. Apps also are beneficial to users that may need more round the clock monitoring. If one’s therapist cannot fit them into the schedule or the clinic is closed, clients can use the app for comfort or for any issue that is not life-threatening. Many clients use these apps to help maintain a daily schedule and to decrease stress throughout the day. These apps are also more affordable for clients. Many are free or only have a small fee. Clients may not need to be frequently seen by professionals while using the app, saving them money.
These apps can also serve as a gateway for future clients. Many people may know they have a problem that needs to be addressed but are uncomfortable seeking help. Not having to meet a behavioral health professional in person or having a chance of being seen going to therapy may relax nerves. These apps allow people to educate themselves and feel comfortable with mental health, hopefully leading them to find professional help.
These apps are not perfect. There are cons to using apps in the mental health world. The biggest one is reliability. As discussed before, there are only a few apps that have been reviewed and approved by health professionals. Anyone these days can create an app, so users need to be aware. Apps that are not reliable could provide misleading information or treatment plans, which negatively affect a client. Before signing up for an app, clients should review all the privacy laws and regulations. Many apps do not adhere to privacy regulations, which could allow unwanted viewers to see and share personal information. Users must find the correct app for diagnosis. Some apps focus on addiction, while others focus on anxiety and depression. Making sure a user is using the right app is very important for their wellbeing.
Another concern that professionals have is the misunderstanding of these apps. Clients cannot just use these apps and expect the same treatment from a professional. Current clients should continue their sessions while using the apps for self-monitoring. Future clients using these apps before seeing a professional should find a behavioral health professional when they are comfortable to maximize the benefits of treatment.
These behavioral health apps offer great opportunities for the behavioral health world, but users need to be aware of the pros and cons. Before using these apps, clients need to discuss it with their behavioral health professional, and if they do not have one, do research and make sure it is a reliable app. As much as it can be beneficial to users, it can easily be harmful if not used correctly.