Smart Phone Applications in Clinical Practice

By Epstein, Joel; Bequette, Amanda W. | Journal of Mental Health Counseling, October 2013 | Go to article overview

Smart Phone Applications in Clinical Practice


Epstein, Joel, Bequette, Amanda W., Journal of Mental Health Counseling


Smart phone usage has greatly increased in recent years. Not only has the computing power of these mobile devices dramatically improved but so has the variety of functions they can accomplish--an amazing array of tasks that once would have been considered remarkable. Historically, mental health professionals have been quick to embrace smart phone technology and there are now literally hundreds of applications for practitioners and clients alike. This article discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using smart phone technology in clinical practice and considers the implications for the future of clinical practice.

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Mental health professionals have always been at the forefront in incorporating technology into their work. From conducting psychological interviews and administering batteries of tests to helping individuals manage symptoms and actually conducting structured therapy, behavioral health computing has a long and rich history (Epstein & Klinkenberg, 2001; Lang, Melamed, & Hart, 1970). Opponents argue that computers are too inflexible and simply cannot capture the depth of human interaction. Yet not only do most people enjoy taking tests and interviews by computer, in computerized psychotherapy they are actually more forthcolning in their responses (French & Beaumont, 1987; Hile & Adkins, 1997; MacGregor, Hayward, Peck, & Wilkes, 2009; Whitfield, Hinshelwood, Pashely, Campsie, & Williams, 2006). Consumers often view the programs as more convenient and less judgmental than the human alternative (Epstein & Klinkenberg, 2001; Sanchez-Ortiz, 2011). Furthermore, the demonstrated efficiency of therapeutic software results in less health-care consumption (de Graaf et al., 2011) and may be as effective as traditional face- to-face therapy (Cuijpers et al., 2009; Reger & Gahm, 2009). Over the past few years, computing power has dramatically increased; what required a vast array of processors not that long ago can now fit inside a device that can be hidden in a pocket or purse. Therefore, the next logical extension to the ongoing work in mental health computing is its integration with cell phones.

CELL PHONE USAGE IN THE UNITED STATES

Mobile telephony is the single most rapidly embraced technology in world history (International Telecommunication Union, 2009). Currently, about 88% of all adults in the United States own a cell phone (Smith, 2012). They are an "equalizing technology" that goes a long way toward eliminating the "digital divide" (Hargittai & Kim, 2011). In the African American community, where computer ownership and Internet connectivity are generally low, there is a very high penetration of cell phones. Even 60% of all homeless individuals own a cell phone (Rice, Lee, & Tait, 2011).

Over half of all users now own what are called "smart phones." These cell phones do more than simply place calls. They can connect to the Internet, take pictures, record video, send messages, and--most important--use custom-made applications ("apps"). Running apps provides functionality the manufacturer did not initially deliver and differentiates a standard mobile handset from a smart phone.

ADVANTAGES OF CELL PHONE USE IN CLINICAL PRACTICE

Given the large majority of the population that now uses smart phones, it seems logical that mental health counselors consider how to use the technology to their advantage. Indeed, there are a number of reasons why cell phones make a logical extension to clinical practice (Boschen, 2009a). The devices themselves are relatively inexpensive and costs for service are dropping. Cell phones are very convenient, easy to carry, and readily integrated into a user's routine. Many people have their phone with them during all waking hours. Furthermore, cell phone use is so widely accepted in most environments that it attracts no undue attention, so people use them without fear of stigma or judgment. …

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