Can mental health apps replace human therapists?


By Samantha Murphy MEAGHAN FRITZ used to break out in cold sweats before meetings. A simple discussion with her boss would leave this otherwise confident woman stuttering and dizzy. To meet her, you’d never imagine she suffered from severe social anxiety. Then again, it surprised her too. Fritz had been treated for depression for years. “I’ve tried Seroquel, Lexapro and Xanax,” she says, rattling off a list like someone who has tried it all. But nothing quite worked. In fact, according to Fritz, she wasn’t even looking for help any more. “I knew I had a problem, but I didn’t know what it was,” she says. “It wasn’t until I took the test at Joyable that I had a name for it.” Joyable is a start-up that offers counselling over the internet. It not only finally gave Fritz her diagnosis but, $100 and 12 online sessions later, she was seeing improvements in her private and professional life too – all without meeting a therapist. Joyable is part of a new generation of computer-based therapies that some think could greatly reduce the burden on mental healthcare providers – and perhaps do away with face-to-face sessions altogether. “There’s a genuine need for something that can be used to meet the unmet needs of people with depression,” says Simon Gilbody at the University of York, UK,
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