Dr Michael Carr-Gregg’s latest top 10 apps for psychologists working with young people

Our Managing Director, Digital Education, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg has shared with us his latest top ten apps for psychologists working with young people. Michael is an avid user of, and advocate for, integrating the technology of apps and wearable devices into practice and everyday life. You can read his past recommendations here.

As a practicing psychologist working with young people, I am always on the look out for new apps that I can use as a professional or share with my clients that are low cost, flexible (on-demand, easily accessible), and private ways for them to better mange their wellbeing as well as access help and support for their mental health difficulties. In keeping with what has become something of a Young and Well CRC tradition, I’m sharing this list of 10 new apps that my clients are currently trialing. The feedback so far has been quite positive. Many are designed by software developers, rather than psychologists, so they haven’t been subjected to the gold standard, randomised control trial evaluations. However, the apps selected for this list make no hucksterish claims and are based on established treatments. They have also been assessed using the Young and Well CRC’s new Mobile App Rating Scale.

1. Balanced is an iPhone only application designed to motivate and support clients to achieve positive and healthy tasks (such as being grateful or exercising more). My clients can set their own tasks or chose from an extensive list and decide how often they would like to complete that activity. With a satisfying swipe, they can indicate that they have completed an activity or have the option to skip. Gentle push notifications remind the user to complete an overdue task or congratulate them for achieving goals. It is particularly useful for young people with organising and planning difficulties and for those with limited access to other forms of motivation (e.g. social or family support). Balanced allows users to select up to five activities for free. At first users may be over-excited and want to purchase more activities, only to later find them all too hard to attain). It is recommended to start with only one or two activities, and then slowly add more if and as needed. Introducing five new activities all at once can soon become overwhelming and unachievable. The creator of Balanced, Jai is happy to give free upgrades – just send him a message using the app’s “Send feedback” button and he’ll give you an unlock!

2. Beddit is an every-day sleep measurement device for anyone interested in sleep, wellness and recovery. The Beddit sensor is made up of three connected components: A 30mm wide, 700mm long ribbon and an 1800mm long USB cable which are both interconnected to a 900mm x 40mm x 7mm recording/transmitting device. Beddit’s extremely sensitive force sensor measures mechanical forces caused by heartbeat, respiration and movements of the person in bed. Using these three different signals, it is possible to analyze person’s sleep time and sleep quality. Perhaps the most impressive feature is that Beddit does not require you to wear anything, instead resting on your mattress, under the sheets. To effectively monitor sleep, the Beddit needs to work in tandem with either a relatively modern iDevice or Android equivalent, running the free Beddit app. The device must remain on all night in the same room. The Beddit transfers data to your device in realtime via bluetooth and utilises your device’s microphone to listen for snoring. The App allows you to set a preferred wake up time and like the SleepTracker Pro, not only monitors and analyses your sleep but also wakes you (with your device’s speaker) during a light period in your sleep cycle.

3. Life Charge is a simple journaling app, that allows clients to log events that happen throughout the day, and rate how positive or negative the event was. The app uses clever visuals to demonstrate to the young person the balance of positive and negative moments they are experiencing, and has a graph to show them how this changes over time. I encourage my clients to use Life Charge as an easy way to integrate some reflection time into their day-to-day life. Once they know what is making them happy or unhappy, they can learn from the past, and repeat the positives and work to prevent the negatives. Each day is a clean slate: they start fresh every day, no matter how good or bad yesterday was. Privacy is assured, with all entries locked behind a passcode to prevent unauthorized reading and their entries never leave their device (unless they share or export them). A neat feature is flashback, which gives clients daily reminders of their past positive achievements.

4. Coach.me is a great app for setting goals for fitness and wellbeing. Use it to set goals for personal development, track progress, and to get coaching and support. Clients can use it to find and set themselves goals for personal improvement, in areas like eating, exercise, mindfulness and wellbeing, habits and more. It can help them stay motivated by giving them guidance, tips and reminders. They can also learn from the community of other people who are working on their own goals, and track their progress over time to see how they are going. I encourage clients to use Coach.me if they are keen to improve an area of their life, and need a hand with setting/achieving related goals.

5. Phobia Free was one of the first smartphone apps to be approved by the UK National Health Service and included in their app library. It uses exposure therapy or systematic desensitisation to help overcome arachnophobia or a fear of spiders, which has a prevalence of 3-6% in the general population. The app teaches relaxation using animations and demonstrations from a virtual therapist. It also uses the same format to give an overview of what a phobia is and how to manage it. It then uses games featuring progressively more realistic spiders in different every day situations. The last sessions are spent with a realistic tarantula that the person eventually interacts with in augmented reality.

6. Stress Check is a stress test developed by clinical psychologists with expertise in Stress Management. The app’s manufacturers claim to have over a million users, and it provides users with an overall stress score that illuminates their current level of stress. After receiving their overall score, clients can deepen their insight by examining the specific areas their stress affects them (interpersonal, physiological, situational, control). All results are paired with useful descriptions and actionable recommendations. With this deeper level of insight, clients, in consultation with their psychologists, can more effectively target and reduce high stress areas. With the latest version of Stress Check, users can now save their scores and track the development of their stress over time. This is an excellent way for clients and therapists to monitor progress on a stress reduction initiative, or to simply achieve a baseline of stress over a period of time. For a small fee, Stress Check now also offers optional stress management tools including Office Yoga videos and mindfulness meditation exercises. Office Yoga videos are designed to relieve work stress and restore energy through special techniques that can be done in a small office space. Mindfulness meditation exercises are designed for deep relaxation and maintaining optimism in the workplace.

7. The 1 Giant Mind Learn to Meditate app teaches clients how to meditate so that they feel calmer, more rested and present. It offers three levels of instruction that can be practiced anywhere, at any time. Clients can change the length of each session via a sliding timer to set their meditations to a length that suits them and select the background sounds, tones and music. There is a step-by-step audio and video guide to support them through each meditation, with a journal tool that logs their progress. They can redo any of the sessions as many times as they like. A set of optional short surveys pop up from time to time in the app. These are a part of a research program the app developers are conducting to better understand how they can continue improving their program and to give them insight into the benefits of learning meditation via a smartphone app.

8. The Sorter is an app created by ReachOut.com, Australia’s leading online youth mental health service. ReachOut.com is a useful destination when clients are looking for accurate, up to date and reliable information, support and stories on everything from finding your motivation, through to getting through really tough times. The Sorter app has all the answers on sex, love, friends, family, work, cash, study, booze and drugs. It encourages clients to quit floundering, get the ball rolling, and as the app’s website says, “get sh*t sorted” with The Sorter. It offer three levels of advice, everyday stuff, tough stuff and really tough stuff. It uses geo location so the services it recommends will be relevant to where the client lives. New advice is updated directly in the app. The app maintains a list of the issues that the client has sought advice on and hopefully sorted. It also provides clients with a crowd-sourced answering service. Clients can enter their question into The Sorter Q&A to hear what other users have got to say.

9. BellyBio Interactive Breathing is a free app that teaches a deep breathing technique useful in fighting anxiety and stress. A simple interface helps clients use biofeedback to monitor their breathing. Sounds cascade with the movements of their belly, in rhythms reminiscent of waves on a beach. Charts also let them know how they are doing. A great tool when clients need to slow down and breathe.

10. Deep Sleep with Andrew Johnson is designed to help overcome insomnia. Getting enough sleep is one of the foundations of mental health and the research says that young people are particularly sleep deprived. If you like the voice of Sean Connery, this app is for you. This straightforward app features a warm, gentle voice guiding listeners through a Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) session and into sleep. Features long or short induction options, and an alarm.

EVENTS
19/05/2016 to 10/06/2016
Positive Schools Conference
01/06/2016 to 03/06/2016
Mental Health for Young People: Creating Positive Futures—ACCSSQ Conference
13/07/2016 to 15/07/2016
Student Well-Being and Prevention of Violence Research Centre Conference
24/07/2016 to 27/07/2016
National Suicide Prevention Conference
28/07/2016 to 29/07/2016
SYHPANZ Conference – Absolutely Positively Youth Health
10/08/2016 to 12/08/2016
17th International Mental Health Conference
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