What Counselors Need to Know about the Latest Research on mHealth for Mental Health

I am delighted to be facilitating the round table discussion An App for That? What Counselors Need to Know about the Latest Research on mHealth for Mental Health  during the Annual Convention for the Virginia Counselors Association at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, November 7-9, 2013.

The session “An App for That?” will be held Friday, November 8, 2013, 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM, Session #F513, during Concurrent Session V One Hour Sessions. See the full program of Concurrent Session Descriptions (page 15 for “An App for That?” session details) and the full schedule in Convention at a Glance.

The session will begin with a 10-minute presentation. Seating capacity for 10-12 participants per round table will make for a lively discussion during the remaining 50 minutes of the session.

Session attendees will receive a brief handout covering these points:

  • Why we think mobile health (mHealth) technology should work for mental illness
  • Why we hope (and need) mobile mental health technology to work
  • Why counselors have reservations about mobile mental health services (Update: See Easing Counselors’ Concerns about mHealth: Many Clients Have Phones)
  • Why determining the evidence-base for mobile mental health services is challenging
  • What we’ve learned so far about mobile health for mental health
  • Ways counselors might embrace the use of mobile technologies to support and enhance their life’s work

Latest research on mHealth for mental health
Session Synopsis

“It’s the relationship that heals.” Historically, therapeutic relationships have been created one-to-one, in-person, at a specific time and location. Mobile health technology – mHealth – promises the delivery of services to many, anytime, anywhere. Learn 1) what research shows about the efficacy of mHealth for mental illness and 2) implications for counselors.

Session Abstract

“It’s the relationship that heals,” we learn from Irvin Yalom and others. That therapeutic relationship has historically been created one-to-one, in-person, at a specific time and location. Mobile health technology – mHealth – offers the promise of delivering mental health services to the many, anytime, anywhere.

The majority of Americans own smartphones. Affordable mobile devices with unlimited data plans and no contract are readily available off department store racks; smartphone use is expanding among all socioeconomic levels. According to Brian S. Hall, writing for ReadWrite (May 17, 2013), “The Digital Divide has now been bridged by smartphones – the most advanced personal computing devices ever. While personal computers were disproportionately used by the rich, the white and the male, smartphones are more likely to be used by Blacks and Hispanics than Whites, and by girls as equally as boys.” Regardless of the populations they serve, counselors will find that their patients and clients have, or will soon have, smartphones.

With the mandate for “evidence-based practices,” EBPs, (also termed “evidence-based treatments, EBTs), and “health outcomes” for both individuals and  populations , counselors are increasingly required to express the art and science of counseling primarily as science with measurable results.

Given the prevalence of smartphones and the demands of managed care for the use of cost-effective, measurable health outcomes, questions abound. Can counselors leverage mobile technology to 1) deliver additional, cost-effective services to their patients and clients beyond the one-on-one session, 2) meet their personal professional standards for offering research-backed treatments to their clients, and 3) supplement the documentation of EBPs/EBTs to receive reimbursement from the health care industry for services provided?

To answer whether or not mobile technology is an opportunity for counselors in these areas, what does the research show us about the effectiveness of mobile technology treatments for mental illness?

The health research process – proposal writing, grant application writing, grant receipt, Institutional Review Board application writing and approval, doing the research itself, then writing a report on the results – is snail-like compared to the warp speed of development in the mobile industry. Journals are just now publishing research only a few years old examining the efficacy of personal digital assistants (PDAs) and “computer-assisted” interventions.

To move research to application in the field as quickly as possible, researchers are hurriedly conducting meta analyses of past research on interventions involving mobile technology. Many such articles offer the standard conclusion “more research is needed” but important meta analyses, particularly in behavior change, are showing an exciting and startling result: almost any mobile technology treatment is better than no treatment. Interestingly, an exception is smoking cessation.

The purpose of this presentation is to 1) report findings from the very latest meta analyses on the efficacy of mobile technology interventions for mental illness and 2) posit potential ways counselors might embrace the use of mobile technologies to support and enhance their life’s work.

. . . . .

I look forward to meeting, talking and learning with fellow counselors at the Virginia Counselors Association Convention!

I look forward to sharing the results of my literature review of mobile health technologies for the treatment of mental illness in several categories including mHealth, mobile health, and addictions counseling.

I introduced my deep interest in mobile health apps in this post: Do Mobile Mental Health Apps Work? and included the session description there as well.

With ideas, questions or feedback, please leave a comment on this post or contact me, Anne Giles, [email protected], 540-808-6334.


  1. Anne, I am a licensed HeartMath provider, and we now have an app for the iPhone that is a stress relieving app that interacts with the client daily on a personal basis. The emWave2 is a device that is hand-held and looks like a small phone which the client can use before every meeting, deadline, etc. to bring their heart rate and breathing into a space of peace and calm. I love offering these technologies (you know how tecchie I am–not) to my client, especially those who have had heart issues and the young who are plugged in. Love to hear how the meeting goes. Terry