It’s hard to believe that it was almost two years ago that we came up with the idea for WeFeel. Despite there being hundreds of “mental health” apps already on the market we saw a huge hole that no one seemed to be interested in or willing to fill. Organizations have been racing to create apps that help treat specific issues, and there’s even some really cool tech out there that is trying to automatically diagnose individuals using machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze an person’s environment, and physical response.
I think those are all great things. In fact, as someone on the autism spectrum, the idea of getting help without having to actually go get help is very appealing. But as we looked at things back at the beginning of 2015, we found the same results that have been reported in articles published more recently: many, if not most mental health care apps aren’t backed by any studies or clinical evidence, and worse…many are flat out damaging to an individual’s mental health. The problem, as we saw it, was that most of the apps and services being created were designed to be a substitute for therapy,
So what did we do? We went out and talked to psychologists, psychiatrists, marriage counselors, certified therapists and anyone else willing to provide input to find out what physical tools they already used, what proven techniques existed that merely needed to be converted to a mobile format, and then we got to work. Our philosophy became how do we help therapists by augmenting what they already do, instead of how can we replace them with an app.
We were lucky enough to have found Dr. Scott Seaman, a forward thinking psychologist based out of Orem, UT who was willing to test WeFeel with his patients (with their consent of course!). We spent six months or so refining WeFeel in a clinical setting, adding tools to help a therapist treat things like depression, anxiety, and addiction, and to help with couples therapy, and autism spectrum disorder.
The more we worked together, the more flexible WeFeel became. Our initial idea of having WeFeel prompt you once or twice a day to create an entry grew into adding up to 10 random prompts and three scheduled ones. Early concepts like the ability for a couple to share their emotion entries turned into the ability for a patient to securely share their data with a care provider, who then could remotely monitor the status of their patient. A quick and simple way to enter core emotions became a fully customizable interface that could track anything from a single item to 19 separate items- the 19th was because a customer emailed us and asked for just one more custom slider to help her track an item that would help her meet her goals.
Once we had data, we found that we could do really cool stuff with it. There were the obvious things like Dashboards to help visualize and narrow down patterns and triggers, and we used a bit of if computing power to be able to find topics to discuss via word clouds and sorting through entries to find those with the deepest feelings.
But, as we got results from real world use, we found that while it was nice to have all that data, data without action is only part of the solution. We knew that a common treatment step is to give the patient a plan or “coping strategy” like counting to ten whenever you are angry, or calling a friend when you are feeling depressed. We were missing that ability to help treat symptoms, and so we took a look at how we could help a therapist work with their patient to provide customized action prompts. We wanted to create a generic toolbox for the therapist to use to treat anything. It was just a matter of converting this existing and proven technique into something a mobile device could perform.
WeFeel already knew when a person was angry, since they already created an emotion entry for it, so it was just a matter of adding the ability to provide the therapist’s directions as a reminder. The solution was to just take that existing practice and simply add Coping Strategies to our toolbox. Now, the therapist can work with their patient to devise an action or behavior and enter it into the toolbox. Then when the patient logs that they are feeling a certain way, WeFeel will automatically prompt them to follow the strategy that matched. It can even have up to 16 different strategies to match different situations.
The next thing we knew we had patients using WeFeel to help them overcome addiction by prompting them to take action at the early states of feeling a craving. In this case, we made a super-customizable tool, and Scott came up with an awesome way to use it.
It turns out, as we created WeFeel, we were giving hope to people as they worked with their therapist to come up with their own unique way to use it. We helped enhance the bond between care provider and patient, instead of isolating them from their therapist. By working in clinical setting, getting real world feedback, and most importantly listening to our customers WeFeel is now making a difference, and I think that’s pretty cool.