Mindfulness apps and Digital Therapy technology

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”  R. Buckminster Fuller

I came to Mindfulness through reading a book – “Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Professor Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman”. Others go on a training course or experience day, but there are very people I know that use an application [called an “app”] on their smart phones or tablet devices. Maybe it is my age – I am after all in my middle years – but I have spoken to many younger people, mostly at work, and none have got such an app.

Mindfulness Apps:

Why has this come to my attention you might ask? Well, I was talking to a colleague in the HR department at work the other day, as they started a Mindfulness pilot programme in one of the divisions. They were not going to do group sessions, or even one-2-one programmes. Rather, they sent out a short video presentation and suggested that if people were interested to use one of the many apps that are available.

I have checked on a number of application stores and by my count, there are at least 22 meditation timers out there, ranging from $0 to $5 and varying in the extras they offer, for instance nature sounds with an associated timing bell at the end. If you take a broader look at apps containing some sort of meditation or mindfulness component, you are looking at nearly 45 apps, some endorsed by clinical psychologists and others merely asking you to choose an emoticon to describe your state of mind. The one that the company was recommending was Headspace.

This app provides 10-minute meditation sessions, with the first 10 days available free of charge. Then, you can choose a subscription. There are annual and monthly options. You start with a brief body scan and then Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace, talks you through the instructions, for instance, “Don’t force your breath, your body already knows how to breathe”. The app provides animations about how the mind works and tips on how to sit and breathe. It also allows you to set meditation reminders and track your activity. To get the app go to Headspace (on-the-go)

I tried it just to see whether it was any good. I found the app pleasant and the animations were well designed. The meditation practices were good and gave you options in terms of type of meditation and also duration. However, the focus is on meditation practice, rather than the broader Mindfulness approach that I use. It is certainly not the MBSR – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme that I followed for eight weeks.

Digital Therapy technology:

What has further gripped my attention is the launch this year of a number of “online Digital Therapy” applications. There are hundreds of unverified mental health apps available for Apple and Android, encompassing mindfulness, CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Talking Therapy, mood tracking, peer support and more.

Most apps designed for mental health sufferers, including those endorsed by the NHS [National Health Service UK], are clinically unproven and potentially ineffective, a new study has shown. In research published in the journal Evidence Based Mental Health, a team at the University of Liverpool found that many mental health apps and online programmes lack “an underlying evidence base, a lack of scientific credibility and limited clinical effectiveness”.

The study also suggests that many mental health apps can lead to over-reliance and anxiety around self-diagnosis. This is very worrying when you consider the people that the apps are targetted at in the first place. I am not going to advocate any digital therapy apps as I have not used any and have no need for them. Rather, my concern is that any approach that you take to help manage your own therapy, you recognise that one of the key components of any therapy is TIME. Whether it is one-to-one counselling, group therapy, drugs or even the use of an app; the key ingredient that makes the therapy more effective is time and the focus you put in. Counselling therapy takes time and commitment and there are no quick fixes for deep seated issues. The concept of the use of digital technology in the therapy field is interesting, but I feel that more scientific research is carried out before any app can be really endorsed.  

I will keep an active interest in the Digital Therapy space and see where things develop.

In the mean time, I leave you with the following quote:

“Our life is made up of time; our days are measured in hours, our pay measured by those hours, our knowledge is measured by years. We grab a few quick minutes in our busy day to have a coffee break. We rush back to our desks, we watch the clock, we live by appointments. And yet your time eventually runs out and you wonder in your heart of hearts if those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades were being spent the best way they possibly could. In other words, if you could change anything, would you?”  ― Cecelia Ahern, Love, Rosie

A couple of interesting articles on Digital Therapy you might find interesting.




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