New apps provide therapy in your pocket

The days of reclining on a couch and venting your problems to a therapist with a notepad may be over.

Smart phone apps to help manage mental health are on the rise and while it may seem a little frightening that another element of our lives is moving online, some professionals believe they are a step towards getting people to pay attention to mental issues.

Chris Allan, clinical psychologist and director of Northfields Psychology Clinic in Wollongong, says while apps and e-psychology can't completely replace face-to-face interaction, anything that encourages people to take care of themselves is always positive.

"I think people relying on themselves and trying to work things out for themselves is a good thing," he says.

"It allows, in a funny sort of way, people to go out of their therapy hour and take their therapist with them in many ways, almost like having a little mini therapist in their pocket."

Compared to a session with a psychologist or psychiatrist, these apps are cheap and less confronting ways for people to address mental health.

There are apps to help manage many disorders, including anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and even conditions such as anorexia and borderline personality disorder but Allan says people don't need to have a diagnosed condition to benefit from them.

While there are risks people will rely, and perhaps even become dependent, on their smart phones to manage mental disorders that need the help of a trained professional, Allan thinks most people would acknowledge when they need to take the step of talking to an actual therapist.

He also believes e-psychology is especially beneficial for young people. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates one in four young people aged between 16 and 24 experience a mental disorder.

"Adolescents are notoriously difficult to engage in therapy, or more difficult than adults, so these sort of tools go to what they're interested in," Allan says.

Clinical psychologist and developer of the Get Happy app Dr Lisa Patterson-Kane says having an in-pocket therapist is a great way to engage young people with their mental health.

Based on the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which encourages people to accept the things they can't change and improve the things they can, Get Happy features a scale where users rate their happiness levels in certain areas from one to 10 and receive personalised tips and strategies to improve their well-being based on these results.

Patterson-Kane says while she does not believe e-psychology is a replacement for face-to-face interaction, it can be a first step in getting help.

Patterson-Kane believes the health industry needs to engage with technology as a new generation grows up with the default response of Googling something they don't understand.

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