Feeling Low? There’s an App for That!

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Psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, gestalt therapy, and Jungian analysis are a few of the time-tested traditions which are used by clinical psychologists. 

Among these, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT,  has endured the rigors of scientific study to demonstrate effectiveness in targeting the acute symptoms of depression, panic, anxiety, eating disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

After the acute phase of an illness passes, there follows a period when talk therapies (psychodynamic psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, Jungian analysis) provide further in depth awareness and answers to the how-did-this-happen-to-me questions.

CBT challenges automatic thinking, the driving force behind disorders such as anxiety and depression.  Repetitive thoughts:  “Everyone at the party will think I am a loser because I came alone,” or “My boss isn’t going to like this proposal,” must be challenged. 

Patients are taught to write or say the “irrational” thought, and then challenge it with rational and equally likely statements, like “Not everyone at the party will be focused on me,” or “My boss usually uses my proposals and finds my work to be above average.”  

Through a series of challenges and re-statements, patients alter the emotional state that is created by years of cultivating irrational thoughts  (fear at attending social events, depression at feeling we aren’t up to par).

Actively and repetitively changing thoughts takes lots of practice (some of it is done in the therapy office), but a great deal depends on what is done in the week between sessions. The requirement to practice CBT can be the cause of treatment failure. It’s a lot like re-training muscles–the patient needs a daily mental gym workout in order to change years old thought patterns.

Bravo to whomever invented the apps for cognitive therapy. These are (usually free) applications which can be downloaded to your phone or tablet and help you keep on track to change.

Anyone who carries a smart phone has access to a variety of so-so to excellent resources to help with anxiety and a its nastier cousin, panic. 

Depression is well-covered in the array of apps I discovered in my research, the most helpful of which are those which use CBT to track negative thoughts/statements and require the patient to counter those irrational statements in written form. It’s well documented that changing the “energy” from thought to written or verbal form snaps us out of  habitual behaviors. 

“Live happy” by Happy Patterns and “eCBTMOOD” are two depression apps. The Mayo Clinic has recently released an excellent app for anxiety and panic, and is the place to start for anyone who suffers from feeling anxious or panicked.

Eating disorders ranging from weight gain secondary to comfort eating to binging and purging and anorexia are helped with CBT and dialectic behavior therapy (DBT), both of which have several good apps to bolster clinical work with a qualified therapist. 

Again in this case, thought-stopping and arresting the self statement that is made just prior to an eating-related episode is the first step in recovery. We know that patients can’t do this by sitting and bearing the burden of their problem alone—a helpful stop gap is to augment treatment with actively working with online progress trackers, food diaries, and virtual support groups.

Everyone has a something to say about how attached we are to our devices—finally here’s a reason to use that device to take long strides toward feeling healthier and happier. Who knew those little phones and tablets aren’t just for getting the news and shopping!

Ruth Wimsatt is a clinical psychologist in Newport Beach and can be reached at (949)222-3284 or [email protected].          


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