Holistic Alternative Therapy Apps

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Holistic Alternative Therapy Apps

The information provided below is an overview of three different apps that provide treatment for mental health or addiction. The examples are representative of common approaches used to develop apps to address mental health. Wysa is an example of treatment primarily via an AI chat service, BetterHelp is an example of a platform designed to connect users with real therapists, and Recovery Path is an example of an ecosystem of apps that draws support from multiple sources around the individual being treated. For each of these examples, we look at their features, pricing models, uptake, financial backing, and evidence supporting the effectiveness of their offerings.


  • Wysa is an AI chat service that provides its users with a companion, which is embodied by a cute penguin that listens and asks questions to help them figure things out.
  • Users can chat with the penguin and use mindfulness exercises to manage stress, depression and anxiety for free. The exercises are built on research-backed and widely used techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, yoga and meditation.
  • In situations where the AI chat is not sufficient, users can elect to receive additional support from a real human psychologist who will provide them with advanced coaching sessions. These services are provided within the app and cost between $2.49-$239.99. Daily messaging support from a mental health professional with 8 live sessions costs less than $100 per month.
  • Wysa is the first AI mental health app to meet clinical safety standards in the UK, and backs its efficacy with evidence published in peer-reviewed journals.
  • High users of Wysa have an effect size for depression comparable to online human therapy, and 79% of these users improve their symptoms of depression. For lower users of Wysa, where engagement is less often, 68% found that their experience with Wysa was helpful and encouraging.
  • This research-backed approach has meant that Wysa has managed to help 1,700,000 people in more than 60 countries, and provided more than 100 self care tools over 100 million conversations.
  • To date, Wysa has raised $3.9 million over three funding rounds, with their latest round being a $2 million seed round in June 2019. The company is planning to use this funding to strengthen its technology for expansion, and has gone through Google Launchpad India where it received support in AI, machine learning, and product development.
  • The market for conversational AI chat services to address mental health is already heating up and Wysa faces competition from similar offerings, such as Woebot and Youper. Woebot is backed by an $8 million Series A funding round, while Youper has $3.5 million.
  • Because these services are largely automated, how these companies evolve and interact with users is an important consideration. Previously, the apps were incapable of handling reports of child sexual abuse because they could not yet recognize the flags for the requirement of human intervention. Strategies are being put in place to ensure that the miss-classification of user responses does not become detrimental to the user, and these will become increasingly important as issues become more varied and complex.


  • BetterHelp is an app that provides online counseling services from professional, licensed and vetted counselors for individuals, couples and teenagers, and differs from apps like Wysa because it primarily focuses on proving access and services to real therapists all the time.
  • Users can communicate with their counselor through whatever medium they prefer, including messaging, chat, phone and video. Messaging is available anytime and anywhere when required, while live sessions can be scheduled when needed.
  • BetterHelp has published in peer-reviewed journals and demonstrated that its users have experienced significantly reduced symptoms of depression after using the platform. However, experimental trials are still required to determine whether digital psychotherapy is an effective treatment for adult depression.
  • The cost of therapy ranges from $40-$70 per week, which is billed monthly and includes unlimited access to an assigned counselor.
  • As of writing, 7,303 therapists have assisted more than 850,000 people over 67.5 million message, chat, phone and video sessions facilitated through BetterHelp.
  • The service has a rating of 4.5 from 7,940 reviews on the Google Play Store and a rating of 4.6 from 11,000 reviews on the Apple App Store.
  • In 2015, BetterHelp was acquired by Teladoc for $4.5 million. Since being acquired, there is no indication that BetterHelp has needed to raise additional funds to support its growth and expansion.
  • There are similar apps to BetterHelp that also provide users with access to a network of licensed therapists for treating mental health issues. These include Talkspace, which has raised $107 million over 11 funding rounds, and Ginger, which specializes in providing clinically-validated behavioral health coaching.
  • In 2018, BetterHelp was caught up in controversy over its Terms of Service, marketing strategy with YouTube creators and clarity around the qualifications of the counselors available. Alon Matas, BetterHelp's founder issued a statement on learnings and an update on the company's Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy. The saga highlighted the scrutiny under which companies like BetterHelp are being held under when providing services to vulnerable people.

Recovery Path

  • Recovery Path is a relatively new app released in October 2019 that provides a personalized journey to recovery for people struggling from substance, alcohol or other forms of addiction.
  • Recovery Path is part of a larger range of apps developed by Bright Therapeutics that address other issues such as: eating disorders, anxiety, depression & stress, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and IBS.
  • Bright Therapeutics is a bootstrapped startup that builds its products on rigorous clinical research and partners with Stanford University, Duke University, The University of Kansas, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Technische Unversitat Munchen.
  • Recovery Path uses a suite or ecosystem of interconnected apps that revolve around the individual in recovery and facilitates engagement from treatment professionals, family and friends, and sponsors and mentors, which all have their own apps. The individual can opt for self-help or link their treatments to any of these apps.
  • Professionals, family and friends, and sponsors and mentors have their own tailored experience, which is aimed to support the individual by offering opportunities to keep on track, prevent relapses, and collaborate.
  • The underlying principles of the approach to Recovery Path are built on aspects of motivation therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and community reinforcement.
  • Recovery path has a rating of 4.7 from 545 reviews on the Google Play Store and a rating of 4.9 from 96 reviews on the Apple App Store. It's had at least 10,000 installs and Bright Therapeutics reports at least 2.9 million in-app treatment engagements per month with more than 900k patients enrolled in app-delivered treatments across all its offerings.
  • Recovery Path is currently free on both Android and iOS, with support for these platforms still coming for the partner apps in the ecosystem. As of yet, it is not currently being monetized.
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Holistic Alternative Therapy Apps 2

  • According to a 2019 report from the American Psychological Association, the use of mobile therapy apps has shifted the workflow of traditional therapy providers. "Quite radical changes are emerging in how clinicians disseminate education to patients, how patients relay information (e.g., self-assessments) to providers, how patients and providers interact between visits, and how patients generally engage in their care."
  • One impact on traditional therapy methods is that of clinician's time and efficiency. Research suggests that the use of digital interventions such as apps can dramatically reduce the amount of time required from the clinician without reducing the effectiveness of the overall treatment. The digital intervention takes over one or more task traditionally done by the clinician or is used to enhance the work done by the clinician.
  • When used in conjunction with traditional therapy, mobile apps can also be extremely useful in collecting and recording real-time data from patients. For example, patients can record their mood or psychological state on any given day or after a specific instance. This can be far more accurate than reflective information, used in traditional therapy, in which the patient describes how they were feeling only after the fact. This real-time data collection can be far more representative of a patient's life situation and psychological condition.
  • Data collection through mobile apps has the potential to improve therapy by keeping clinicians and care providers much more informed about the condition of the patient. Rather than relying on reflective self-reporting from the patient, the provider can complement that with data. While the data discussed above is still self-reporting, it could also be combined with other data that can be tracked via a mobile app such as a patient's level of physical activity, sleep patterns, heart rate (when used in combination with a wearable) and other physical or physiological symptoms that might indicate or contribute to a patient's psychological state. This can improve quality of care by giving the provider more evidence to work with when developing a treatment plan for a patient.
  • In addition, mobile apps can change psychotherapy treatment by enabling providers to give patients homework such as daily activities, and to ensure that the patients are actually completing those activities. In traditional therapy, there may not be a delivery method available for such homework, and there's also no way to ensure that patients actually complete the assignments. This can be helpful in ensuring that patients stay engaged in their treatment between therapy sessions.
  • Another way that mobile apps can impact traditional therapy is when they're used as a tool for behavior intervention. Traditional therapy typically only gives patients a limited time with their therapist, and there are often large gaps between therapy sessions. Mobile apps can fill those gaps and improve patient behaviors. This can be particularly useful for patients struggling with stress management or substance abuse; for example, they could be used to remind the patient to exercise or to intervene at a time of day or place where the patient is regularly tempted to use substances.
  • Last, mobile apps provide the opportunity for patients to access 24/7 care and resources which can help them through difficult situations or crises while still respecting the time and privacy of their care providers. "These apps generally offer assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, making it possible for the users to reach out and receive the required guidance when they need it the most."

From Part 01