Need a Therapist? Try the App Store

Need to work through some stuff? From mood trackers to podcasts to chatbots, the options abound.

online therapy apps

Need to work through some stuff? Therapy apps are one available option. Illustration by Em Roberts

Here’s something that’s unexpected: The App Store might hold the key to unlocking your deepest emotional hang-ups. There are dozens of apps catering to your mental well-being: online couples therapy, teen counseling, mood trackers and therapy chatbots (which are what they sound like — fake friends to text with who, unlike most real friends, only care about hearing what you have to say). I imagine that some 24-year-old Stanford dropout took a look at what Americans were keying into their Google search bars — “Am I depressed?” “Should I leave my husband?” “Is my six-year-old normal?” — and saw an opportunity. We turn to our phones to solve pretty much every problem we have these days, so why shouldn’t an app take a crack at the things that haunt us the most?

The depressing (sorry) truth is that even before the triple-scoop stress sundae of pandemic, recession, and societal upheaval, Americans were pretty damn miserable. Anxiety affects 40 million people in this country every year. The rate at which we’re maxed-out, anxious and depressed is unprecedented, and that’s coming from data collected before COVID. An entire cottage industry sprouted up to help us manage. Welcome to the Age of Introspection.

Apps are just the start. Deep contemplation is almost unavoidable these days. The barre instructor who leads my workout videos tells me to “lean into the struggle in the gym and in life” before I’ve had my morning coffee. There are available-anytime podcasts titled Anxiety Slayer and The Anxiety Coach and — some smart marketing here — Not Another Anxiety Show. Mama’s Wellness Joint on Pine Street recently offered an online “Cosmic Sync Astrology” class. Get past the horoscope stuff, and the description explains that it presents “techniques to activate intuitive capacities and develop insight for strategic self-enhancement” — otherwise known as figuring out how to handle your own shit. My Instagram feed is filled with locals — Queen Village yoga teachers, city chefs, Old City boutique owners — posting quotes or memes or pictures of themselves crying with emotional-purge captions. It works. In little ways, roughly a million times a day, I’m forced to poke at my own inner gremlins.

Frankly, it’s exhausting. But it’s a good tired, as they say — not just for me, but for all Philadelphians. Touchy-feely has never been our rep, but emotional has. So maybe all this forced pondering will help us as individuals — as a city — channel that Philly passion into something that makes us more vulnerable, maybe a little softer.

CNN.com recently ran an article about the benefits of crying: “When you’re stressed, your sympathetic nervous system activity is heightened … which means crying is facilitating activity that helps you start to relax.” That means you don’t have to wait for a Super Bowl win to let it all out. It could be worth leaning into all those deep-thinking prompts I’m bombarded with. After all, there’s never been a better time to figure out how to cope.

Published as “Therapy, By Any Other Name” in the September 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.