The Ultimate Guide to Apps for Mental Health Therapy

Unlock the door to better mental well-being with the touch of a button. Dive into our ultimate guide where we navigate the transformative world of mental health therapy apps, designed to fit the therapy you need into the life you lead. Discover how the right app can become your client’s pocket-sized sanctuary for mental health, offering guidance, peace, and progress on your terms, at your pace.

Will robots become our future therapists and coaches? When will we truly stop noticing the difference? With an increasing number of apps for mental health therapy, we have an incredible opportunity to stand out and differentiate ourselves as therapists.

The past decade has seen an enormous shift in the level of fusion between technology and mental health. Everything now exists, from tele therapy, chatbot therapists to digital therapists and therapist matching platforms as well as even an AI therapist.

Despite Ellie, the virtual therapist designed and created by the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at the University of Southern California, people will always have a role to play[1]. The art is to learn how to use the tools, including robots and apps for mental health professionals to serve your clients even better.

One of the key fundamentals for any therapist or counselor is to offer a seamless digital experience that provides value along with instant and constant support. The reason apps for mental health therapy have become the norm is because that support feels seamless to clients. The best apps also provide experiential learning, such as Quenza with its vast library of exercises, meditations, reflections, and more for your clients.

With Quenza, you partner with technology to offer your clients a unique and revolutionized journey for sustained growth. See for yourself by signing up for a 30-day trial for $1 only.

Chapter 1

The Landscape of Digital Mental Health Platforms

Humans and communities in general have known about the power of group wisdom and healing through words for millennia. Of course, there were different beliefs, and Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece perhaps had more mystical rituals than we have today. Nevertheless, evidence shows that they had their own methodologies, including somatic healing, which we continue to use today[2].

The majority of today’s therapy and counseling is rooted in Freud’s psychoanalysis and the work  of other key figures such as Carl Jung, Carl Rogers, Alfred Adler, and many more. Initially, all this work happened face to face, partly because of the lack of technology but also because of the focus on building rapport and being people-centric.  

Many professionals are still nervous about using apps for mental health therapy because of the potential challenge of building rapport. Naturally, we still need human contact and social support, including that provided by therapists and counselors. 

Nevertheless, there is an art  to building rapport on a mental health platform, and as you can see from the growth figures in the chart below, the demand for these platforms isn’t going anywhere. 

The Future Growth of Mental Health Apps

Researchers expect an upward trend in market size of mental health apps[3]

Yes, on the one hand, apps limit our body language communication. On the other hand, they complement face-to-face interactions with instant messaging and other resources. As a mental health professional, you may have felt that even one hour with your clients doesn’t feel enough. For instance, chatbot answers can be a great source of reassurance after hours when a human therapist isn’t available. 

Furthermore, connecting through video allows people to receive therapy from the comfort of their homes and in a safe space. This gives the therapist or counselor the added bonus of insight into their clients’ worlds. Sometimes, the environment can also serve as a learning moment.

Most importantly, first with telepathy and now with apps for mental health therapy, more people than ever can access mental health support. In essence, meeting the gap between the demand for help and the short supply of therapists and counselors is what drove entrepreneurs to develop the vast array of apps for mental health therapy.

Chapter 2

Benefits of Apps for Mental Health Therapy

Just like a doctor gathers all the relevant machine data before coming up with a diagnosis, therapists and counselors can leverage AI and apps for therapy. These digital mental health platforms don’t just support clients. Through exercises and worksheets, they are constantly gathering information to inform a therapist or counselor’s formulation of the client’s concerns.

This image shows Expansions of the Quenza Mental Health App

For example, Quenza’s premade, science-backed Activities can be easily sent from the library to your clients and customized as much or as little as you want. These Activities, some of which are shown above, give you and your clients invaluable information as to what is truly happening. Clients are more likely to have a-ha moments through such experiential moments.

When it comes to clients, one of the most powerful advantages of apps for mental health therapy is that they have reduced costs and increased accessibility. More than ever, clients have options to suit their needs, geographic locations and lifestyles.

Furthermore, studies are increasingly demonstrating the value of apps for mental health therapy. Although, it’s worth noting that the profession is still exploring how “user engagement, feedback loops, expectancy effects and individual patient characteristics” impact interventions[4]. That’s where every professional who works with apps to help with mental health has an opportunity to stand out.

Chapter 3

Pros and Cons of Apps for Mental Health Therapy

ProsCons
Convenience and affordabilityLittle scientific evidence that can put too much emphasis on self-diagnosis
Break geographical boundariesCultural challenges
CustomizationAdded potential complexity 
24/7 supportGreater expectations that mental issues can be fixed in the short term
Self-learning and empowermentNot suitable for major mental health issues but making the judgment can be tough
Experiential LearningExcludes non-technical clients
Safe space & AnonymityPrivacy issues especially as apps are unregulated 
Issue specific, for example, depression and ADHD appsMisses the holistic approach of a therapist or counselor

As you can see from the table above, whilst there are advantages to apps for mental health therapy, the disadvantages can be easily covered by a therapist or counselor. That’s where you have an opportunity to bring in your style, knowledge, and creativity.

So, when it comes to using apps for therapy, how will you want to use your digital tools to check in on your clients? What about creating timely exercises that support your intervention as per their needs?

With Quenza, you can create your own activities, quizzes and surveys, as shown below. With a drag-and-drop feature, you can build whatever you feel will work for your clients. 

This image shows the Activity Builder of the Quenza Mental Health App

Or, you can easily send some of the customizable, premade therapy exercises to your clients through the Quenza dashboard. Alternatively, you can put them together into a tailored sequence, as shown below, that you can even automate if you wish.

This Image shows the pathway builder of the Quenza mental health app
Use Quenza’s Pathways Tool to integrate therapy notes into treatment plans or care pathways, or assemble activities into programs.

Chapter 4

Top Features of Leading Mental Health Software

With so many apps for mental health therapy out there, it’s important that you first start with what you need from a mental health platform. This sounds obvious but it’s easy to get caught up in a beautifully designed app and then realize later down the line that it doesn’t cover what you want.

First, as a practitioner, do you want mental health software that offers both back office and client interaction? The huge advantage of getting back office support almost goes without saying. In short, you’ll spend more time with clients and less time on billing and other admin processes. This isn’t just about improving your filing system. The aim is to revolutionize your practice with effective therapist management software.

Secondly, what type of therapist or counselor are you? If you specialize in a particular methodology, for example, ACT or CBT, you might prefer a specific app in this domain. In that case, refer to the table in the next section for some initial ideas.

On the flip side, many people who search apps for mental health therapy are the clients, so it helps to know what they’re looking for. Essentially, they want to connect with practitioners, and they want instant support.

Other key features you should look for include the following:

Top FeaturesBenefits
Interactive InterfaceThe more engaging and experiential an app is, the more likely clients will use it. Of course, it also needs to be easy to use.
GamificationWhilst research is still sparse, it is possible that games can improve motivation and affective engagement. For successful implementation, the goals and gaps need to be carefully mapped[5]. Nevertheless, games are fun and adding an element of fun to therapy can be a powerful approach.
Device integrationThese days, many people operate on multiple devices. They might also look for apps that can integrate into wearables such as digital watches.
Goal trackingGoals are highly motivating but so is tracking progress. Moreover, it gives practitioners insights into where clients are struggling.
RemindersWith all our busy lives, reminders play an important role in supporting a client through their journey.
ResourcesIncreasingly, clients are empowered to own their journeys. Whilst there are specific empowerment coaches, therapists also work to enable the majority of their clients to become self-sufficient.
MessagingCommunication is always key. All practitioners know that this goes far beyond the words being said or written. As a result, you want to find an app that gives several options for how to message and share moments with your clients.
Evidence-basedThe apps that were developed with evidence-based techniques or by psychologists are clearly the ones that stand out. Therapists and counselors will easily be able to differentiate them simply by looking at the approach and exercises on offer. It also helps to check the history of the app and where they gathered their content from, where possible.

One of the most important features when choosing apps for mental health therapy is communication. As we all know, the basis of any good client relationship is rapport and communication. As such, make sure you’re comfortable with the approach in the app you choose.

This image depicts the Chat of the Mental Health App Quenza

For example, at Quenza, you can choose from a range of options. You can communicate directly through the chat messaging system, as shown above. Alternatively, you can email through the client portal or even schedule automated updates and reminders for your clients. The key is to remember that the art of connection is to personalize the experience, which Quenza allows you to do.

Chapter 5

Popular Apps for Mental Health Therapy

As you probably know, apps for therapy come in all shapes and forms. Some are more general and cover a range of potential mental issues, whereas others are very specific and might only focus on anxiety, for example.

Naturally, judgment and preference are important aspects of choosing the right digital mental health platforms. Everyone has different criteria, but it can be useful to refer to the Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS).

MARS essentially measures across 4 dimensions: engagement, functionality, aesthetics and information quality, as well as app subjective quality[6]. Although, unfortunately, not all the apps have been scored.

Nevertheless, the dimensions are useful to keep in mind when you choose your apps for mental health therapy. As a starting point, you might also want to note that Talkspace rates at 4.0, Woebot at 4.11 and Headspace at 4.32, all out of 5[7][8].

When it comes to mindfulness apps such as Headspace, a 2015 study showed that very few apps offered more than just some guided meditations and reminders[9]. With mindfulness being such a hot topic these days, you might be interested in introducing your clients to the one that really stands out: Headspace.

When it comes to Headspace, Andy, the British former monk whose voice you hear, leverages his training from Northern India to teach various meditation and mindfulness techniques. He goes beyond simply stating that mindfulness is about finding calm to explain that this is actually only a byproduct of the process.

Aside from Headspace, here are some of the other top apps for mental health therapy that we’ve picked out for you.

Overview of the Best Mental Health Apps

AppsFocusBenefit
TalkspaceSpecialized therapy and psychiatry for all ages.Instant connection to a relevant professional.
BetterHelpOffers a range of therapy and counseling services.Instant connection to a relevant professional.
WoebotA CBT app to support healthier behaviors. A chatbot to help monitor moods to then change them.
MoodKitAnother CBT app to improve mood and well-being. Allows for self-monitoring and offers ideas to solve issues.
TheraNestA back office app to allow therapists to focus on their clients. Automates and sorts all scheduling, invoicing, documentation.
SimplePracticeAnother app to streamline all your back office needs.A top documentation system for both clients and practitioners.
HeadspaceA mindfulness and meditation app with recordings, teachings, words of the day, resources and more. Users choose how they create their journey and which focal points to start with.
My Possible SelfAn educational CBT app covering a range of mental health topics and mood tracking. Includes animations and experiential interactions.
QuenzaWhen it comes to apps for mental health, Quenza brings it all together. The platform offers tailored client dashboards along with streamlined back office processes. Practitioners can be as creative and interactive as they want or they can simply use existing exercises from the vast library of interactive interventions.

Alongside the above table, as a practitioner, you might also be interested in the top apps for mental health therapy in specific categories, as shown in the snapshot below.

As you can imagine, there are apps to suit almost any mental health concern. For example, there are apps for anxiety, depression, addictions, menopause, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, PTSD and many more.

ModalitiesBest AppReason
ACTACT CompanionA range of interactive tools and exercises based on renowned ACT psychotherapist Dr. Russ Harris’s book, The Happiness Trap. 
CBTSanvelloA full-service app that covers everything from learning programs, community chat rooms and journals to coaching and therapy. 
MindfulnessHeadspaceOne of the few mindfulness and meditation apps designed and created by a former Buddhist monk. The practices and teachings take you much further than simply focusing on the breath. 
All-purposeQuenzaA rare combination of support for back office processes along with client-facing innovative and experiential dashboards. All tools are fully customizable. 
Moreover, you’ll discover exercises in the library inspired by a range of psychology methodologies including ACT, CBT, Positive Psychology and much more.  
Peer supportCirclesOffers a choice of peer-led support groups or private groups led by mental health practitioners covering a host of topics. 

Chapter 6

Pitfalls to Avoid

The paradox of having all these apps for mental health support is that people are better supported but also, potentially less safe. So, we all need to take care when choosing our apps for mental health.

One way to verify an app is to check for reviews, especially from professionals and experts in the field. Another approach is to read about which therapy methodology and what evidence-based practices it uses. We’ve also already talked about the MARS approach.

Finally, don’t underestimate your gut instinct when it comes to apps for mental health therapy. Just like a professional builds rapport with a client, you know deep down if this is going to work for you.

Last but not least, especially when considering apps for mental health professionals, you need to ensure that you are HIPAA and GDPR compliant. Quenza has you covered for all such legal requirements.

This image shows the privacy features of the 
Quenza Mental Health App

Quenza is a specially built therapy program designed for privacy and security, with a HIPAA-and GDPR-compliant platform secured by AES-256 encryption.

As a practitioner, it’s worth remembering that the pitfalls are the opportunities when working with apps for mental health therapy. After all, you can validate the safety process behind the apps with your knowledge of what’s legally required.

Most importantly, you add the human touch which mental health software often lacks. For example, tailoring the interventions to your clients’ issues and ensuring goals are aligned with their needs rather than the app’s generic process is critical.

As a mental health platform, Quenza gives you all the flexibility and customization you need. With such an app, you can partner with your clients and all the complexities of the human mind without being constrained to a process or methodology. Instead, you’ll be creating the best therapy program for your private practice.

Chapter 7

Choosing the Right App for Mental Health Therapy

When choosing apps for mental health therapy, the overall aim has to be whether the client is being served well or even better than through traditional methods. If in doubt, always come back to the client experience.

As an example, a 2018 study shows that mobile interventions can proactively reduce anxiety, depression and even schizophrenia symptoms. The reason is that people are engaged and active in real-time when they need support the most[10].

Moreover, with self-monitoring features, clients and patients become empowered. They gain knowledge and autonomy whereas previously they could fall into the trap of over-relying on their therapist.

Of course, not all apps for mental illness are created equal. We’ve listed some of the most successful ones to date but there is still a long way to go to determine exactly how to maximize them for client benefit.

Nevertheless, here are some useful tips and best practices for navigating digital mental health platforms:

  • Apps are tools, not guides: It’s easy to over-rely on apps but as a practitioner, always check in with yourself. Are you adding value by using the app as a tool or are you letting the app guide your approach?
  • Check Privacy Policies: We’ve briefly mentioned HIPAA and GDPR but these are critical to any therapy private practice. See our article on writing HIPAA compliant psychotherapy notes for more information.
  • Define Simple Goals: Be clear about what the app can offer and don’t expect miracles. So, a goal such as a daily check-in can be useful but expecting an app to cure depression on its own is unrealistic.
  • Review streamlining options: One of the most powerful advantages of apps for mental health therapy is that they can do your admin work. This gives you valuable time for your clients. Make sure you review exactly how each app can manage your processes for you.
  • Experiment: Most importantly, try out the trials on offer. Play around with the various apps and get a sense of what might work for you.

Apps are a useful tool but they are not the only answer. For clients looking for cheap and accessible ways to get support, it’s also helpful to point them towards online groups. For example, CODA is a powerful support network that follows the 12 steps for codependents.

Sometimes, universities also provide courses and self-help training. For example, many are now offering the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course (MBSR).

Just like a doctor doesn’t just have a stethoscope in his doctor’s bag, the best practitioners have a host of tools and techniques to leverage.

Chapter 8

The Future of Mental Health Software

With Virtual Reality, biofeedback integration and a host of other technological advances, apps for mental health therapy are bound to keep evolving. Regardless, the way forward for any practitioner is to ensure a healthy balance between the tools and the human touch.

When choosing your apps for mental health therapy, keep in mind what you as a practitioner specifically offer in terms of style and approach. The more you can promote yourself as an expert guide along with your suite of tools, including apps for mental health therapy, the more people you’ll be able to reach.

With a tool like Quenza, you’ll be able to support even more people as you essentially outsource your back office processes to the in-built management system. Most importantly, you’ll have a vast library at your disposal with hundreds of exercises and worksheets. These are all ready to use but they can also be easily customized according to what your clients need.

Overall, you’ll be offering an experiential journey to your clients along with ease of communication and practical tracking tools. Your clients will be motivated and engaged by the sustained change they’re working towards.

Why not see for yourself the impact you could make with Quenza by signing up for the $1-only, full access, one month trial

Frequently Asked Questions

It depends on the app and some are better at handling privacy than others. When reviewing apps for mental health therapy, make sure you check their privacy policy. It’s also good practice to look for compliance with HIPAA and GDPR.

Unfortunately, most commercial apps have not been verified and are based on little, if any, research or evidence. One of the best ways to verify an app is to talk to a mental health professional. As a practitioner, reach out to your network to get feedback on what apps are working for your peers.

When an individual or therapist unsubscribes from an app, it’s very important to know the policy details. Check for how they store data and for how long including connections with third parties.

Imagine getting a flat tire. You can’t fit the spare one without the jack to lift up the car. That’s how apps work. They are your support and foundation from which to do the real work, in other words, changing the tire or rewiring the mind.

So, the best way to interact with apps is to provide exercises and games for your clients to learn in real-time. The more creative you can be, the more likely you’ll create a-ha moments for your clients.

Wellness apps focus on overall mental well-being, often through meditation or educational content, while therapy apps provide therapeutic interventions and professional consultations. For the latter, check the process for how clients are connected to therapists and counselors. From there, you’ll get an idea of how communication works.

Although, don’t forget to also review those that offer back office support so that you can have more time doing the real work.

References

  1. ^ Robinson, A. (2017, September 20). Meet Ellie, the machine that can detect depression. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/sep/17/ellie-machine-that-can-detect-depression.
  2. ^ Columbia University Global Mental Health Programs. (2022, October 31). Mental health in Ancient Egypt - Columbia University Global Mental Health Programs. https://www.cugmhp.org/five-on-friday-posts/mental-health-in-ancient-egypt/.
  3. ^ Precedence Research. HealthcareMental Health Apps Market. Precedence Research. Retrieved from: https://www.precedenceresearch.com/mental-health-apps-market.
  4. ^ Firth, J., Torous, J., Nicholas, J., Carney, R., Pratap, A., Rosenbaum, S., & Sarris, J. (2017). The efficacy of smartphone‐based mental health interventions for depressive symptoms: a meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. World Psychiatry, 16(3), 287–298. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20472.
  5. ^ Landers, R. N., Auer, E. M., Helms, A. B., Marin, S., & Armstrong, M. B. (2019). Gamification of Adult Learning: Gamifying employee training and development. In Cambridge University Press eBooks (pp. 271–295). https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108649636.012.
  6. ^  Stoyanov, S., Hides, L., Kavanagh, D. J., Zelenko, О., Tjondronegoro, D., & Mani, M. (2015). Mobile App Rating Scale: a new tool for assessing the quality of health mobile apps. Jmir Mhealth and Uhealth, 3(1), e27. https://doi.org/10.2196/mhealth.3422.
  7. ^ Myers, A., Chesebrough, L., Hu, R., Turchioe, M. R., Pathak, J., & Creber, R. M. (2020). Evaluating Commercially available mobile apps for Depression Self-Management. American Medical Informatics Association Annual Symposium, 2020, 906–914. https://europepmc.org/article/MED/33936466.
  8. ^  Lau, N., O’Daffer, A., Yi‐Frazier, J. P., & Rosenberg, A. R. (2021). Popular Evidence-Based Commercial Mental Health Apps: Analysis of engagement, functionality, aesthetics, and information quality. Jmir Mhealth and Uhealth, 9(7), e29689. https://doi.org/10.2196/29689.
  9. ^ Mani, M., Kavanagh, D. J., Hides, L., & Stoyanov, S. (2015). Review and evaluation of Mindfulness-Based iPhone Apps. Jmir Mhealth and Uhealth, 3(3), e82. https://doi.org/10.2196/mhealth.4328.
  10. ^ Chandrashekar, P. (March 2018) Do mental health mobile apps work: evidence and recommendations for designing high-efficacy mental health mobile apps. Mhealth. 4: (6). doi: 10.21037/mhealth.2018.03.02.

About the author

Anne is a coach-counselor with a background in neuroscience, mindfulness, Gestalt therapy, and adult developmental theory.

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