iPhone Pocket Psychotherapist Soothes Soul

Photo: The Awareness App
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"Ohmmmmmm." It's your spiritual adviser calling.

Awareness, a new iPhone app that was launched just last week, allows the ever-stressed, particularly at holiday time, to find psychological solace.

The "pocket therapist" application is "like an angel sitting on your shoulder," sounding a gentle chant to remind you to get in touch with your feelings -- anywhere, the developer says.

Ronit Herzfeld, a holistic therapist from New York City, said her creation can help users discover inner peace in the routine of their daily lives.

So far 550 buyers have downloaded the application, and her developers are working on a new version for Google's Android that could be available in February.

"It's a next generation application which is more interactive and brings it back to the self, rather than just playing a game," said Herzfeld. "It's something the app can do for you and it's hitting a chord with people."

For $3.99 the user is reminded by up to 25 gong tones a day to take a deep breath and assess their mental state. The application asks how you are feeling and, based on your mood, it plays up to 20 videos with instructions on how to alleviate the stressors.

In addition, it provides up to 400 inspirational quotes suited to the emotion, such as "God gave burdens, also shoulders."

The gong can be switched off so as not to interrupt business meetings, although Herzfeld said one corporate executive who forgot to turn hers off, was pleased she got a reminder to tone down her frustration.

"It's been my life's work to helping people feel better and lead peaceful lives," said Herzfeld, who has spent 25 years in traditional psychotherapy, much of it in a mobile crisis unit. She worked with victims of the 1996 TWA crash off Long Island.

Ronit Herzfeld

The application also color codes feelings: red is anger and yellow is fear. A pie chart can show how often you feel those emotions and charts your emotional state and associated triggers over a day, month, week and year.

"The cool thing is it gives you a report -- a diary of daily routines and feelings and activity," she said. "You begin to see the percentage of time that you are sad or happy. You are getting a whole kind of feedback system."

The application can be useful for those with eating disorders, according to Herzfeld. "You begin to notice that whenever you are paying your bills you go to the refrigerator."

The application has 10 moods and under each one there are sub-categories. Anger, can be frustration, hurt or betrayal. For each mood there are two videos. If a user is sad, for example, they are instructed to take a deep breath, notice their feelings and actually focus on what is wrong or right with their life.

The user can also "create their own" feeling.

"It's a reality check," said Herzfeld. "We get hijacked by our emotions and we can shift our thinking."

Scientist know from new research in neuroscience that behavior patterns get established in the brain and are hard-wired at an early age.

"It's hard to change our habits and patterns," she said. "But we are now learning with recent technology that there is a plasticity of the brain and it can change with consistent exposure to the same thing over and over again."

The constant iPhone reminder to take a deep breath and redirect behavior can teach the user to change behavior, according to Herzfeld.

There are no advertisements on this application and all data is kept private, stored only on the iPhone. It works with or without a network connection.

The iPhone is not meant to take the place of therapy, said Herzfeld, but for the "ordinary person" it can act as a "diary of feelings" where they can track their behavioral responses to different emotional states such as drinking, binge eating or overworking.

"Obviously people with serious, difficult breakdowns in their lives need to seek outside help," she said.

Herzfeld's next project is a global awareness project on 1-1-11 -- Jan. 1, 2011. "We Are One" asks people around the world to go online and tell what they are feeling. A Google map will display the responses.

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