Digital Self-Help: A New Solution to an Age-Old Problem

Employers and healthcare companies are starting to see the value of self-help apps and software. As a long time member of the health and wellness space who has helped move the industry into the future, I’m thrilled to see the market catch on.

As with any new technology, digital self-help is getting a bit of that “new kid on the block” treatment, which is to be expected and even welcomed as standards and guidelines are developed. However, it’s important to take care to lay down some ground rules for understanding how these tools should be used and how they can help us in the care continuum so they grow in value and don’t become tomorrow’s software roadkill.

A mobile approach to emotional well-being can play an important role in helping people—and can do so in a scalable and affordable way. Here are five things to think about both when using self-help apps and software and as a buyer:

1. It’s crucial to note that while the digital delivery system may be new, the science behind it is not—resilience training, for example, is based on over two decades of research in the fields of positive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

2. Quality assurance is built in. Algorithms run these programs, not the practitioner. The care is standardized and quality maintained.

3. Today fewer than half of the Americans who need mental health care receive it. There’s a high level of need for more accessible ways to receive care. Cost is cited as the biggest barrier…And while nearly half of Americans feel more stressed than they did five years ago, only three percent take advantage of on-site coaching or employee assistance programs paid for by their employers. But today 64 percent of Americans own a smartphone—a percentage that has doubled in the last four years and will continue to rise. Apps get the ball rolling in care and can engage people who wouldn’t otherwise receive care.

4. Wellness apps can be made available and appealing to a large population—scaling to a level beyond one-to-one therapy, helping more people or even as a first-line of defense. Solutions aren’t time-trapped; they can be accessed at any hour, without the need to set and travel to an appointment. In addition to being inexpensive, digital solutions are both trackable and measurable.

5. Most important, these aren’t a silver bullet and we set ourselves up to fail if we expect apps to work automatically instantaneously and regardless of the patients intention to change. There is no instant or permanent solution for emotional distress. This does not align with our cultural tendency to take a pill or use a “life hack” to take care of our problems—self-improvement just doesn’t work that way. However, there are digitally effective ways to teach the tenets of CBT and positive psychology that can help people work towards happier, healthier lives.

If we reinforce that a measured and consistent approach to behavior change can be facilitated with these apps, rather than position them as a quick fix or silver bullet we may actually leverage software apps to develop a better mouse trap in self-help.

You can find this piece at Linkedin