Apps and their risks
Curiously, while mental health app platforms promote themselves as providers of mental health services, they actually don’t take responsibility for the counseling services they are providing. The apps consider therapists to be independent contractors, with the platform acting as a matching service. And the apps can help users find a more suitable fit if they request it.
But no law or precedent protects consumers or clarifies app users’ rights. This differs from face-to-face therapy, in which practitioners work under the oversight of state licensing boards and federal law. Some of the major therapy apps have been accused of mining client data and being at risk for data breaches.
Like other virtual spaces, online mental health service domains operate under ever-evolving and localized regulations.
Who benefits from these apps?
The social workers our team interviewed talked a lot about who can benefit from this kind of app-based therapy and – importantly – who can’t. For example, the platforms are not set up to treat people with serious mental illness or mental disorders that substantially interfere with a person’s life, activities and ability to function independently.
Similarly, app-based psychotherapy is not suitable for those having suicidal thoughts. The platforms screen users for risk of self-harm when they sign up. If a client ever poses harm to themselves or someone else, user anonymity on the apps makes it almost impossible for a therapist to send a crisis response team. App-based practitioners told our research team that they sometimes end up monitoring their clients for signs of crisis by contacting them through the app more frequently. It’s one reason app therapists, who also screen users, sometimes reject potential clients who may need a higher level of care.
For those without severe mental illness, app-based therapy may be helpful in matching clients with a professional familiar with a range of problems and stressors. This makes apps attractive to those with anxiety and mild to moderate depression. They also appeal to people who wouldn’t ordinarily seek out office-based therapy, but who want help with life issues such as marital problems and work-related stress.
The apps could also be practical and convenient for those who can’t or won’t get formal therapy, even remotely, from a mental health clinic or office. For instance, the anonymity of apps might appeal to people suffering from conditions like social anxiety or agoraphobia, or for those individuals who can’t or won’t appear on a video call.
Therapy apps have helped to normalize the idea that it’s OK to pursue mental health treatment through nontraditional routes. And with high-profile people such as Michael Phelps and Ariana Grande partnering with these apps, they might even be on their way to making mental health treatment cool.
Lauri Goldkind, Associate Professor of Social Work, Fordham University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.