Mobile applications have a lot to offer therapists. Whether you are looking for games to play with patients, productivity or billing tools, or something to help you research, there’s an app for that. Many supervisees, students and consultees have asked me lately what apps I recommend, so I thought it was about time I gave you a list sampling those I find most helpful and fun. Many are cheap or free, and available for the iPad, iPhone and Android:
Planning on doing online therapy? Gotomeeting has desktop and app versions of videoconferencing software, which is HIPAA-compliant. The app version allows you to attend meetings, but the meeting needs to be initiated from the desktop version. I use this program for the majority of my online sessions with patients and supervisees.
If you are juggling multiple roles or a portfolio career, or simply want better therapeutic boundaries, this is the email program for you. Installed on your iPad or iPhone, this program allows you to set up automatic filters, so you can sort through junk mail. But it also allows you to set up folders for patient emails, so that you can have them all in one place. Then it is up to you to decide when you review your patient communications, rather than have everything coming through one inbox. Supports multiple email accounts.
If you are wanting to add value to your twitter followers or consultees, this is a great app. It provides a slick intuitive interface on your mobile device that pulls in stories from feeds you set, from you Facebook account to the Harvard Business Review blog. When you find something you want to share, the app allows seamless sharing on a variety of social media platforms. In a few minutes you can browse and share selected readings and keep up to date on current interests.
This app allows you to write notes on your iPad. It is great for note-taking during evaluations, and allows you to send these notes to Evernote as a .pdf or email yourself a copy. NOTE: Doing this is not HIPAA-compliant if you have distinguishing identifying information in the note, so I recommend you refrain from using the cloud-based features if you have any concerns about patient privacy. If you are using it for workshops or other personal uses, however, no worries. And if you keep the notes local to your password-protected device, it can be a great tool.
I was hesitant to add Evernote due to the recent hack they experienced, but their quick and effective response to this have actually made me more confident that this cloud-based note-taking device is still useful. It is NOT HIPAA-compliant, so I don’t use it for patient notes ever. That said, it is great for dictating notes about workshops, blog ideas, snapping pictures of things for study aids, and a myriad of other useful tasks. The notes sync up between every device you have them on, so you’re always up to date.
One of my favorites. iAnnotate allows you to markup .pdf files on your mobile device. If you need to sign off on a document someone emails or faxes you, no more scanning, printing, scanning again stuff. And if you are a student or researcher this is a must-have, as it supports highlighting and annotating research articles. Syncs with Mendeley and Dropbox so you can store your research library with notes online.
How can you make your mobile device more secure and use your web-browser more safely? This may be the answer for you. 1Password installs on your mobile or desktop, and allows you to save and generate extremely long and secure passwords. The level of encryption can be adjusted for the most cautious of password protectors. This program also syncs over the cloud so that you always have the up-to-date passwords on all of your devices. Even more convenient, it can bookmark your sign-in pages. All of this is secured by double-password protection on your iPhone. Stop using the same lame password for everything and start generating unique hard-to-crack ones for true HIPAA-compliance.
One part social network, one part research library, Mendeley allows you to store research articles and annotations online and on your device. It allows you to network with other colleagues to see what they are researching, share articles, and store all of your articles in one place. Often it can even pull up the bibliographic entry from the web just by reading the .pdf meta tag. Geeky research goodness!
This is one option for billing patients and paying vendors that is good to have. You can invoice by email, transfer money to your bank account, and keep track of online payments on the website. The app works well in a pinch if you aren’t ready to swipe credit cards in your office. NOTE, each transaction has a small fee.
I’d love to see more therapists using this one. This presentation software allows you to create dynamic visual presentations on your computer or mobile device. You could use it to convert boring DBT worksheets to a dynamic online presentation. Prezi supports importation from powerpoint, and provides free online hosting of your prezis as well as tons of templates and tutorials. If you do public speaking, upload some of your prezis on your LinkedIn profile to give potential clients a vivid sense of your work. You can see a sample here, but bear in mind that it would make more sense if I was there giving the talk.
I haven’t been to a bank in over 2 years, and this app is the reason why. Digital Credit Union’s Mobile Branch PC, allows me to deposit checks from patients via my iphone. Just login, scan the checks, and in 10 minutes you’ve done your deposits for the week. Meanwhile, the online interface allows you to keep track of your spending easily and export to Excel or accounting software if you need to. Great for tax season!
Dropbox is a great and free way to store non-private information on the cloud. The app allows you to email items easily, so I use it to email intake instructions to patients, press kits to people inquiring about keynotes, and a number of other items. I also keep all my DBT worksheets on it so that they can be sent quickly and easily to patients should they be feeling in need of extra support between sessions but not acute enough to warrant hospitalization.
This app allows you to stay inspired and experience innovation daily, by beaming TED talks to your mobile device from the offical TED site. You can favorite, search, and share your favorite ones, or hit “Inspire me” for random ideas. As I wrote this, I was listening to Amanda Palmer speak on “The art of asking.” This app can allow you access to ideas outside of the filtered professional bubble with therapists often get ourselves stuck in.
Want a second phone line on your iPhone? This app allows you to have one. You can port your practice number to it, and stop carrying two cell phones. At $9.95 a month you can have unlimited US/Canada calling, at $14.95 a month you get a toll-free number and virtual fax.
Keeping up-to-date on medications is pretty daunting, but this app, with frequent updates, helps you keep track od a medication, its Black Box warnings, contraindications, drug interactions, adverse effects, alternate names, standard dosages and more. And now for some games!
16. Plants Vs. Zombies
This game is great for helping patients who want to learn about strategy and pacing. Choose a certain number of plant types to plant in order to stop the zombies from overrunning your backyard.
Continuing my zombie kick, this game is better than any pedometer I’ve ever used. The more you walk or run, the further you progress in this game of fleeing zombies. Go on multiple missions, play with friends, and even train for a 5K.
This game is a classic tower defense game, which helps patients learn to make choices, control impulse spending as part of a winning strategy, and work on pacing, problem-solving and a host of other cognitive abilities.
19. Minecraft Pocket Edition
This mobile app version of Minecraft is a great way to connect with a patient’s gaming, and the app allows you to play together on a wireless LAN, so you can fight for survival or create an amazing construction right from your office together.
This is a completely nonviolent game that focuses on setting up a chain reaction of flower blooms in order to complete each level. Great eye candy, and a fun game for clearing the mind after a difficult session.
This puzzle game requires you to plan out and design multiple railroad tracks. The trick is to set them up and pace them so that they all meet their goals without running into each other. Great prompt for talking with adolescents about how they can learn to negotiate peer relationships in the same way, or learn to compromise with adults in order to get along with them.
This puzzle game is reminiscent of Jenga, in that you have to dismantle a tower without letting the Tiki Idol fall into lava. Another great one for executive function capacity-building around sequencing, planning and problem-solving.
So there you go, give some of these a try and let me know what you think. Have a favorite app that you want to share? Please feel free to comment and include the link.
When Giving Thanks, Don’t Forget Yourself
As we give thanks at the holidays, it’s easy to overlook someone important: your past self.
While it’s well documented that gratitude toward others can improve wellbeing, two University of Florida scientists find that gratitude toward your past self also has benefits.
Does thanking yourself seem a bit…selfish? The researchers, UF psychology professor Matt Baldwin, Ph.D., and undergraduate student Samantha Zaw, think not.
“Despite the fact that past gratitude is self-focused, it reminds people that they’re part of a bigger story and that they have the power to grow,” Baldwin said. “It’s possible this promotes a pay-it-forward type of mentality.”
Gratitude is what psychologists call a self-transcendent emotion, one that lifts us out of the everyday and expands our perspective, which can help us get along with each other better. In a recent experiment, Baldwin and Zaw asked participants to write brief gratitude letters. The first group thanked someone else, the second thanked themselves, while a third, the control condition, wrote about a positive experience they’d had. Zaw and Baldwin then surveyed the participants about their self-perception after writing the letter. Although the results are not yet published, early analysis shows that the exercise gave the other- and self-focused gratitude groups a sense of redemption and helped them feel they were morally good people. However, the group that wrote to themselves scored higher on both measures.
The past-self group also saw a benefit the others didn’t: an increase in the self-awareness measures of clarity, authenticity and connectedness.
“Unlike gratitude toward others, being appreciative of ourselves carries an added benefit of truly understanding who we are and feeling connected to ourselves,” said Zaw, a McNair Scholar who has been working with Baldwin since her freshman year as part of UF’s Emerging Scholars Program.
Zaw and Baldwin’s research — the first known data gathered on past-self gratitude — was inspired by a Reese’s cup. When Baldwin’s co-worker, boredom researcher Erin Westgate, returned to the office after pandemic lockdown, she was delighted to discover a peanut butter cup she had squirreled away in her desk.
“She texted me like, ‘Oh my gosh, my past self left my future self a Reese’s,’” Baldwin recalled. “I was like, ‘Wait a second. You’re expressing gratitude towards something your past self had done. We have to study this.’”
As Zaw and Baldwin dug into previous studies, they found plenty on gratitude toward others and a few on self-compassion, but nothing on past-self gratitude. They designed the letter-writing experiment to test its effects, presenting their findings at the Society of Southeastern Social Psychologists in October and at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in February.
If you’re curious about the benefits of self-gratitude, Zaw offered a way to try the experiment at home, maybe as a new Thanksgiving tradition. Take a few minutes to write a thank you message to someone else, and another to yourself for something you did in the past. Sharing what you wrote could foster connections between loved ones, she said, but the exercise can also pay dividends if you try it on your own.
“At Thanksgiving and Christmas, we focus on other people, but self-care is really needed too, especially if we want to feel more clear about ourselves,” she said. “Maybe it can even lead to a better vision for ourselves for the next year.”
A Lifeline for Primary Care Amid a Crisis in Youth Mental Health
Most mental health care in America doesn’t happen in psychiatrists’ offices – especially when it comes to children, teens and young adults.
Instead, young people with depression, anxiety and more turn to the same people they already go to for all kinds of other health issues: their pediatricians, family doctors, school-based clinics and other primary care providers.
But where do those providers turn when they need more help in handling the mental health concerns of their patients – especially more serious issues that they’re not trained to handle?
If they’re anywhere in Michigan, they can turn to the team at MC3.
For nearly a decade, the MC3 program has helped thousands of primary care providers throughout the state care for the mental health needs of young people up to age 26. It also aids providers caring for pregnant women and new mothers of any age who have mental health needs.
More than 16,000 times since 2012, MC3’s psychiatrists and pediatric behavior specialists from the University of Michigan have connected directly with more than 1,800 primary care providers by phone, for consultations about their patients.
Together, they’ve mapped out plans for handling ADHD in young children, suicide-prevention safety planning for teens and symptoms that might signal schizophrenia in young adults.
There’s no charge to providers or their patients, thanks to the program’s funding from state and federal grants.
For providers whose patients recently had a mental health emergency or are waiting for an appointment with a child psychiatrist or a psychiatric inpatient bed, the service can literally be a lifeline: one in five of the consults involve a patient who has expressed suicidal thoughts or harmed themselves.
How it Works
MC3 also offers video-based telehealth appointments to connect patients of participating providers with psychiatrists. U-M and Michigan State University experts have also created a wide range of training options for professionals available on the MC3 website.
Though the demand has grown in recent years thanks to the pandemic, the program has room for more Michigan providers to join the network and get access to its services.
Each connection starts by contacting one of the trained professionals in MC3’s network of Behavioral Health Consultants, located throughout the state. MC3 also works closely with the state-funded Community Mental Health agencies across the state.
“Only about 3% of the children, teens, young adults and moms that our participating providers have consulted with us about are in treatment with a psychiatrist. We’re providing access to specialist-informed care to young people who wouldn’t otherwise have it,” said Sheila Marcus, M.D., who heads the pediatric component of MC3 and is a professor of psychiatry at Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center.
“The reality is that no matter where they live and no matter what their family’s income level, most of these patients would not have easy access to a specialist because of the critical shortage of such providers,” she added. “In some counties, there are no local providers trained to provide this level of care.”
Primary care providers inside and outside Michigan can also access MC3’s free online resources, even if they’re not enrolled in the program.
These include prescribing guides for mental health medications and online provider education, to equip them to provide diagnosis and care that might not have been part of their formal professional training. Much of that training offers continuing education credits that can help physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse midwives keep up their license.
“For me, MC3 has been a game changer,” said Lia Gaggino, M.D., who first interacted with the MC3 team through her pediatrics practice in Portage, Michigan and now is the team’s consulting pediatrician. “Since its inception I have used their services for children and teens who presented with very complicated mental health concerns. I wished I had had a psychiatrist to help me and then MC3 appeared and offered me a lifeline. Their services changed my prescribing practices and improved my skills and I am so grateful for their advice and support. I encourage my colleagues to sign up and call –MC3 is there to help us!”
Local Care Amid a National Emergency
As the nation grapples with a national emergency of rising mental health concerns among young people, MC3 and similar programs in other states are expanding access to critical psychiatric services at a time when demand is soaring.
The national organizations that declared that emergency in October called for more support of mental health care in primary care settings, as well as efforts to overcome the national shortage of mental health specialists for young people, especially in rural and low-income areas.
That shortage is what drove the creation of MC3 in the first place.
Michigan is third from the bottom among all states in supply of mental health professionals for young people. Only Washtenaw County, where the University of Michigan is located, meets national population-based criteria for having enough mental health providers specializing in children and teens.
The pandemic has made matters worse across Michigan and the United States. A national report from November 2020 showed that anxiety and depression in pregnant women have more than doubled, and emergency department visits for mental health concerns in children had risen by double digits since the pandemic began.
Joanna Quigley, M.D., another MC3 consulting psychiatrist from Michigan Medicine, recently presented data at a national meeting showing that 30% of MC3 consults during 2020 focused on pandemic-related concerns.
The pandemic has prompted MC3’s team to plan to offer extra training to help providers identify the needs and handle the concerns of children traumatized by experiences they or their families have had during COVID-19.
Trauma-informed care is also important for children who even before the pandemic experienced very disruptive life events.
Terri Rosel, NP-C, a nurse practitioner at Cherry Health in northern Michigan, wrote to the MC3 team: “I work in a small student health center in Cedar Springs and am the sole provider in the office. Since starting this job four years ago I have had the pleasure of seeing so many students with mental health concerns. I felt ill-equipped at times to help them with my degree as a family practice nurse practitioner. I would utilize MC3 often to help with treatment plans for these wonderful kids who needed help but could not get into psychiatric services soon enough.”
As the program continues to grow, it will partner more with schools through a direct connection with the TRAILS program that offers mental health awareness and support services.
Positive Feedback from Providers
The MC3 team has surveyed participating providers and found that 99% agreed with the statement that “following phone consultation(s) I felt more confident that I could effectively treat patients’ behavioral health problems.”
The team published other findings from its survey of providers, and responded to feedback by making changes.
The quotes they received from providers are equally compelling.
“This service has been absolutely ‘practice- changing’,” said one. “As we have more and more patients with mental health issues and limited local resources- we are essentially the only option for these kids. Having MC3 support helps us make good treatment decisions and is also ‘on the job training’ which we can apply to future patients.”
In fact, MC3 data show that 25% of the interactions help the patient avoid a higher-level of care that may be difficult to access, such as a psychiatric hospital bed or emergency psychiatric visit.
One of the maternal health providers who joined MC3 recently said, “I can’t even express how this service has enhanced the care I can provide. In the past, we’d screen and diagnose and then send moms out. We’d place referrals and hope that folks could navigate the complex system. Now, with MC3, I can collaborate with psychiatry, start meds or treatment, and access community resources that I am confident they will be able to access. It’s really been invaluable.”
America Has an Anger Problem – Can Better “Mental Nutrition” Fix It?
America is a pretty angry place these days. Formerly respectful spaces like school board meetings have become bitter battlegrounds. Some people are harassing healthcare workers and threatening restaurant staff for enforcing COVID protocols. Others are openly furious with the vaccine-hesitant. Everyone, wherever they stand on the (deeply divided) political playing field, is outraged about something.
Sure, anger is part of the human condition, but have things always been this bad? Elaine Parke thinks not—and she has a plan to get America the anger management tools it needs.
“We’ve stopped listening to one another because we’ve become addicted to our own narrow and sometimes selfish points of view,” says Parke, author of “The Habits of Unity: 12 Months to a Stronger America…one citizen at a time” (Outskirts Press, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-9772-4276-1, $21.95, www.12habits4allofus.
“It’s way past time for us to take a collective deep breath and treat others with dignity, respect, and civility—and listen to them—whether we agree or not,” she adds. “It’s urgent that we make this shift now.”
Dialing down our ire is easier said than done. We are living in extraordinarily stressful times. But there’s more at play. Parke says we are shaped by the messages we consistently consume—and in today’s connected world, a lot of those messages come from our digital diet.
“Social media isn’t solely to blame for stoking our emotional flames—in fact, it was designed to be a source of information and to bring people together,” Parke clarifies. “But if your newsfeed is making you an angrier person, it’s on you to either log off for a few days or reassess the kind of content you’re engaging with. When we choose to focus on stories that are positive and nourishing, we go a long way toward resetting our emotional equilibrium.”
Parke’s “The Habits of Unity” is her attempt to help people take charge of what she calls their “Mental Nutrition.” Much in the same way that we (hopefully) approach the food we eat, we need to develop the discipline to make more nutritious mental choices every day. Her book’s 365 “one-magic-minute-a-day” motivationals make it easy to hardwire these choices into habit.
With her simple, doable framework for uplifting ourselves, boosting our mental health, and practicing unity, Parke hopes to get everyone focused on the same branded behavior each month. The idea is that the sheer force of all that concentrated positive energy sparks a unity revolution that rises from the ground up and sweeps the nation.
Yet, until that happens, we can leverage the power of “The Habits of Unity” on a personal level by forming one good habit per month:
January: Help Others
February: You Count
March: Resolve Conflicts
April: Take Care of Our Environment
May: Be Grateful
June: Reach Higher
July: Become Involved
August: Know Who You Are
September: Do Your Best
October: Be Patient and Listen
November: Show a Positive Attitude
December: Celebrate Community, Family, and Friends
Those who’ve tried it say the plan is easy to put into practice. It feels good, so you’ll want to keep doing it. And there’s a ripple effect. As you become more positive, centered, and respectful, others will be drawn to you and your relationships will improve.
“As these ripples expand, they will improve the emotional climate in our country and make it easier to seek common ground, instead of lashing out,” says Parke. “But we can’t sit around waiting for others to take action. Each American must recommit to making our country a welcoming, affirming melting pot—instead of a stewing pot.”
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