Mobile Happiness

The Evolution of Psychology

image1Mobile technology has now become an essential part of almost every American’s daily life. Eighty-five percent of Americans own a cellular phone and children are being introduced to them at a younger age than ever. On the average cell phone, one can take a picture, shoot a video, surf the web, e-mail the boss, play video games, listen to music, watch television, read a book, pay bills, and scan bar-codes.

Pretty soon everything we could possibly need will be at our fingertips. If industries are going to stay relevant, they will need to develop mobile integration that enables them to reach their clients where they are. The health care industry is no exception. However, with respect to mental health and psychotherapy, concerns about confidentiality and the implications of broadening the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship beyond the consultation room have made the field of psychology slow to embrace technology.

Dr. Drew Erhardt and Dr. Edrick Dorian

Recognizing these deterrents and the potential of mobile technology to both enhance psychotherapy and to bring helpful psychological tools to people who might not be inclined to seek out therapy, Dr. Drew Erhardt, professor of psychology at GSEP, and Dr. Edrick Dorian (PsyD ’03), GSEP alumnus and police psychologist for the Los Angeles Police Department, teamed up to develop a new mood-improvement application for the iPhone, the MoodKit, combining convenience and confidentiality. The collaboration came naturally for the two because of the strong roots established a decade ago, while Dorian was a student and teaching assistant for Erhardt in the Psy.D. program.

Here, Dr. Erhardt and Dr. Dorian enlighten us on all things MoodKit.

How did you come up with the idea to create the MoodKit app?

D.E.: Actually, we didn’t initially set out to create an app at all. We were trying to figure out how to best disseminate some of the effective principles and strategies of clinical psychology to the general population. Our original idea was to develop a set of cards, with each card describing a distinct mood-enhancing activity that a person could choose to engage in. However, after writing over 150 of these activities, we knew that a printed deck of cards was not the best way to share that content.

E.D.: Once we settled on developing an app instead, we realized that this format enabled us to expand what we were offering beyond mood-improving activities to other “tools” that are often used to enhance people’s sense of well-being—things like changing thinking patterns, carefully monitoring one’s mood over time, and various journaling activities. We basically designed MoodKit as the app we wished we could recommend to our own clients, colleagues, family, and friends so that they might benefit from the “wisdom” of the field.

 

What does the app actually do? How does it work?

Moodkit MockupE.D.: The app is designed as a toolkit and, like any good toolkit, it helps people to take effective action. In this case, to do things that will enable them to feel better and to function better across different areas of their lives. The app draws from different psychological approaches but is based predominantly on cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, an active, skill-building approach that has a great deal of evidence supporting its efficacy. The app’s four core “tools” enable users to engage in a wide variety of mood-enhancing activities, identify and change unhealthy thinking, rate and chart their moods over time, and to create journal entries using custom templates designed to promote healthy mind-sets and overall well-being.

D.E.: In order to make the app as useful as possible, we built in lots of ways to customize its features. For example, the activities that are suggested can be tailored to the unique needs of a given user. So, if your life of late has been unbalanced such that you’re working a great deal and feeling pretty productive but neglecting your connections with other people, the app will suggest activities designed to enhance your social relationships. In this way, people can be helped to lead more balanced, fulfilling lives.

 

What type of consumer is the app designed for?

D.E.: Since our goal from the start was to make some of the tools of professional psychology available to people in their everyday lives, we designed the app in such a way that its usefulness wouldn’t be limited to certain groups. As a result, people from the age of adolescence on, who are looking for ways to enhance their overall well-being through behavioral and cognitive exercises can benefit from MoodKit. Additionally, psychology students can learn about CBT, its principles, and its implementation by becoming familiar with the app.

E.D.: Therapists can recommend it to clients as a resource, not only to suggest or reinforce treatment interventions, but also to develop and keep track of therapy “homework” assignments such as making daily mood ratings, writing journal entries, and engaging in structured exercises to examine and change maladaptive thinking.

 

Do you have to be a tech wizard to operate MoodKit?

E.D.: Not at all. If you’ve ever used a “smartphone,” you’ll be able to use MoodKit. To be sure, it was important to us to create an app that was rich in content—that offered the user a wide variety of mood-improving tools. Equally important, however, was designing it so that it would be user-friendly and highly accessible, even to people who are not particularly tech-savvy.

D.E.: This was accomplished mostly by spending a lot of time ensuring that the user-interface was very intuitive. However, we also made sure that help screens were included throughout the app to provide lots of how-to guidance and examples.

 

How do you see MoodKit changing the way people think about Psychology?

D.E.: It should help to demystify psychology, or at least CBT, by taking some of its key principles and strategies and making them understandable, relevant, and accessible in everyday life. We hope it leads people to think about the tools of psychology not as something you access only by going to see a therapist, but as something that you can proactively incorporate into your day-to-day life. Just as many people follow good nutritional and exercise regimens to improve their physical health, an app such as this can provide people with guidance as to how to establish behavioral and cognitive habits that promote good mental health.

E.D.: Of course, many people experience difficulties that really do require the help of a well-trained mental health professional and no app can substitute for that. However, even in those instances, incorporating an app like MoodKit as an adjunct to treatment can help people to take a more active role in their own therapy, thereby improving both its benefits and the durability of those benefits.

 

What impact do you think MoodKit can have on traditional therapy services?

E.D.: One of the challenges in therapy, for clients and therapists alike, is the need to monitor thoughts, mood, and behaviors between sessions. Unfortunately, there are often both adherence and accuracy problems with the traditional pen-and-paper approach. Since nowadays the one thing that many people have with them all the time is their mobile phone, it serves as the perfect instrument for timely data collection and therapy homework exercises.

D.E.: Instead of having to carry around forms and remember to rate your mood, make a journal entry, or consider whether you’re thinking about a distressing situation in the most adaptive way possible, the app can remind you to do any or all of these things, provide you with a convenient place to record and store the information, and give you the option of sharing your entries with a therapist or others.

What makes MoodKit any different from the other psychology-related apps out there?

D.E.: It’s interesting because the advent of this technology is leading lots of psychologists to consider how they can use it to share knowledge and interventions more effectively with large numbers of people. Psychotherapy has been around for over a century but it has only been relatively recently that efforts have been made – through telephones, websites, and now mobile apps—to embrace technology as a means of either enhancing therapy or of delivering services to greater numbers of people. In a recent interview, Marty Cooper, the inventor of the modern cell phone, talked about how mobile technology has the potential to revolutionize health care and how we view psychology apps as part of that process.

E.D.: With respect to what makes MoodKit different from other psychology apps, to our knowledge, it is the only current app designed to be used either on its own as a self-help resource or to enhance professional psychotherapy. Additionally, most psychology apps provide a single tool – whether related to suggesting activities that promote well-being, to rating and tracking mood, to changing thinking patterns, or to providing templates for journaling. So far as we know, MoodKit is unique in integrating all of these tools into a single app.

How has the creation of the app personally impacted your lives?

E.D.: We joke about this often, but the truth is the creation and repeated testing of the app has made us much more mindful of our own efforts to strike a healthy life balance. Even through the challenging process of developing the app, the very content we were authoring helped ensure that these proverbial “cobbler’s children” would indeed have shoes.

D.E.: We’re also always thinking in terms of how innovative therapeutic strategies and research findings relevant to mental health can be translated into an activity or principle that we might be able to share with others via the app. The now ubiquitous catchphrase, “There’s an app for that” has for us become, “There’s a MoodKit activity for that!”

MoodKit® is now available worldwide on the Apple App Store. To learn more, visit: www.moodkitapp.com

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