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April 10, 2015

Intellicare app is your new personal therapist

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Siri and Cortana are personal digital assistants that can help us schedule appointments, send texts, or book a restaurant reservation. But what about tending to mental health?

Well, researchers at Northwestern University, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, have developed a ‘mobile therapist’ in the form of a suite of mini-apps called Intellicare.

Intellicare’s “Thought Challenger” app can help those of us who are too self-critical. “Worry Knot” can help alleviate stress before a big interview or presentation. “Aspire” can help you with motivation and inspiration.

"This is precision medicine for treating depression and anxiety delivered directly to the user," said David Mohr, director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University. "Using digital tools for mental health is an important part of our future. It will help the millions of people who want support but can't get to a therapist's office."

Validated by years of research

Each mini-app was designed by clinicians at Northwestern, and Intellicare suggests a different one each week to keep a user stimulated and thinking about boosting his or her mental health. The clinicians behind the app said they filled the apps with various techniques validated by years of research.

"We know these approaches work," Mohr said. "They are designed to teach many of the same skills that therapists try to teach people. Different things work for different people. The goal is to find what's right for you."

While the field of mental health apps is creating a lot of buzz these days, many of the apps available are poorly designed and not founded on proper psychological theory, Mohr said. Also, people may download the apps, but not use them often. Mohr noted that it's essential to generate apps that can continue to provide new strategies, so people continue to stay involved and interested with the app.

Because many people do not get sufficient care for anxiety and depression due to time constraints, cost, or reluctance to speak with a therapist, mental health care delivered on mobile devices has the potential to help millions of people. Over 20 percent of Americans will have substantial symptoms of depression or anxiety annually, but only around one-fifth of people with a mental health problem get decent care, the Northwestern team said.

Intellicare also gives users with the opportunity to provide feedback and even participate in a study designed to increase the suite’s effectiveness.

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