How Effective are Therapy Apps?
Therapy as a whole can be very effective, but is very much dependent on how much work you put into it. Making the most of therapy requires the willingness to open up during sessions, reflecting on what was discussed after they are over, and allowing them to impact your perspective and behaviors.
When it comes to therapy apps specifically, the same set of guidelines apply. If taken seriously, therapy sessions conducted via mobile apps have been found to be as effective as face-to-face therapy. This isn’t surprising given that the majority of therapy apps, and certainly most of those listed above, provide their users with access to licensed, professional counselors and multiple communication features that enable them to experience sessions in much of the same way as if they were in-person. In addition, the ability to attend these sessions from home reduces the need to cancel them when there are scheduling conflicts, making it easier to maintain the consistency required for therapy to be truly successful.
Can Everyone Benefit from Using Therapy Apps?
For starters, not everyone necessarily needs therapy to begin with, though they may still benefit from it. But tens of millions of people in the US alone do need therapy to deal with mental health issues. While therapy apps are more affordable and convenient then in-office therapy, there are conditions and individuals that require the more traditional option.
While there’s much to gain from supplementing in-person programs with online therapy, treatment of substance abuse, and narcotics in particular, should really be conducted in person by an addiction counselor. The need for proactive follow-up by counselor, as well the ability to observe physical signs of substance abuse really require face time.
Similar to substance abuse, the stakes with eating disorders are simply too high for therapy apps to be the sole method treatment.
Serious psychiatric illnesses and those that require prescription medication
The therapists participating in therapy apps typically do not have the legally required credentials to prescribe medications.
The “technologically inept”
While most of these apps have been designed to be user friendly and easy to navigate, they do necessitate the ability to operate an app with audio and video features. Basically, those that struggle to use Skype or Google Hangout on their mobile devices will probably also struggle with most therapy apps.
Are Therapy Apps Easy to Use?
Though some of the therapy apps we tested we more user friendly than others, they were all straightforward and easy to use. The various apps differ in terms of the communication features they provide, with some of them, such as BetterHelp, offering all possible options (chat, text, voice, or video calls). The communication features offered by the various providers include any or all of the following:
These sessions best mimic the experience of sitting face-to-face with a therapist in their office. They operate much the same way a video call would via FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype of Google Hangouts. Not all therapy apps offer this feature, though the ones that made the top our list certainly do.
Some apps include the ability to have audio sessions over the Internet using VoIP (Voice Over IP) technology. These types of sessions can be great for when users want to attend live sessions without having to get dressed.
These types of sessions take place over live chat. There are times when users prefer to communicate without the audio and visual cues inherent in phone and video sessions. They can also take the pressure off of having to come up with immediate responses as with other forms of live sessions, as “dead air” over chat tends to be less awkward.
Most therapy apps provide virtual chat rooms in which you communicate with your counselor by leaving private messages whenever you need to, and they respond when they are available. These rooms function like an ongoing conversation that users can engage in-between their live lessons. You can read previous messages as well as attached files sent by the therapists.
Which Therapy App Should You Choose?
Before choosing which therapy app to download, you need to decide what exactly you expect to gain from the app. For example, if you’re generally happy but need professional help working through some issues, your needs will be different than if you’re trying to cope with depression or PTSD. Also, if this is the only step you are taking to better your mental health, your needs may be different than if, for example, you also have in-person visits with another therapist, regularly practice meditation or generally incorporate reflection and self-care to your day-to-day life. Once you assess your personal situation, you can come to an understanding of what exactly you are trying to achieve by using a therapy app.
Your goals from use of the app should determine the specific features or attributes you’ll need. For example, if you plan to use the app for dealing with depression, you should probably consider an app with video capabilities, such as Talkspace, since your sessions will likely be intense and will really benefit from you and your therapist being able to see each other’s faces. If what you need is Christian spiritual guidance incorporated into your sessions, then you’d be best served by signing up for Faithful Counseling where you are most likely to connect with a Christian therapist.
There are also some other specific attributes you should consider before selecting an app. These attributes are detailed for each therapy app in our reviews.
Some therapy apps are easier to use than others. If you’re a tech savvy user, you should not expect to run into issues with any of the apps listed above. If however, you’re a little behind the curve in this area, you may want to stick with one of the providers that’s exceptionally user friendly, like BetteHelp.
You can expect a subscription to a therapy app to cost approximately $50-$100 per week. While some claim to be free, after downloading them you will quickly discover that they actually cost money once their free trial expires, or that they do not provide therapy at, but rather access to unlicensed volunteers or digital content. While we all need to be budget conscious, it’s worth keeping in mind that the cost of one of these subscriptions is far less than in-office therapy and will do a lot more for your overall health and happiness than many of the other luxuries or non-essential expenses to which you treat yourself.
Another thing to consider is the fact that not all devices support every therapy app. Depending on whether you’re using an iPhone, an Android, or some another mobile device type, you should double check to see if the app that you’re interested in is supported by the mobile device that you’re using. The good news though, is that the apps listed above all work with the major operating systems.
Our Evaluation Process
Coordinating a session time with two partners and a therapist can be difficult for most busy people, often resulting in lateness, cancellation, and postponement. The ability to meet from anywhere, at any time makes it much simpler to find a time that works for everyone.
A More Relaxed Environment
For some, the cold, sterile feel of a therapist’s office makes it difficult to open up about the most sensitive topics in their lives. Online therapy however, allows them to attend sessions from spaces where they feel more at ease to open up, which can be far more effective.
When it comes to counseling, consistency is key and that’s exactly what you get with online counseling services. When for some reason, a couple is unable to attend a therapy session with an in-person counselor, they often cannot make-up the session due to scheduling conflicts. With online therapy, there’s much more flexibility to re-schedule since there’s no need to find a babysitter, leave work early or commute to the therapist’s office. Sessions can take place during your lunch break at work, from your home late at night or pretty much anytime throughout the day that you and your therapist can find a window of time to speak.
The ability to engage in an ongoing conversation with the therapist via the private message board allows the couple to have “vent” sessions in real time as issues come up, and receive feedback and guidance from the therapist before the next live session.
The Bottom Line on Therapy Apps
Downloading an app isn’t such a big deal. Most people have over 20 mobile apps installed on their devices. However, starting therapy is not something to take lightly. And just as you’d do some research before selecting an in-office therapist, you should take your time in deciding with therapy app provider you should join. The providers are not one and the same, and our research has repeatedly reinforced that outlook. There’s so much to gain from trying out therapy apps, as many users have repeatedly provided us with feedback about how it’s changed their lives for the better, but it’s worth investing a little time, thought and energy into selecting one that best suits your needs.