The title today poses a question: What Is It With Well-Being, Health and Mental Health Apps? Why Are They Such Failures?
Well that is a big question, especially if I extend the title to include “hypnosis apps” too.
In recent years, hundred and thousands of physical and mental health related apps have been developed and launched, and very few have really been successful. In fact, a lot simply disappear after a while, into the ether, never to be seen again.
It is clear that there is a market for apps and that there are a lot of people interested in changing their behaviours, thoughts, feelings and habits. Yet very few people that I encounter ever actually continue using these apps for a week after downloading them, even if they have paid for them.
There really are so many of these apps being released and marketed all the time and the Apple app store is ram-packed full of them. The majority of them are tracker apps. That is, the individual is required to continually enter information into the app in order that a behaviour, habit, thought process etc. can be tracked, examined and eventually changed and updated.
Within my own therapeutic work, I prescribe thought forms, self-monitoring forms, journals, diaries, symptom logs and all kinds of other means of self-monitoring and tracking to help us do two main things: 1. Understand the behaviour, see it’s patterns, know the conditions of it, what triggers it, what our mood was at the time, what we were thinking etc 2. To be able to see the progress being made as we begin to integrate the treatment plan of our therapy.
I think it is important and incredibly useful to be able to track behaviour, thoughts, feelings and so on. Why then, is it not really such a success when it comes to apps?
Firstly, it is not that stimulating, exciting and many people in fact find it boring and time-consuming to do this kind of thing. When we perceive something as being a task, or obligatory, it is no longer something we actually want to do, it can become a chore that gradually phases out instead of becoming ongoing useful tool. Sometimes, tracking unwanted behaviours can become even more of a challenge due to the very nature of it; we often want more dramatic and faster changes, and we often don’t like to be confronted with the truth of how we are behaving. Essentially though, most people find it boring, especially if they do not have an accompanying therapist helping to make it stimulating and bestowing upon them the full benefits of fully engaging with the exercise – apps do not tend to come with accompanying therapists.
As it happens I use two apps that track what I do: Myfitnesspal and Strava. Both are actually linked in together, and both of them feed information into my Garmin connect account.
At myfitnesspal, I log everything I eat and drink. It also examines my weight and it is also full of much nonsense and outdated nutritional advice, but I use it because it has a very accurate way of me logging my food consumption in a way that enables me to measure my carb intake in particular. I eat a low carb high fat diet and with the amount of running I do, I need to be tactical with the addition of certain fats at certain times of the week, and I get to see how my recovery and running ability gets effected by my diet.
At Strava, all my runs get logged automatically – that is, I do not have to actually feed the information in. Every training run and race I complete that is recorded by my Garmin GPS running watch, automatically gets sent to Strava. This is where my friends and I can see what each other is up to, I can be held accountable, and I can prove what I do. I like that.
Both the above sync with my main place of interest – Garmin connect. Not an app, but a central hub whereby I tune my health needs. I like the stats, I tend to think my own stats are impressive and help keep me motivated and able to see that I am in line with my goals. I ask many of my weight reduction clients to use myfitnesspal and Strava – they have many other features that add depth and dimension to the user experience, but they are rare.
Most people do not find logging what they have eaten to be any kind of fun at all. Some find it demoralising, especially when they are just beginning.
Basic data entry does not do much to keep people interested, in particular when they are not getting any perceivable direct gain from it in a short period of time. And that’s thing isn’t it? For something like weight reduction in particular, it needs to be a long-term effort with long term goals. Likewise though, persistence and self-discipline over a lengthy period of time are often lacking for people looking to update or change psychological issues.
Long-term goals are out of reach, they are not compelling and none of these apps really offer a way of using trackers to be effective in the short-term, or in a way that contributes in stages to the longer term goal, whatever that might be. The incentive is not there.
Tracker apps bore people and do not satiate a desire for short-term results. People tire of them quickly. Which is a shame, because many of the CBT apps, for example, that I recommend to my clients with a good motivating discussion can be very effective tools to run alongside therapy treatment plans.
One of the reasons hypnosis apps make headlines is often because of the belief that hypnosis is powerful, there are news stories that report on very impressive gains made by people using them. I wonder how representative they actually are of the total number of sales of that app though? A single success story does not necessarily mean that the app is a universal success, does it? Yet again though, the implication with hypnosis apps is that they do not require work or effort to be invested.
I get lots of people that invest in my apps that think they need to simply buy them and then fall asleep while listening to them and they’ll passively receive a lightning bolt of change from the heavens that will make them a different person – they are disappointed to find out that my own apps require people to actually engage, follow a structure, invest effort, direct their imagination and cognitions and so on…. “Aaw Adam!! I want the change to happen to me!” gets spoken along with a great number of accompanying huffs and shrugging of shoulders with a scrunched up face.
The vast majority of apps though, are not really evidence-based. That is, virtually no research has been done to measure effectiveness of psychological apps. The content of the apps is also not very evidence-based. Often the ones that do well are simply very well-marketed or are offered by a well-known author whose profile sells the app regardless of effectiveness. They are often proliferated with little more than pop psychology theory or outdated knowledge that has since been superseded by more up-to-date knowledge and research.
I think the major hurdle with apps aimed at helping people change is this – change is not easy. Not necessarily anyway. Human beings are individuals, they complex and multi-faceted and throughout their lifetimes, they have developed, changed and adapted as they have learned more, experienced more and so on. There is no single answer to change, and no single, right way that suits all – yet with apps being so inexpensive, people still invest.
Apps offer a solution that cannot be flexible or tailored to the individual, not currently anyway. There are some standardised tools that work fairly well for a good cross section of the population, but people do get bored of those and cannot cope with the long-term usage required for them to be effective.
With hypnosis apps, we have an opportunity therefore to capitalise on this. Hypnosis can offer rapid change, hypnosis can amplify experience and offer up some ways to help with these issues that mental health apps face, but so many are filled with nonsensical ideas, pseudoscience, and perpetuate myth and misconception. May do not impress upon the listener the requirement to engage instead of being passive.
Many mental health apps fail, many health apps fail because of the reasons I have outlined. If you cannot get to a therapist who can help you derive the most benefit from certain apps, and if the quality of the many apps available does not change for the better, then look at good quality hypnosis apps that engage you, that instruct you and offer you change in a speedier fashion.
I am biased, of course I am. However, if apps continue to fail for people, regardless of the reason, and even if it is their own fault, then they may start to think that they are beyond helping, that change can only happen in one particular fashion, and it may lead people to perceive themselves as the failure rather than the app. Think about that when buying apps for your own well-being.
Further essential reading: