Quirk wants to make cognitive behavioral therapy more accessible

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Quirk, a YC-backed company, is looking to bring cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to more people suffering from anxiety or depression.

CBT aims to lessen or stop harmful behavior by changing the way people think, stopping them from falling into established patterns of negatively distorting their reality to justify or account for unhelpful habits.

“CBT has 40 years of research behind it,” says CEO and founder Evan Conrad. “I’ve had severe panic attacks my whole life and saw different therapists who tried what I now know is CBT. I assumed it was a pseudo science. It wasn’t until 10 months ago that I re-discovered CBT on my own and learned about its efficacy. It’s the gold standard.”

The app helps users practice one of the most common exercises in CBT: the triple-column technique.

Here’s how it works:

Users jump into the app whenever they have anxiety or a depressive thought to record it. They then identify any distortions that apply to that thought, such as Catastrophizing, Magnification of the Negative, Fortune Telling or Over-Generalization, among others. From there, the user can challenge the thought with reasons why that thought might have been illogical to begin with. Finally, the user replaces the thought with something more reasonable.

For example, if I was worried about not getting a response to a text, I might believe (irrationally) that it has something to do with how that person feels about me, rather than the more obvious explanation: they’re just busy.

The hope of CBT is that identifying thought distortions and manually replacing them with beliefs grounded in reality retrains the brain to experience the world in a realistic way and relieves patients from their depression and/or anxiety.

Conrad says that he went from having two anxiety attacks a week to two every six months.

The problem that Quirk is trying to solve is two-fold. First, people may not know the benefits or the empirical data supporting CBT. Second, the process of manually recording this on pen and paper can be more tedious and feel less private out in a public space.

Quirk’s attempt to solve these problems is to make CBT accessible to more people and to make the process of doing CBT slightly more private.

We asked Conrad about the potential negative affects of practicing CBT without the oversight of a mental health professional.

“As for self-administered CBT, we’ve run this by a number of therapists and all of them have said it’s generally a net-benefit,” Conrad said via email. “What would be harmful is if someone with a severe condition decided that they should use Quirk instead of seeing a therapist. But in practice we’ve seen the opposite effect. People who would have otherwise done nothing about their condition use Quirk as a ‘first step’ towards therapy or will use Quirk when they would otherwise have no option (either because there isn’t a treatment in their country/area or because they can’t afford it).”

Dr. Daniel J. Fridberg, a practicing CBT psychologist from the University of Chicago, says that the triple-column technique is a great CBT exercise, but that it’s just part of the whole package of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. He also said that the only way to know if a product like this can do harm is through a study, but that CBT itself is an evidence-based psychotherapy and has been proven effective.

“CBT is an effective, time-limited, reasonably cost-effective psychotherapy for things like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc,” said Dr. Fridberg. “The problem is that finding a good CBT therapist who delivers evidence-based treatment isn’t always easy in smaller communities where there isn’t easy access to a research hub. In some respects, an app that is packaged in an attractive way gets people’s attention and promotes CBT as effective is a good thing.”

Dr. Fridberg also stated that anyone suffering from an issue that’s disrupting their day-to-day functioning should seek professional help.

Conrad says that he hopes Quirk can be a jumping off point for folks suffering from anxiety and depression, with the app suggesting that those suffering seek professional help in conjunction with using the app. He also shared that Quirk hopes to be able to connect users to professionals in their area as soon as they have the scale to do so.

Quirk costs $4/month for users.



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