Therapist

Apps for mental health therapy

Most of us have finally grokked that talking to a trained mental health professional when you can’t self-help yourself out of an emotional pothole or have a problem that’s too complicated to work out with a friend can be an enormous help.

But for some of us — maybe you can’t find the right therapist near you, or your life is wall-to-wall obligations — it can be hard to travel to an office, have your session and get back at least once a week.

That’s where therapy apps that let you find someone great to speak to via phone, text, or video can be a godsend. “For some people, it can be supplemental to in-person therapy, and for others it can stand alone,” says Rachel Rothman, Chief Technologist and Engineering Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute, who cites lower cost, greater discretion, and a wide pool of types of therapists to choose from as some of the other benefits to “telemental health.” And the best platforms are very secure, she adds. “Online platforms are also designed with privacy and security measures that rival that of the banking world.”

And while it may feel weird for anyone who isn’t a teenager to spill your guts into a face on your iPhone, an analysis of studies found telemental health to be very helpful in many cases, including for people with diagnosable disorders such as depression and anxiety, or substance abuse issues, and for folks dealing with quality of life issues like stress and low self-esteem. Another review of the research found that telemental health is comparable to in-person services, less expensive, and is a particular boon to people who live in more isolated areas.

Want to find someone you click with, and “meet” with them on your own couch as opposed to theirs? Some things to keep in mind: “When choosing a platform, it’s important to ensure that it is HIPAA compliant and has rigorous privacy standards,” including encryption, says Rothman (some offer the the option to withhold your last name as well.) “You’ll also want to check the credentials of the counselors on the site, and in particular the therapist you’ll be working with.” Check that the platform screens for therapists’ credentials and licensing in your locality. “Many set minimum standards for the types of licenses and experiences the clinicians must have,” she says. Prices vary, depending on how you communicate with your therapist and how often you use it, but they are usually less than you’d pay for in-person help, and some are covered by insurance.

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Many mental health apps can give you tools, activities, and support to help you manage your stress. There are apps available to help with general mental health concerns and specific conditions.

There are great ways to nurture and care for the state of your mental health. Some of these include practicing mindfulness and meditation, seeing a therapist, journaling, talking with a friend, lighting some candles and reading a book, or simply taking a nap.

Most people know they can exercise, eat well, sleep, and stay hydrated to take care of their physical health. But it’s less common for people to pay attention to their mental health. Just like your physical health, support for your mental health helps you feel your best.

Mental health apps may provide activities, encouragement, and other techniques to practice daily. Many types are based on research and therapy techniques to provide evidence-based interventions.

Still, they can support your overall mental health. Apps are a convenient way to get extra support between therapy sessions or office visits, and they can offer continued support after graduating from therapy.

Mental health apps are a simple way to work on your mental health.

Further research from 2018 also suggested apps work because they’re easy to use, increase engagement in treatment plans, and make monitoring symptoms easier. These types of apps have soared in popularity since the onset of the pandemic.

Research from 2018 showed that mental health apps may help improve both the monitoring and management of mental health conditions.

When choosing the best mental health apps, we considered the types of features available and if they were evidence-based. We also read dozens of customer reviews and considered the cost of the apps.

Best overall

  • iPhone rating: 4.4/5
  • Price: $6.99
  • Best for: tracking moods, creating positive thought patterns, reducing stress

MoodKit was developed by two clinical psychologists and is based on the principles and techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It offers over 200 activities designed to boost your mood and help change negative thinking.

Included is a journal feature to help you track your mood, negative thoughts, and how you manage stress.

Pros

  • evidence-based
  • large variety of activities
  • a journal feature to easily track your progress

Cons

  • some users reported technical issues

Best for therapy

  • iPhone rating: 4.2/5
  • Price: monthly subscription with plans starting at $69 per week
  • Best for: therapy

Talkspace is the most expensive option on this list, but it gives you direct access to a mental health professional. This online therapy option is likely a more affordable option than seeing a therapist in person, and you receive 24/7 access to support.

At any time, you can send your therapist a message in the Talkspace chat room. You also have the option to schedule live video sessions with your therapist.

Pros

  • you can work directly with a mental health professional
  • you have the option to change therapists
  • 24/7 access to treatment

Cons

  • high cost
  • therapy techniques may be limited for some users
  • therapist may not be a good match

Read our review of Talkspace.

Best for meditation

  • iPhone rating: 4.9/5
  • Price: $12.99 per month or $69.99 per year
  • Best for: learning to meditate, developing concentration, and improving sleep

Headspace is a meditation app designed to help you live more mindfully. The app offers a wide range of meditations for beginners and experienced users that range from 3 to 20 minutes.

Meditation offers many benefits, including stress relief, anxiety control, self-awareness and attention span improvement, and even age-related memory loss reduction. So, it could be worth your while to give meditation a try.

In the app, you’ll find stand-alone meditations for when you need a break and longer courses focused on deeper education into mindfulness. Examples of courses include learning the basics of mindfulness, coping with cravings, dealing with distractions, and better sleep.

Pros

  • high user satisfaction
  • affordable monthly price

Cons

  • exercises may get repetitive
  • not suitable for advanced meditators

Read our review of Headspace.

Best for suicide awareness

  • iPhone rating: 4.6/5
  • Price: free
  • Best for: suicide awareness, positive thinking

The Better Stop Suicide app is designed with psychological techniques to help people who are having suicidal thoughts by encouraging their minds to slow, calm down, and think rationally. However, if you’re ever in an emergency situation and feel out of control, the best thing you can do is call a suicide hotline or 911.

In the app, you can listen to calming audio files written by mental health professionals, record audio messages for yourself, find audio for falling asleep, and save important contacts for when you need them quickly.

The app can help you learn how to examine the intrusive thoughts you are having. This can help you to not automatically accept all thoughts as truth or fact.

Once you learn how to challenge thoughts, you can decide how you want to proceed with the facts of a situation. This may prevent the tendency to engage in emotion-based behavior, which can at times not be based on factual information.

Pros

  • free
  • recorded audios to help with stressful times
  • exercises for mood boosting

Cons

  • limited number of activities

Best for stress

  • iPhone rating: 4.7/5
  • Price: free
  • Best for: stress, breathing techniques

If you’re looking for a simple way to reduce stress, iBreathe is an easy-to-use app for breathing exercises. Deep breathing exercises may help reduce stress and anxiety.

The app is designed with one purpose: simple deep breathing exercises. There’s no clutter in the app to distract or overwhelm you.

Deep breathing exercises provide the best results when done daily, so you can set the app to remind you when it’s time to do your breathing exercises. After any extra stressful moment, you can open the app for a little stress relief.

Pros

  • free
  • easy to use

Cons

  • only offers one feature, so some people may need to download accompanying apps

Best for anxiety

  • iPhone rating: 4.3/5
  • Price: free
  • Best for: anxiety

The MindShift CBT app was created to provide anxiety relief using CBT tools to adjust thinking and behaviors. The app claims to help tackle worry, panic, perfectionism, social anxiety, and phobias.

Features include short meditations, thought journals, coping cards, and activities to face fears, change beliefs, and develop healthy habits.

Pros

  • free
  • designed specifically for anxiety
  • uses psychotherapy techniques

Cons

  • limited number of entries per day
  • some users experience technical issues

Best for addiction

  • iPhone rating: 4.4/5
  • Price: free
  • Best for: addiction

Quit That! helps people tackle habits and addiction. The app helps you track habits to quit smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, or even consuming caffeine.

But, if you’re dealing with more serious addictions, you should seek out medical or professional help. Treatment options a specialist might explore include residential treatment (rehab), therapy, medication, or support groups.

With this app, you can track as many habits as you want, and you can also see how long it’s been since you quit and how much money quitting has saved you.

Pros

  • free
  • simple to use
  • no limits to the number of habits tracked

Cons

  • no education or support for quitting
  • some users experience app crashes

Best for boosting your mood

  • iPhone rating: 4.3/5
  • Price: free version, or $139.99 per year, $14.99 per month, or $449.99 lifetime for full access
  • Best for: boosting your mood

This app uses games to boost your mood. The activities were developed with positive psychology techniques and CBT interventions.

The app lets you choose games to help you in different areas, including:

  • coping with stress
  • fueling your career success
  • achieving mindfulness through meditation
  • conquering negative thoughts
  • building self-confidence

There are free and paid versions of Happify. The free version gives you access to some games and information.

Pros

  • easy to use
  • achievable goals

Cons

  • some users say the deadlines provided by the app create more stress
  • paid version is pricey

Best for eating disorders

  • iPhone rating: 4.9/5
  • Price: free
  • Best for: eating disorders

Recovery Record is an excellent tool for anyone recovering from an eating disorder. The Recovery Record app can be linked to the Recovery Record Clinician App for eating disorder treatment professionals, which gives your treatment team the full picture so they can easily track your progress and help you achieve your goals.

Features include a food diary to track food, thoughts, and feelings during meals, daily affirmations, coping tactics, goal setting, and more.

Pros

  • free to use
  • links to your treatment team
  • more discreet than carrying a food journal

Cons

  • some users experienced technical issues

Best for OCD

  • iPhone rating: 4.8/5
  • Price: Get started with a free call for the NOCD program. There are different payment plans and the app accepts over 30 types of insurance (total cost of the program isn’t clearly stated on the website).
  • Best for: OCD

NOCD was designed to assist in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) treatment by combining mindfulness and exposure-response techniques. The app is backed by research and OCD specialists.

In the app, you can schedule live video therapy sessions with an OCD therapist and receive support between sessions. It’s a very simple process: right from your device, you’ll be matched with a licensed OCD therapist in your state and can start your personalized OCD therapy plan via face-to-face video or by text.

Pros

  • handy for sudden episodes
  • strong user community

Cons

  • high price
  • some users say the advice is too general

Best for sleep

  • iPhone rating: 4.8/5
  • Price: $14.99 per month or $69.99 per year
  • Best for: improving sleep, regulating emotions, and practicing meditation

Calm is a mindfulness app that provides guided meditations, breathing techniques, and calming exercises. These practices may encourage relaxation, alleviate tension, and relieve stress. In turn, you may be able to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply.

Calm offers a wide selection of story recordings in various categories, including travel, nature, and nonfiction. Some stories feature celebrity narrators. The app also has an extensive music library that includes soothing, ambient, and nature sounds.

Pros

  • tracks statistics
  • sleep music library
  • mood tracking

Cons

  • expensive subscription cost
  • complaints of auto-renewal and cancellation issues
  • poor customer service

Read our review of Calm.

Best for drinking less alcohol

  • iPhone rating: 4.8/5
  • Price: starting at $7.99 per month or $39.99 per year
  • Best for: reducing alcohol intake

Reframe provides strategies and resources that help people drink less alcohol or stop drinking. You can also use it if you want to take a break from drinking, examine your drinking habits, or figure out why you drink. The app helps you build healthy habits, which may benefit your mental health and overall well-being.

Reframe offers a 120-day behavior change program based on neuroscience and cognitive behavioral research. It includes tools to manage cravings and navigate feelings, such as meditations, reflective journaling, and mindfulness exercises.

You can also learn about the science of addiction, track your progress, and connect to a supportive community.

Pros

  • helps reduce or eliminate alcohol intake
  • create healthy habits
  • includes games and affirmations

Cons

  • not for severe addictions
  • not for alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • incompatible with Android

Best for quitting alcohol

  • iPhone rating: 4.9/5
  • Price: free version, or $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year
  • Best for: quitting alcohol

The I Am Sober app is a useful tool for quitting alcohol. It encourages you to identify triggers, recognize patterns, and develop healthy habits to meet your goals and achieve sobriety. It offers a withdrawal timeline so you can learn what to expect.

You can use I Am Sober to make daily pledges, record sober days, and track milestones. Plus, you can connect to their community for support, encouragement, and motivation.

Pros

  • track sobriety and milestones
  • form healthy habits
  • community support

Cons

  • not for severe alcohol addiction
  • tracking method needs improvement
  • app glitches

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