When you’re anxious, stressed, or depressed, your inner monologue often goes to a dark place. It can start to seem like everything you do is stupid, all obstacles are impossible to overcome, and everyone hates you. A therapist can help you see that these thoughts don't correspond with reality, but not everyone has access to a therapist 24/7.
Enter Koko, an app that allows you to enlist a team of strangers to be your pseudo-therapists. It’s a social network built on the ideas of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and “reframing,” or rethinking your perspective.
Creator Rob Morris developed the tool, which launched on Apple's app store this week, while completing his PhD at the MIT Media Lab. In a study of 166 people with symptoms of depression, the crowdsourced technique Koko employs helped people improve their moods and learn cognitive reappraisal, a therapeutic tool that teaches people to tweak the way they're thinking about a problem.
Image Credit: Koko
When you log in to Koko, you can post the negative, depressive, anxious thoughts that often go unshared on general social media channels, where people feel pressured to present themselves in a flattering light. You can post, for instance, “I just ruined an important work presentation, and I feel like an idiot.” The app will prompt you to delve deeper into your feelings about the situation. Then, other users can comment on your post—but they have to say something deeper than “oh, that sucks!” Instead, users are supposed to reframe the negative thought, helping the stressed party find the positive aspect of the situation, no matter how small. They might, for instance, point out that public speaking is a common fear, and it’s important to give yourself credit for trying your best.
The practice of helping others see their problems in a new light can, in turn, help you learn to rethink your own stressors. And having a community to turn to in tough times can help people feel less alone, allowing them to unload anonymously to a supportive group. It’s not a comprehensive substitute for talking to a mental health professional, but it's a lot more helpful than posting cryptic statuses on Facebook or telling no one at all.
Koko is available for iOS now. An Android app is forthcoming.