PREDICTION: Will We Be Treating Mental Health Patients by Smartphone before 2020 (Part II)

You may want to  read Part I of this series as well as Part II below.

What Can an “App” Do Better Than a Mental Health Professional?

smartphone before 2020A clinician working in-person is likely to reach a few hundred patients, at most, within a year. A single smart device application, such as a smartphone “app” has the potential to reach reach millions of people within a year. Mental health functions rendered by smartphone apps already include text-messaging alerts that pop up and serve the consumer with:

  • reminders
  • motivational thoughts
  • organizational aids such as to-do lists

Whether the consumer uses psychotherapy or simply buys a self-help “app” for her iPhone,  Android or Blackberry; or prefers a tablet PC such as an iPad or a Samsung Galaxy;  the device of tomorrow can and will serve many of the functions therapists have seen as their exclusive purview to date.

What?? What about Our Practices?

Lest too many therapists get threatened with the prospect of a loss in job security, there may be wisdom in considering the old Chinese duality of challenge and opportunity. For those who are creative, the inevitable shift we face in the next decade is not without reward. The world population will certainly benefit from widespread availability of psychological and mental health information available through the hip pocket.

The shift in accessibility to “therapeutic” information and experiences possible through a portable computer (such as a smartphone or a tablet PC) will not only change the nature of the therapy we know today, but make derivative elements of that therapy available to the billions of people who now go without. We’ve already seen how coaches can be helpful to patients without offering psychotherapy. In fact, coaching has developed many valued and highly specialized functions to serve populations who never would have sought therapy.

Transitional Objects?

What about concepts that have been the hallmark of therapy, such as the important role of therapists as transitional objects? Is it proper to consider self-help telehealth tools as a form of “transitional object” when assigned by a therapist? Many therapists would argue in the affirmative. Some would even argue that apps and their alert functions can actually serve as transitional objects not only with or without an originating therapist, but from a website, an office building, a hospital, an insurance company or even a government to a consumer.

Where Will Technology Lead Us?

Technology is created by humans, so only humans can decide where they will take technological development. One thing is certain, however. We need to be driving technological development for our professions. Us. We clinicians.

We can’t sit back and then complain that our patients are using inadequate products they find in the market place if we don’t get involved to develop empirically-based competing products of our own. Just as we write the self-help books of today, we need to develop the electronic self-help tools of today — and tomorrow.

Therapists of tomorrow may also need to begin to consider the greater need for specialization in their practices, since basic, repetitive functions currently performed by clinicians will be available to the consumer through an inexpensive “app” they can purchase at the Apple Store. For example, a wide range of relaxation and stress management apps already can serve any given patient’s self-selected relaxing music, guided imagery, pictures and videos (uploaded for free from Youtube). They are generally available for free, or for under $3.99 each. Please click here to see the third of the 3 posts on this topic.

Please click on these links if you want to see Part I or Part III of this smartphone series.

These are some of my thoughts. What are yours?

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