Twenty-Three Apps for the 21st Century Therapist



Mobile applications have a lot to offer therapists.  Whether you are looking for games to play with patients, productivity or billing tools, or something to help you research, there’s an app for that.  Many supervisees, students and consultees have asked me lately what apps I recommend, so I thought it was about time I gave you a list sampling those I find most helpful and fun.  Many are cheap or free, and available for the iPad, iPhone and Android:

1. GoToMeeting

Planning on doing online therapy?  Gotomeeting has desktop and app versions of videoconferencing software, which is HIPAA-compliant.  The app version allows you to attend meetings, but the meeting needs to be initiated from the desktop version.  I use this program for the majority of my online sessions with patients and supervisees.

2. IbisMail

If you are juggling multiple roles or a portfolio career, or simply want better therapeutic boundaries, this is the email program for you.  Installed on your iPad or iPhone, this program allows you to set up automatic filters, so you can sort through junk mail.  But it also allows you to set up folders for patient emails, so that you can have them all in one place.  Then it is up to you to decide when you review your patient communications, rather than have everything coming through one inbox.  Supports multiple email accounts.

3. Flipboard

If you are wanting to add value to your twitter followers or consultees, this is a great app.  It provides a slick intuitive interface on your mobile device that pulls in stories from feeds you set, from you Facebook account to the Harvard Business Review blog.  When you find something you want to share, the app allows seamless sharing on a variety of social media platforms.  In a few minutes you can browse and share selected readings and keep up to date on current interests.

4. Bamboo Paper

This app allows you to write notes on your iPad.  It is great for note-taking during evaluations, and allows you to send these notes to Evernote as a .pdf or email yourself a copy.  NOTE: Doing this is not HIPAA-compliant if you have distinguishing identifying information in the note, so I recommend you refrain from using the cloud-based features if you have any concerns about patient privacy.  If you are using it for workshops or other personal uses, however, no worries.  And if you keep the notes local to your password-protected device, it can be a great tool.

5. Evernote

I was hesitant to add Evernote due to the recent hack they experienced, but their quick and effective response to this have actually made me more confident that this cloud-based note-taking device is still useful.  It is NOT HIPAA-compliant, so I don’t use it for patient notes ever.  That said, it is great for dictating notes about workshops, blog ideas, snapping pictures of things for study aids, and a myriad of other useful tasks.  The notes synch up between every device you have them on, so you’re always up to date.

6. iAnnotate

One of my favorites.  iAnnotate allows you to mark up .pdf files on your mobile device.  If you need to sign off on a document someone emails or faxes you, no more scanning, printing, scanning again stuff.  And if you are a student or researcher this is a must-have, as it supports highlighting and annotating research articles.  Synchs with Mendeley and Dropbox so you can store your research library with notes online.

7. 1Password

How can you make your mobile device more secure and use your web-browser more safely?  This may be the answer for you.  1Password installs on your mobile or desktop, and allows you to save and generate extremely long and secure passwords.  The level of encryption can be adjusted for the most cautious of password protectors.  This program also synchs over the cloud so that you always have the up-to-date passwords on all of your devices.  Even more convenient, it can bookmark your sign-in pages.  All of this is secured by double-password protection on your iPhone.  Stop using the same lame password for everything and start generating unique hard-to-crack ones for true HIPAA-compliance.

8. Mendeley

One part social network, one part research library,  Mendeley allows you to store research articles and annotations online and on your device.  It allows you to network with other colleagues to see what they are researching, share articles, and store all of your articles in one place.  Often it can even pull up the bibliographic entry from the web just by reading the .pdf metatag.  Geeky research goodness!

9. PayPal

This is one option for billing patients and paying vendors that is good to have.  You can invoice by email, transfer money to your bank account, and keep track of online payments on the website.  The app works well in a pinch if you aren’t ready to swipe cradit cards in your office.  NOTE, each transaction has a small fee.

10. Prezi

I’d love to see more therapists using this one.  This presentation software allows you to create dynamic visual presentations on your computer or mobile device.  You could use it to convert boring DBT worksheets to a dynamic online presentation.  Prezi supports importation from powerpoint, and provides free online hosting of your prezis as well as tons of templates and tutorials.  If you do public speaking, upload some of your prezis on your LinkedIn profile to give potential clients a vivid sense of your work.  You can see a sample here, but bear in mind that it would make more sense if I was there giving the talk.  🙂

11. DCU

I haven’t been to a bank in over 2 years, and this app is the reason why.  Digital Credit Union’s Mobile Branch PC, allows me to deposit checks from patients via my iphone.  Just login, scan the checks, and in 10 minutes you’ve done your deposits for the week.  Meanwhile, the online interface allows you to keep track of your spending easily and export to Excel or accounting software if you need to.  Great for tax season!

12. Dropbox

Dropbox is a great and free way to store non-private information on the cloud.  The app allows you to email items easily, so I use it to email intake instructions to patients, press kits to people inquiring about keynotes, and a number of other items.  I also keep all my DBT worksheets on it so that they can be sent quickly and easily to patients should they be feeling in need of extra support between sessions but not acute enough to warrant hospitalization.

13. TED

This app allows you to stay inspired and experience innovation daily, by beaming TED talks to your mobile device from the offical TED site.  You can favorite, search, and share your favorite ones, or hit “Inspire me” for random ideas.  As I wrote this, I was listening to Amanda Palmer speak on “The art of asking.”  This app can allow you access to ideas outside of the filtered professional bubble with therapists often get ourselves stuck in.

14. Line2

Want a second phone line on your iPhone?  This app allows you to have one.  You can port your practice number to it, and stop carrying two cell phones.  At $9.95 a month you can have unlimited US/Canada calling, at $14.95 a month you get a toll-free number and virtual fax.

15. CardMunch

Tired of keeping all those business cards from a shoebox?  CardMunch allows you to snap photos of a colleague’s business card and convert it to a digital one which it stores in your contacts.  Synchs with LinkedIn.

16. Micromedex

Keeping up-to-date on medications is pretty daunting, but this app, with frequent updates, helps you keep track od a medication, its Black Box warnings, contraindications, drug interactions, adverse effects, alternate names, standard dosages and more.

And now for some games!

17. Plants Vs. Zombies

This game is great for helping patients who want to learn about strategy and pacing.  Choose a certain number of plant types to plant in order to stop the zombies from overrunning your backyard.

18. Zombies, Run!

Continuing my zombie kick, this game is better than any pedometer I’ve ever used.  The more you walk or run, the further you progress in this game of fleeing zombies.  Go on multiple missions, play with friends, and even train for a 5K.

19. Kingdom Rush

This game is a classic tower defense game, which helps patients learn to make choices, control impulse spending as part of a winning strategy, and work on pacing, problem-solving and a host of other cognitive abilities.

20. Minecraft Pocket Edition

This mobile app version of Minecraft is a great way to connect with a patient’s gaming, and the app allows you to play together on a wireless LAN, so you can fight for survival or create an amazing construction right from your office together.

21. Flower Chain

This is a completely nonviolent game that focuses on setting up a chain reaction of flower blooms in order to complete each level.  Great eye candy, and a fun game for clearing the mind after a difficult session.

22. Trainyard

This puzzle game requires you to plan out and design multiple railroad tracks.  The trick is to set them up and pace them so that they all meet their goals without running into each other.  Great prompt for talking with adolescents about how they can learn to negotiate peer relationships in the same way, or learn to compromise with adults in order to get along with them.

23. Lavalanche

This puzzle game is reminiscent of Jenga, in that you have to dismantle a tower without letting the Tiki Idol fall into lava.  Another great one for executive function capacity-building around sequencing, planning and problem-solving.

So there you go, give some of these a try and let me know what you think.  Have a favorite app that you want to share?  Please feel free to comment and include the link.

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Tower Defense & Executive Functioning

Some of the most important tasks the human brain performs are known as the executive functions.  According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, executive function is “a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.”  As such, the executive functions are crucial to the learning process over the life cycle.

Like many phenomenon in mental health, executive functions were focused on initially in regards to populations that had some deficits in them.  With the advent and prevalence of the diagnosis of ADHD, as well as the study of learning and learning disabilities, educators and therapists began to become familiar with a concept that had previously been of most interest to neuroscientists. We still tend to think of executive functioning from a pathology-based approach, only paying attention to how they work when they don’t work.

The truth is everyone has executive functions, which are a combination of nature and nurture, and can develop well into adulthood.  They can also deteriorate for a variety of reasons, from traumatic brain injury to Alzheimer’s disease.  And there is a body of research which suggests that mental and physical exercise can help maintain, if not improve our executive functions as we age.  Not surprisingly, as the Baby Boomers age, interest and research grows in this area.  At both ends of the life cycle, our focus on the executive functions are widening beyond pathology to the optimal environments for human learning.  How might we get better at planning, attending, strategizing, and managing time and space?

My suggestion:  Start playing more tower defense games.

Tower defense is a particular genre of video games, one which in general focuses on on preventing the progress of an enemy army across a map.  This is done by the use of towers which have varying abilities, costs to build, and points earned from downing enemies.  You don’t necessarily need to have towers in the game:  Plants Vs. Zombies for example is an example of a tower defense game where the plants are the equivalent of towers, with special abilities used to defend against the march of those pesky undead across the lawn.

More recently I have been fascinated with one of the latest iterations of tower defense games on the iPad, Kingdom Rush.  You start out with a variety of maps and coins for building.  You can use one of 4 basic tower types.  There are barracks which have soldiers who can fight and slow down the invaders.  There are artillery towers which drop bobs for an area wide (AOE) damage.  There are marksman towers which target individuals and fire arrows or guns.  Finally, there are magician towers with wizards firing spells of various types.

Each invading monster has different strengths and vulnerabilities, which are discovered by trying out different towers and noting their effects.  As the invading army is always moving forward in waves, the time element requires you to plan which towers to build first, where to place them, and what upgrades to focus on.  To do this requires a tremendous amount of strategy, organization and time management.  You also need to make decisions, including how long to delay gratification.  The more powerful towers require you to save up many more coins to buy them.  Upgrades that you can select from a talent tree add another layer of choice and complexity.

In short, to succeed in Kingdom Rush you need to have good executive functions.  It isn’t enough to have good hand/eye coordination or reaction time.  You need to be able to learn from your past experiences, and often switch strategies midway through the game.  You need to recall which towers are best for different situations and monsters.  There is a map to be managed in space and a marching army and builders to manage in time.  You need to recognize both immediate feedback and notice trends.  And there are multiple towers and units to keep track of.

The more I play Kingdom Rush, the more struck I am by how many if not all of my executive functions are required to succeed.  I can see where using this game could be both a useful assessment tool and intervention for deficits in EF.  It also has reminded me how necessary executive functions are in terms of managing money as well.  The ability to recall prices, to budget and pace spending, and set up investments that accrue value over time–all these economic experiences are embodied in the game.

Speaking of economy, you can try this game for free if you have a computer in your office or classroom here.  And you can buy it for a whopping $2.99 for your iPad.  Check it out, and see if you agree that it might be a fun, feedback rich way to challenge your executive functions.


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Some Beginning Games for Therapists to Try

This Video Blog was inspired by friend Carolyn Stack, who asked that I recommend a iPhone game to ease her into the world of iPhone gaming.  Here are a few of my favorites and why you might want to try them: