When Rick Sword, my husband and clinical partner, and I developed Time Perspective Therapy (TPT which is based on Phil Zimbardo’s Time Perspective Theory) in 2008-2009, we wanted to create a video game based on TPT. But our idea proved too complicated and expensive to produce. During this time, smart phone apps – mostly games and technologically linked applications like GPS – were researched, developed and eventually offered to an eager public; mental health apps were unheard of. And anyway, how could an app replace one-on-one therapy? If someone needed help or counseling, they made an office visit, bought a book, or dealt with their problems as best they could on their own.
In the following years, depression, anxiety, and stress - including post-trauma stress - continued to increase nationally and around the globe. Concurrently, smart phone usage and app development exploded. More recently, self-help/mental health apps, which have been approved by the psychological and psychiatric communities as feasible supplements to clinical therapy and medications, have proven to also be viable self-help tools. Mental health apps are particularly appealing to people needing a little help as well as those who don’t or can’t - perhaps due to time constraints, no insurance, living in remote locations, or the stigma of visiting a therapist’s office - meet in person with a therapist.
Apps such as Candy Crush, Angry Birds or Scramble with Friends provide entertainment and “kill” time when waiting on line, traveling, or taking a few minutes to unwind. But now, people have the option to use this time to establish calm and improve their sense of well-being with other, more “nutritious” apps - apps that can monitor your depression, anxiety, stress level and moods, as well as improve your optimism.
TPT App Evolution
A year ago, when mental health apps were just emerging, and a couple of weeks before Rick succumbed to terminal cancer (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-time-cure/201407/life-after-life), he asked me to carry on with our TPT work. He wanted me to develop a TPT app in order to help people understand the importance of their time perspectives. His thought was: Wouldn’t it be great to help thousands of people wherever they were and in their own time. After Rick died, I discussed the viability of an app with friend, colleague and co-author Phil Zimbardo. We agreed TPT could be adapted into a practical and affordable self-help tool. With his blessing, a team of mental health professionals as well as game/app designers gathered to commence the development and design of our initial TPT app: AETAS.
Each Team AETAS member brought their expertise and unique skill set to app development, design and build. The team is comprised of Phil Zimbardo, PhD, Chief Consultant; Joseph Lenz, PhD, Consultant, TPT Private Practice Clinical Therapist; Brian Metcalf, PhD, Consultant, Associate Professor of Psychology, Hawaii Pacific University; Sean Yannell, Designer; Crystel Sundberg-Yannell, Graphics Artist; Ryan Howell, PhD, ZTPI Short Form developer, Associate Professor of Psychology, San Francisco State University; Nicholas Fieulaine, Consultant, Associate Professor of Social Psychology and Director of the Master Program in Applied Social Psychology, University of Lyon; Brett Moore, audio engineer; and me as Developer.
Essential TPT information was gleaned and edited from our book The Time Cure and permission was obtained from Wiley Publishing to use excerpts. As an important aside, when one is stressed, breath and heartrate increase. Slowing the breath rate automatically slows the heart rate and an excellent way to accomplish this is through meditation. We had discovered through experimenting with willing clients and friends that effective relaxation meditation need not take 20 minutes or more, but that a desirable level of relaxation could be achieved in about 2 minutes. In our fast-paced world where multi-tasking is the norm and 20 minutes is precious, taking 2 minutes to relax or focus is doable. We were also cognizant to the fact that some people absorb better via audio (the meditations) while others through visuals. So we developed interactive visual “games” for the latter. However, both the audio and visual activities are fun for everybody.
Like any product, apps should be tested prior to being published. AETAS was no exception. Our beta testers, those family members, friends, friends of friends, colleagues, and friends of colleagues, test drove AETAS and supplied us with vital feedback. No less than 11 versions of AETAS were developed over the ensuing months. Our client betas requested additional meditations and supplied us with a variety of topics (see AETAS – 2 Minute Meditations, below).
AETAS – Mind Balancing Apps
AETAS (which means an age, stage, a period of life, time or an era in Latin), available at the App Store, is an innovative three-fold design: educational, interactive and self-soothing. The circled “I” on each section’s home page contains information for that particular section which is accessed by tapping the “I”.
Educational – Learn about the major time perspectives (past negative, past positive, present hedonism, present fatalism, and future) and how our behavior and decisions may be based on our biased tendency to overuse one or two time perspectives when the ideal is to develop a balanced time perspective that is flexible to adjust to current situations and personal needs.
Interactive – AETAS has two interactive segments:
Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) Short Form – take the 15 question ZTPI to discover your personal time perspectives.
Visual aids to help learn to regulate your breath, slow your heart rate, and re-energize your brain.
Self-soothing – three 2-minute guided meditations are provided to help calm you, to move forward in life, and for when you want to focus on the task at hand.
Breathe – helps calm, center, and relax
Letting Go – helps let go of negative experiences and gain confidence
Focus – helps relax, refresh, and instills a sense of well-being
Each meditation can be customized with music and/or nature sounds.
AETAS 2 Minute Meditations
Our client betas found the 2 minute meditations in AETAS to be of great help on a daily basis. They requested an app consisting only of meditations and affirmations. As mentioned above, these betas supplied us with a list of topics they felt would be most beneficial not only to themselves but for others. Some of the meditations/affirmations on AETAS 2 Minute Meditations are: Acceptance – helps to be more tolerant of others; Beautiful – helps tap into true, inner beauty; Control – helps let go of controlling behavior; Creativity – helps get in touch with the inner visionary; Fear – helps let go of fears; Love – helps get in touch with unconditional love; Sleep – helps calm, relax and prepare for sleep; Worthy – helps boost self-esteem. The user will be able to place each meditation on a loop so that it plays repetitively. For those desirous of a longer, mixed meditation, a quiz will be provided to determine the user’s needs at the time they take the quiz. A customized lengthier meditation will instantly be created. AETAS 2 Minute Meditations will be available at the App Store in early summer.
Katherine Schreiber of the popular New York on-line journal, greatist.com, contacted me for an article she was working on regarding mental health apps. The article, 81 Awesome Mental Health Resources When You Can’t Afford a Therapist, (http://greatist.com/grow/resources-when-you-can-not-afford-therapy), states “Sure, pretty much everyone could benefit from therapy. But not everyone can afford it. Thankfully, there’s a whole world of free or affordable mental health care out there designed to help you with just about every issue…” We are proud that Aetas is included in Katherine’s well-researched list of awesome apps. And we are happy that PhD clinicians such as Robert Weiss and Joseph Lenz are using AETAS in their therapeutic sessions with positive results.
If you want to learn more about AETAS, visit our website at www.discoveraetas.com. Also, we encourage therapists to check out AETAS for your clinical work and as a tool for your clients between sessions.
Wishing you all the best!
For more in depth information about how your life is affected by the mental time zones that you live in, please check out our website: www.timeperspectivetherapy.org, and our books: The Time Cure at www.timecure.com and The Time Paradox at www.thetimeparadox.com.
Learn how to cope with stress and anxiety; visit www.discoveraetas.com.
Visit our Psychology Today blogs at www.psychologytoday.com, search Rosemary Sword, to get a fuller appreciation of how to create a more balanced time perspective in your life!
References and Resources
81 Awesome Mental Health Resources When You Can’t Afford a Therapist, by Katherine Schreiber, http://greatist.com/grow/resources-when-you-can-not-afford-therapy
World of Psychology - http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/01/16/top-10-mental-health-apps/
Mental Health Apps - http://www.zurinstitute.com/mentalhealthapps_resources.html
Smartphone Shrink: 5 Apps to Help Your Mental Health - http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/g775/smartphone-shrink-5-...
Psychiatry Advisor - http://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/top-10-mental-health-apps/slideshow/260...
8 Ways to Use Your Phone to Benefit Your Mental Health, by Lindsay Holmes, Huffington Post, published 02/09/2015