How I Began to Prescribe Mobile Apps in Therapy

In an earlier blog, I related how I first used a mobile app with a patient. “George”, an Operation Enduring Freedom veteran, spent two weeks at home and then two weeks off working in the Texas oilfields. His complex schedule was complicating his cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) treatment, and he had a hard time remembering to keep a sleep diary to track his sleeping patterns. When George started using the free CBT-i Coach app, his sleep diary completion rate soared, and he was happy to use a tool that fit his needs and his lifestyle.

My experiences with integrating mobile apps into treatment taught me several things:

  • Don’t be afraid to try new technology! To help improve my own sleep habits, I downloaded the CBT-i Coach app to my iPhone to learn how it worked. I began using it daily; I found it easy to navigate and complete the sleep diary and appreciated the reminders. By already being familiar with the app before introducing it to clients, I felt comfortable showing it to them, and was even able to show them how to personalize the app as a way to increase buy-in and maximize benefits.
  • Look for apps with content based on evidence-based research. For example, CBT-i Coach uses cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, which has been shown to be successful for insomnia in veterans. The information in the app is based on the therapy manual Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia in Veterans.
  • Find out who produced the app. See if you can determine who created an app that you’re interested in using with your clients. The CBT-i Coach app that I used was developed by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, along with the Stanford School of Medicine.
  • Ask your clients about using technology in their treatment. When I was looking for the right person to begin integrating CBT-i Coach into their treatment, I took a chance asking a Texas veteran about his relationship to technology and his smartphone. Once I realized that his phone was an integral part of his life, I felt more comfortable in stepping outside the box of standard therapy to ask him about incorporating a mobile app into his treatment.
  • Don’t assume anything. When I began suggesting CBT-i Coach to all my clients with sleep difficulties, I was often surprised by who was interested in using a mobile app and who wasn’t. For example, I never expected that one WWII veteran would show me new things on the app, like the adjustable caffeine-intake limit.
  • Realize that you can benefit from using apps too. When I tried out the CBT-I Coach app, I improved my own sleep hygiene. Plus, I appreciated that the sleep diaries in the CBT-i Coach calculated my patients’ sleep efficiencies for me, rather than having to rely on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to do the calculations.

Many of your clients have thoroughly integrated their smartphones into their everyday lives. Consider how using apps might help them practice concepts and coping tools when they’re not in session and maximize the benefits of therapy. They may be happy to find tools that fit their lifestyle to help them integrate what they learn in therapy into their lives.

The CBT-i Coach mobile app is available for Android and iOS devices on Google Play and the App Store.

Renee Cavanagh, Psy.D., is a psychologist who provides contract subject matter expertise to DHA Connected Health.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of DHA Connect Health, the Defense Health Agency, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.


Read other posts by Dr. Renee Cavanagh