Tactical Breather: Android (free); iOS (free)
Developer Website: National Center for Technology and Telehealth
You may not know this, but the Department of Defense and the VA system have spent a lot of effort over the past seven or eight years attempting to find new ways to treat PTSD. Some of these efforts are pretty far outside the box. Despite the fact that the culture surrounding PTSD does not seem to have changed much (see page 22), a number of their efforts are pretty cutting-edge. This includes a selection of mobile apps designed to help in the treatment of PTSD and mild TBI.
Each of these apps is built to perform one or two specific tasks. I’m going to cover one that may be the most applicable to the largest number of clients that you might be seeing. Like me, you probably have a script that you go through about what the body does when it becomes highly anxious or nervous, and use this script as an introduction to a deep breathing exercise. When I plan to teach a client something complex like progressive relaxation, I always start with deep breathing – a task that is easy to explain but which is a different and new experience for many clients. I have a series of audio programs that I like to have clients use, but that type of thing is much better suited to a longer progressive relaxation/imagery exercise than to a short, in-the-moment crisis.
Tactical Breather is a tool that is designed to do one thing – guide a person through a deep breathing exercise. It’s a tool that can be used quickly in any environment for as long as a client needs it (I usually instruct my clients to do an exercise for at least two minutes, and longer if necessary). There is an introduction (which I would go through with my client), a brief tutorial about what the exercise is and how it is supposed to work, and the “breathe” button, which is of the most importance. Hitting the “breathe” button triggers visual prompts and a spoken dialogue guiding you through this process. Settings allow you to change the audio to a male or female voice, mute or unmute the audio, include vibration-based prompts, and allow you to choose whether or not you upload “anonymous data” to an unspecified place. Also in the settings is an excerpt from Lt. Col. David Grossman’s book “On Combat.” This excerpt discusses physiological and neurological responses in high stress combat or near-combat situations.
The ability to use it in any environment is key – it’s “normal” for someone to whip out their smartphone and stare at it for a few minutes; even if your client is in a movie or something else dark, the screen is minimal and doesn’t make much light. Either good luck or by design, it’s a good feature. The vibration prompts are also nice – the app gives a brief vibration at every count in case you need nonverbal prompts. It will be very helpful for clients to have a nonverbal cue when they can’t listen to the verbal prompts.
Regarding data security, this app does not keep any local data. There are no details about where the anonymous usage data is sent – presumably the authors of the app. I hope that their data doesn’t get skewed by widespread use of this app. It would be good to show this setting to your clients in case they wish to turn it off.
The UI is good and easy to navigate. It would be nice if there was text to accompany the introduction and tutorial for those (like myself) who would prefer to read them. A visual count during the breathing would be nice as well. An optional timer could be useful, so that a client could know when their two to five minutes are up. This might be particularly helpful for newer clients, who aren’t as aware of when their body is telling them that they are relaxed.
In summary, this is an app that could have an extremely wide audience, including people with a range of anxiety disorders. This (and many of the apps that have been developed as part of this program) can be a very helpful, concrete tool for your clients to use.
Content: 5/5 – Covers a deep breathing exercise and does it well.
User Interface: 4/5 – Easy to use, but a couple of add-ons could he extremely helpful.
** Disclaimer: While some of these apps may be helpful to you, NOTHING that I review is a replacement for therapy services from a qualified, licensed psychotherapist. If you are reading this because you or someone you care for needs it for mental health reasons, get them live help ASAP. Also, if you haven’t yet, read A Few Words on Security, which contains tips on keeping your and your client’s smartphone data safe from unwanted eyes.