Skip to content

Therapy to Go

New app puts psychologists a tap away.

Jon Reinfurt

By Erin Biba

COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY, or CBT, is a type of psychotherapy that teaches patients to identify and manage the thoughts that give rise to negative emotions and unhealthy behaviors. It's been shown to be highly effective in treating mood and anxiety disorders—but only if you can get the individuals suffering from them in the door.

The expense and time commitment of traditional face-to-face therapy are frequently cited as reasons people don't seek treatment for mental health issues. Meanwhile, Americans spend more than $500 million on self-help books every year.

"It's so easy to buy a book and it's so hard to go see a professional," says Alejandro Foung. A psychology grad, Foung, '04, co-founded a company called Lantern (formerly ThriveOn) with the goal of offering a middle path to better mental health. Available on the web and through an iPhone app, Lantern's CBT-based program costs $50 per month, or $300 per year—roughly the equivalent of two private-practice sessions.

To begin the program, users answer a series of questions to identify areas where they may be struggling. Each user is assigned a coach, a real-life CBT specialist who guides him or her through the program. The coach communicates with the user via text message to answer questions, provide encouragement and hold the user accountable for completing daily tasks.

Each day, when a user opens the app or website, he or she is greeted with an overview of the 10-minute session. Three possible tasks might be: Check In, Learn and Relax. The user would note his or her current stress level, then move on to learning "behavioral activation," a method in CBT that helps patients set and achieve personal goals, and end with guided breathing techniques.

"This is really easy but so much more effective and engaging than a book," Foung says.

The Lantern program is inspired by the research of Stanford professor emeritus Craig Barr Taylor, who developed the web-based Healthy Body Image Program for college students at risk for eating disorders. Taylor's work demonstrated that a technology-based intervention could be as effective as face-to-face therapy in preventing the onset of unhealthy food-related behaviors.

Using funds from a $4 million National Institutes of Health grant awarded to Stanford and Washington University, Lantern developed an app for Taylor that went out to 1,000 students across 30 universities last January. The new app, which launched in September, expands the scope to address mood, anxiety/stress and sleep issues, as well as body image.

As it ramps up, the company employs 25 therapists who can support up to 1,000 patients at a time, and it plans to expand in the future. Compared with a traditional office setting, where a therapist sees about 25 to 30 patients per week, Lantern's program has the potential to reach five times as many people and still effect positive change.

Erin Biba is a Wired magazine correspondent and Popular Science columnist.

Comments (0)

  • Be the first one to add a comment. You must log in to comment.


Your Rating
Average Rating



Be the first one to tag this!