Apps acting against anxiety

A groundbreaking Australian health app, MoodMission, is using psychotherapy to treat users’ negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours

Have a look in your phone’s app store and you will find thousands of apps designed to help improve your wellbeing. There are apps to help you learn to meditate, establish good habits like drinking more water, or track your diet, exercise and sleeping patterns.

Health app hazard

One problem with a lot of these apps, though, is that they are often not based on cold, hard evidence. While the idea behind anxiety apps might sound good in theory, unless the app has been created by experts it may not have any real benefit.

As a clinical psychologist in training and founder of anxiety apps MoodMission, David Bakker wanted to bridge the gap between app developers who don’t draw on appropriate scientific evidence, and researchers who don’t know how to provide a user-friendly experience. He worked with the agency Spark Digital, which also made the meditation app Smiling Mind, to create his app.

MoodMission app

Based on cognitive behavioural therapy, MoodMission collects information about the user’s levels of depression and/or anxiety, then provides tailored suggestions on possible actions to take whenever the user is feeling low or anxious. The user can then report on whether the action helped. This helps the app learn more about what strategies work best for the user.

After 30 days the user does another survey, and the data goes back to the MoodMission team so they can use it in their research. David says that a database like this has the potential to be used in a machine-learning environment.

“With MoodMission we can zoom in and say, ‘OK, this person felt this way and they did a meditation and felt better, but this other person felt the same way and went for a walk, and they didn’t feel better,’” he says. “We can use that data with things like artificial intelligence to recommend really effective, tailored strategies.”

Revolutionising therapy

He says that technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data have huge potential to make one-on-one therapy more effective through anxiety apps or real-life therapy.

“I think further down the track we’ll have psychologists being able to ask their computer, ‘Which direction should I go with this client who’s sitting in front of me?’” he says. “We can start to explore entirely new ways of engaging people in therapeutic processes.”

– Chloe Walker

“We can start to explore entirely new ways of engaging people in therapeutic processes.”

Eliza Brockwell

Author: Eliza Brockwell

Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.


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