Monday, 15 Feb 2016
Can a mobile app replace your therapist?
By Private Therapy Clinic
Tablet PC computer and mobile phone with colorful bokeh wallpaper and apps on a screen
From ordering takeaway food and monitoring your blood pressure through to maintaining global friendships and finding love, the concept of the ‘app’ is nothing short of revolutionary. The agility of the app insofar that it can accomplish virtually any required task is summed up gracefully by the well-known and much parodied 2009 Apple trademark quote “there’s an app for that”.
Fast forward to 2016 and the concept of the app is still going strong, but now we’ve come to learn where the deficiencies lie.
On every software platform that supports the use of apps, there have been innumerable attempts by development companies to provide an app for those seeking a range of therapies from relaxation techniques through to CBT and more. These apps often prove ineffective because they lack a key ingredient that underpins the success of therapies over the years. Human contact.
One thing that’s as undeniable as the success of apps is that we as humans interact entirely differently with computer systems than we do with other people, even when the computer system is able to respond to our inputs in a human-like fashion.
There isn’t a line of code on the planet that begins to scratch the surface in instructing a computer program how to convey true empathy. As an example, telling your closest friend that you’re experiencing a tough time in your new job can often be a good, sensible way to begin feeling better about the issue. Their response will take into account the emotions you are feeling just by interpreting your tone of voice, eye contact and general body language along with being able to understand that this is a much bigger issue because you just came out of a less-than-amicable divorce.
The same theory holds true when you visit a qualified therapist. Your words, actions, body language and current circumstances are all taken into account and only after this can a therapist begin to help you move forward.
One size fits all is does not apply to therapy.
Building a rapport with a person is an emotionally-involved process guided by social norms at first and then developed further through mutual understanding. Building a rapport with an app is simply not possible. For anyone who thinks otherwise, they should ask themselves whether they would feel the same discomfort putting their phone down on the table during app-therapy as they would just abruptly standing up and walking out of a therapist’s room without saying a single word.
Interaction and experience
Apps can interact with you, that’s a given, but as explained above it can’t understand the intricacies of human contact nor convey empathy.
This is one issue the retail world has come to learn in that despite the existence of very easy to use online stores (and apps of course), there’s still a strong demand for high street locations where people can touch, experience and handle items before purchase.
‘Shopping’ is not the process of simply purchasing items, it’s the experience one enjoys whilst browsing, comparing, trying and ultimately buying. Much like how therapy is not simply ‘correcting your mind’.
The convenience of an app can be its downfall. Being sat on the train and thinking “I’ll use my therapy app for a few minutes” immediately trivialises the process as something one can do as and when one has a spare few minutes.
When you walk into a therapist’s room and sit down, the world is outside and your time is your own. It’s an event, it’s a life changing experience. It will not be interrupted at arbitrary points in time such as when your train reaches its destination and for this reason it carries more weight and importance which can influence your own perception and confidence in the process.
In short, apps are fantastic and many of our lives are simpler and easier as a result. But when it comes to therapy, “there isn’t an app for that”.