Holding Health in Your Hands:A Practical Look at Mobile Therapy

by Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

Mental health care has come a long way and quite inevitably so has our technology. However, no technology has become closer as an essential than our mobile phones. They can save us in an emergency, entertain us, and connect us to the world. But can they also replace traditional therapy? 

Mental health is something that ,for better or for worse, has come to the forefront of the medical community these days. Mental health issues affect a lot of people in a range of generations and circumstances. But like most medical fields, it has changed over the years. As our understanding of mental health evolves,so does the way we tackle treating it.

Over the years, mental health treatments have grown to suit a number of generations and lifestyles. It’s been made more convenient and in it’s latest incarnation it has made an iffy marriage to meet our dependency on our mobile phones. But to truly understand where we are now, it’s imperative to understand where we came from. Mental health truly has come a long way in terms of treatments and attitude. Our society has come from a murky past of inhumane institutionalizing to mental health care having a more open and accessible model that is generally accepted in our society.

While the level of that acceptance is definitely debatable,it is notably better to seek mental health treatment now than it used to be when it first started to arise as a medical issue. As it evolves, mental health has revealed itself as something that affects all of us on some level. You may be a person suffering directly from a mental health issue or indirectly by being involved with a person suffering from a mental health issue.

But even more than mental health itself, the treatment has evolved. The earlier and much more questionable methods have been gradually upgraded to the standards of guided therapies combined with carefully monitored pharmaceutical aids. These treatments have changed format accordingly to suit newer generations who crave convenience,instant gratification, and modern appeal. That’s what brings us to mobile therapy, a new format for a generation who can’t live without their phone in their hand. It’s meant to replace a traditional office visit to a therapist but also provide an element of convenience  that you seemingly can’t get from traditional therapy. But the bottom line is that people in America love their cellphones and businesses have taken notice. That’s why every business seemingly has some mobile component to it these days.

I want it to be perfectly clear that I’m looking at mobile therapy as a business trend. That’s because it is is essentially just that, a business trend. I don’t find it to be especially revolutionary but I also don’t find it especially offensive when taken for exactly what it is. Mobile apps are a market product and an essential bone thrown out these days for consumers who are a little too enamored with their phone and technology. Mobile therapy is really in the same realm as a banking or booking app. It can only add a small sense of convenience to a brick and mortar industry despite its enthusiastic marketing as a life-changing treatment option.

That being said, I don’t think mobile therapy is good or bad. In a sense it just exists right now. It hasn’t done anything groundbreaking and it hasn’t done anything wrong yet either. It just exists and is trying to make a dent in the mobile app market more than it is mental health treatment at the moment. It’s still a relatively new concept and I think it does have some potential to have some small part in mental health treatment. At this early stage, it’s equally capable of fizzling out like many apps tend to do or taking off as the next phase of mental health treatment.

Being a person who has essentially grown up in the arms of traditional therapy, I have to say I’ve been a little wary and reluctant to explore the idea of mobile therapy. While I was preparing for this article I couldn’t help but have some trouble initially finding good things in mobile therapy. But I also try to enter into these articles with an open mind because at the end of the day there are many ways to look at a subject. Sometimes making that effort to see another side can be an enriching experience.

Pros

It’s making people more open to talk about their problems…

One of the big things I like about mobile therapy is that it’s a format that makes the subject of therapy more appealing to a younger generation. It makes the idea of talking to someone about your problems more accessible and less awkward. I think this creates a more willing attitude to seek mental health treatment and that’s a great thing. I think with the right marketing mobile therapy can be a great initiation into seeking the help you need. While it can’t be a full replacement to what traditional mental health treatments offer,it definitely has the potential to make more more people open to exploring treatment and talking about their issues without as much fear.

It has the potential to improve emergency mental health options…

While it is definitely convenient I think where mobile therapy will shine is if it is pressed more toward improving emergency mental health treatment. As a person who has had the unfortunate experience of needing to call a suicide hotline more than once, I can attest that it usually makes me want to end my life more because of the awful approach taken. However,something like mobile therapy does have the potential to improve that. Improving the interactions people have in a mental health emergency is a crucial item that needs taken care of and I think that mobile therapy making talking to a person less horrible is a step toward that happening.

It has the potential to add a layer of intimacy between patients and doctors…

One of the elements about mobile therapy that I like is that if it were adopted just a little differently as an option to add to a traditional patient and doctor relationship,it could do a lot of good to add a layer of intimacy to that bond and improve treatment.  What I mean by that is if it were used as an add-on to traditional treatment or an occasional alternative when the patient couldn’t travel, I could see that adding legitimate value to a mental health regimen. It would mean people could have more frequent visits,better access to their therapist, and even a clearer way to communicate with their therapist in an emergency. Many medical facilities already have adopted online portals to accompany patient care so I think with some tweaking mobile therapy would be a great addition to traditional mental health treatment options.

Cons

The marketing is deceptive…

One of the annoyances but also areas for potential is the marketing message of mobile therapy. Yes, it offers convenience but I think they hype it a bit too much. Mobile therapy is marketed like it’s an alternative to traditional treatment methods and that’s just not something it can do. You may still need a traditional therapist or psychiatrist for more intense care. Additionally, If you need any medications you’ll still have to see a real health professional. I think that there’s a lot of room for more honesty in what mobile therapy can realistically do for a person and not enough mention of the fact it can’t function as a completely viable replacement for traditional treatment.

It probably won’t be covered by insurance…

As a person who has had legitimate therapies from an office turned down by insurance, I can assure you that getting something like talking to a therapist on your phone approved will be a crap shoot. The cost ranges on mobile therapy and there is little to no guarantee it will get covered if you understand insurance on a realistic level. I’m sure this situation will vary with time if mobile therapy hangs in as a viable treatment option  but for the time being,you’re much more likely to get office-based traditional therapy approved over a webcam session.

It’s harder to verify who you’re talking to…

One of the things you can see at a traditional office visit is typically a degree or two on the wall of the office. In order for a person to be hired to a psychiatric facility they have to jump through some hoops so it makes it easier to have confidence they are indeed trained at their job and legitimate. Mobile therapy strikes me as one of those platforms where you just don’t have that reassurance. The mobile platform leaves a  much bigger door open to fraud than a traditional therapy experience does. I know personally that would make me less confident about it and I’m probably not the only person who would feel that way. I think the mobile therapy setup has a distinct lack of professionalism at this stage in its life and that might make some people hesitate to take it seriously as a standalone therapy option.

It’s not truly private…

Our mobile devices aren’t private. They can easily be hacked,looked into, or ogled by passers-by. This significantly lowers how private mobile therapy actually has the capability to be. Factor in that webcams can also be easily hacked and you have a very high probability your private therapy session is not as secure and private as you thought. That sense of low privacy will probably subconsciously affect your session because you won’t feel as safe being completely open  during the discussion. That means that your mobile therapy is mentally not as freeing as you think and will have lower benefits over time in comparison to a traditional therapy session where you have the security of a  private room and closed door with no hackable technology inserted between you and the therapist.

It lacks intimacy…

One of the success factors in therapy is building a rapport and sense of intimacy with the therapist. This is something that just can’t be achieved via webcam. There’s a key element found in interacting in person that is lost in electronic communication so it’s doubtful you’ll form the same bond with a mobile therapist that you have the potential to form seeing someone in person. Psychologically speaking, we are more open in a real conversation than we are when we text,e-mail,or communicate via an electronic distraction. I don’t think something like mobile therapy creates an environment where we can truly connect and communicate openly because we’re at least partially distracted by the technology. Without that element I think the mobile therapy loses a lot of potential to truly be a force for good as it will lack that intimacy that leads to treatment breakthroughs.

It encourages dependency on technology…

One of the things something like mobile therapy brings to mind for me instantly is how much we rely on electronic devices. Our mobile phones have become our lifelines and that’s a scary and dangerous thing to consider. I’m actually an IT person at heart and by degree but I always make a point to disconnect every once in a while. It’s never a good thing when we spend too much time on a computer,phone, or electronic device. Electronic devices can be a huge hindrance to true communication because they distract us and deplete from the intimacy of just interacting with a person face-to-face. There is a distinct value added to an interaction when we put down the technology and focus on each other. In a way mobile therapy adds just a little to a trend of encouragement of dependency on technology. Every app,miracle appliance, and automated process we treat ourselves to makes us a little lazier and over time takes away from our knowledge and communication skills. While technology is definitely a boon in a number of ways as well,things like mobile therapy might be a small sign we’re getting too comfortable replacing real human interaction with an electronic distraction. It might be just as beneficial for us as people to take a moment to appreciate not all experiences benefit from adding technology and convenience.

 

Now all those points aside, I think mobile therapy has a lot of growing room at this point. These are easily points that could be somewhat subjective or improved with some minor changes so I don’t think mobile therapy is the devil by any stretch but definitely not what it’s advertising itself to be either. I think only time will tell at this point what the future of mobile therapy truly is if it does indeed have one.

It’s also important to remember the shakiest factor of mobile therapy is that it’s essentially relying on an app and apps appear on the market and die a quick death pretty often.  Personally speaking, I stay enamored with even some of my useful apps for a very short amount of time before I either find a substitute,get bored with it, or just straight up forget it exists. The app market is a notoriously fickle mistress and a big sea to swim in so I think that will be a key hurdle to mobile therapy becoming a therapy standard.

Conclusion

I think regardless of what you read here or anywhere else regarding mobile therapy, that it’s too soon to definitively say if it’s a good or bad option. I think it’s just different and new more than anything else. So when you think about mobile therapy as an option, don’t think in terms of a concrete yes or no but take it on in an open-minded manner tempered with perspective. It’s a drop in the pan right now and like most therapies and treatments will need time to find it’s footing if it’s meant to be. But at the same time it’s not going to completely replace more traditional options for mental health treatment any time soon because it’s simply not equipped to so.

The bottom line here is that changes in the approach to mental health like this are a great thing. Taking  a fresh and open look at how we treat mental health in our society is a good thing and a step in the right direction. Just remember that mobile therapy is not a full replacement for seeing a professional in an office and getting medications prescribed if you need them. It’s a great first step  to seeking help but don’t use it as an excuse to not seek proper help if you do indeed need something more to live your best life.

 


Thanks for reading this issue of Thoughts of an Aspie!

Do you agree or disagree with me? How do you feel about mobile therapy? Have you used mobile therapy and have something to say about the experience?  Please feel free to let me know by leaving a comment or using the contact form on my site here to reach out to me. Also if you like my work  and would like to see more of it or support it I’d love it if you’d check out my Patreon page or follow me on Facebook or Twitter via @themeinav!  Big thanks to Pixabay and pngimg for some of the images used for today’s article.


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