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There’s an App for That – Smartphone Applications for the Treatment of Mental Health Problems

Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat are probably some of the most frequently used Apps in western cultures. But if you think that apps are only here for fun, business and posting pictures that can only be opened once, you may be wrong.

Since 2006, when the first apps were created, many have followed. Including apps that aim to improve our health and well-being. There are apps that serve as fitness guides, help us to eat healthy, convince us to quit smoking or teach us how to meditate.

Not surprisingly, they did not stop here. During the past few years many apps have been designed for people who suffer from psychiatric disorders. These apps aim at treating mental health disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and anxiety and can be used as stand-alone self-help programs or in combination with a classic psychotherapy.

But do they really work? What are possible advantages and why might they help us? How can clinical psychologists profit from these apps? These and more questions are addressed in an extensive review by Donker et al. (2013) and the answers are briefly summarised below.

What are possible advantages and why might they help us?

There are many different reasons why mental health apps are necessary. First, a lot of people on this planet own a smartphone. Having a therapist on an iPhone certainly improves treatment accessibility around the world. Second, classic psychotherapy is very expensive and sometimes patients are on a waiting list because there are not enough psychotherapists available. Apps are always ready to go and they come with a heavily reduced cost. Third, an app is always by your side. Imagine someone who suffers from panic attacks. Usually, a therapist is not around if panic attacks happen and the patient is forced to endure this situation by himself. Apps however are always at hand and could offer help during the panic attack. Last but not least, psychotherapy and psychiatric disorders are still stigmatized and some people don’t seek help because of that. Using a smartphone application is anonymous and no one needs to know.

Do they work?

In general, studies that were included in the review by Donker et al. (2013) showed promising results and seem to have the potential to be effective. Various apps were able to reduce depressive symptoms, stress, anxiety and substance use. However, these results need to be taken with precaution. Many studies had only few participants and did not report on long-term efficacy. Much more research will be necessary to develop and test evidence-based programs.

Can I see for myself?

Yes, you can. Some of these apps are publically available and not liable for costs.

  • MoodHacker (Depression): http://www.orcasinc.com/products/moodhacker/
  • PTSD Coach (PTSD): https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=is.vertical.ptsdcoach&hl=de

 

Author: Eva-Maria Stauffer

Picture: https://www.maxpixel.net/Smartphone-Technology-Cellphone-Phone-Mobile-593346

Reference: Donker, T., Petrie, K., Proudfoot, J., Clarke, J., Birch, M. R., & Christensen, H. (2013). Smartphones for smarter delivery of mental health programs: a systematic review. Journal of medical Internet research, 15(11).

Smartphone technology cellphone phone mobile 593346
Eva-Maria Stauffer, University of Basel, Master in Clinical Psychology and Neuroscience

A quick review on the Internet-based intervention


The Internet was invented through the 60s when the US government launched the "Arpa" project (Advanced Research Projects Agency). The main aim of this program was to strengthen defensive functions (“The Internet | Encyclopedia.com,” n.d.). Nowadays, using the Internet has many advantages and disadvantages. One of the most notable benefits of using the Internet in psychology is the use of the internet for therapeutic intervention.

The online treatment phenomenon is growing and has recently been very much considered in the world. This kind of technology is tied to technologies called E-Therapy and E-counseling, Cyber-Counseling, and Teletherapy (Chakrabarti, 2015). Online treatment is an online intervention which in this type of treatment, the counselor or psychologist connects with the authorities through the Internet, supports the referral or conveys psychological advice. Online treatment can be done by email, Video, Online Chatting, and unguided method (Chakrabarti, 2015). Online treatment can happen in the same way as talking in a conversation or online chat rooms or by late delivery, for example by sending an email. Remote correspondence between a therapist and a referral is not a new issue. Sigmund Freud used the letter to communicate with his patients (“Psychoanalysis: Freud’s theory and the ideas that have followed | Life and style | The Guardian,” n.d.). However, the use of the Internet for self-help purposes in 1982 is for healthcare purposes. Today, there are various mental health services sites that are specialized and somewhat more general.

Several Internet interventions have been developed and tested for common mental disorders, and the evidence to date shows that these treatments often result in similar outcomes as in face-to-face psychotherapy and that they are cost-effective. Internet-based psychological treatments have a relatively short history (Marks, Cavanagh, & Gega, 2007). Nowadays the Internet is widely used by patients and their significant others to seek information about mental health issues. The model of Internet-delivered treatment for which there has been most research activity is Internet-delivered cognitive behavior therapy (ICBT) (Andersson, 2009). However, other forms of psychotherapy (e.g., psychodynamic and interpersonal psychotherapies) have also been delivered via the Internet to a much lesser extent. Through the ICBT, subjects login regularly to a website over a specified period to access, read and download online materials arranged within a series of lessons or modules. They receive preparation tasks which they are expected to complete before the next module is available. They also regularly complete computer-administered questionnaires relevant to their presenting problems, which allows a therapist to control the progress, safety and results. Two dimensions which can be used to categorize ICBT are whether it involves therapist contact and whether it aims to treat mental disorders or prevent their development. Internet interventions that involve therapist contact can be further divided into those that involve real-time (synchronous) or delayed (asynchronous) interaction with patients (Andersson & Titov, 2014).

In a short-review, using this technique has its either advantages and disadvantages, below some of these advantages and disadvantages, are shown:

Advantages:

  •  It saves time and money;
  •  Helps people who have a lot of work to do at their free time;
  • Although the therapist and the authorities are deprived of face-to-face contact, the therapist does not affect the cultural, class, and social backgrounds;
  •  It is a good choice for those living in remote areas;
  •  For those with physical limitations, it is a good option;
  • People can easily get information about mental health;
  • It is a good option for those who can not afford the cost of traditional therapists and, on the other hand, need treatment.


Disadvantages:

  • This method is not effective in highly critical situations and suicide attempt;
  • Those who have severe psychiatric disorders cannot use these services;
  • The therapist is deprived of relevant information such as body language and tone and voice;
  • The formation of trust and confidence is difficult.


Author: Khodami Mohammad Ahsan

References:

Andersson, G. (2009). Using the Internet to provide cognitive behaviour therapy. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47(3), 175–180. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.BRAT.2009.01.010

Andersson, G., & Titov, N. (2014). Advantages and limitations of Internet-based interventions for common mental disorders. World Psychiatry, 13(1), 4–11. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20083

Chakrabarti, S. (2015). Usefulness of telepsychiatry: A critical evaluation of videoconferencing-based approaches. World Journal of Psychiatry, 5(3), 286. https://doi.org/10.5498/wjp.v5.i3.286

Marks, I., Cavanagh, K., & Gega, L. (2007). Hands-on help. Maudsley monograph no. 49. Retrieved from https://scholar.google.com/scholar_lookup?hl=en&publication_year=2007&author=IM+Marks&author=K+Cavanagh&author=L+Gega&title=Hands‐on+help.+Maudsley+Monograph+no.+49

Psychoanalysis: Freud’s theory and the ideas that have followed | Life and style | The Guardian. (n.d.). Retrieved February 4, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/mar/07/freud-jung-psychoanalysis-behaviour-unconscious

The Internet | Encyclopedia.com. (n.d.). Retrieved February 4, 2019, from https://www.encyclopedia.com/science-and-technology/computers-and-electrical-engineering/computers-and-computing/internet

Eva-Maria Stauffer, University of Basel, Master in Clinical Psychology and Neuroscience

Introduction to studying psychology in the capital city of Switzerland - Fachschaft Bern

There are plenty of things you don’t know about studying before you dive right into it. Actually it is quite possible that the unknown things prevail. How does studying even work? Will I ever be able to pass the exams? How on earth should I make friends? Don’t worry: You are not the only one. Everyone joins university with similar struggles. Let’s give you a short introduction of how to study psychology in the beautiful city of Berne.

First, the basics. To achieve your degree as a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in Berne, you need to gain 180 ECTS. Most of the credits - 120 to be exact - you gain at psychology courses. You attend those courses based on a pre-fixed timetable. Be prepared to acquire broad and fascinating knowledge and learn a lot about many subfields of psychology! The shadow side is that you will have to wait for the master studies to choose in what fields you would like to specialize. The other 60 ECTS, you gain within one or two minor subjects of free choice. As this is still one third of your time, we advise you to choose something that captivates you. While many people choose a related field like social or educational sciences, it is also perfectly fine to choose something completely different. You will have no disadvantage if you do so. There is no such thing as a wrong choice, and if you find yourself unhappy, you can change your minor quite easily.

Many people study psychology. Be prepared to sit in a lecture with over 400 other students. It can be a bit of a challenge to meet new people and make friends among so many people. Sometimes, it may seem as if everyone knows each other except you. Believe us, that’s just not the truth. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to meet other people. There are smaller courses with no more than 30 people. You can attend language courses, participate in one of the various programs of the University Sports or visit events organized by the Fachschaft. Among psychology students in Berne, collaboration weighs higher than rivalry. It is common to set up learning groups, exchange summaries and help each other. You can ask people from advanced semesters what to focus on for exams. Usually, if you have a question, you will find an answer. Just be free to ask your fellow students, lecturers or the Fachschaft.

If you decide to take up your psychology study at Berne, we strongly advice you to join the Patenprojekt. Organized by the Fachschaft, it always takes place just before the fall semester begins. Someone who already studies for a year or two shows you and a small group around and introduces you to the psychology studies in Berne. The great thing is that you can kill two birds with one stone: While you learn a lot and have the opportunity to ask questions, you also meet other people in a similar situation as you. And who knows, maybe can make friends right at the start. 

Link to the Fachschaft Bern: http://www.fs.psy.unibe.ch/

Rahel Steuri, University of Bern, Bachelor in Psychology