We’re finding that usage drops off after 3 months or so.”
I wish I could find the data the behavioral health consultant was referring to (I’ve searched). She certainly seemed to believe this was a serious flaw.
But I can’t say I’m shocked that people stop using their behavioral health technology after 10-12 weeks or so… And it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I can think of 3 reasons off the top of my noggin:
- Users feel better and are ready to move on.
- Users are tired, exhausted, burned out, or disillusioned.
- The 3-Month Rule applies.
1. Members (a.k.a. clients, patients, consumers) Are Done and Feel Ready to Move On
According to Talkspace, most people stay in therapy for around 3 months.
Crises are often averted, handled, or don’t seem quite so overwhelming.
3. The 3-Month Rule Applies
Did you notice that I went out of order?
That’s because the 3-month rule is a key dynamic in both of the other reasons a person will stop using behavioral health tech after 3 months.
What is the 3-month rule?
People struggle to sustain a concentrated effort for more than 3 months.
So says several studies on restrictive diets and extensive exercise plans.
3 months seems to be the magic point where people can take most of their mental energy and devote it to one thing. After that, people want to return to their ordinary life. They get tired of constantly focusing on that one thing — it’s exhausting and even socially isolating.
(If you don’t think it’s socially isolating to have to watch everything you eat, you’re underestimating the role food plays in human interaction.)
Users either figure out how to incorporate their new strategies into their normal life or they abandon their efforts.
How does this apply to therapy or recovery treatment?
When someone goes into therapy or recovery, they give everything they have to it. They’re hoping to make huge changes. They’re motivated to do the work so they can overcome their depression or anxiety. They know their substances of choice are killing them and ruining their relationships.
But after 10-12 weeks of that, it feels like it’s time to read some different books or do something different for a while.
Culture shock is another example of the 3 Month Rule
When an ex-pat moves to a new region, the newness is dazzling and exciting. But gradually, speaking in a different language and having to think about what to eat, where to get their food, how to communicate, or even how to go to the bathroom gets exhausting.
At 3-6 months, frustration levels peak — and then the weary traveler either goes home or figures out how to integrate better into their new world.
As a former ex-pat, I watched this whole dynamic play out during the COVID shutdown, too.
- First 3 months: We’re all in this together. Everybody do your part.
- Second 3 months: The government doesn’t know what they’re doing. I’m sick of this.
- Now: Some things are different and some things have returned to normal.
Life Transitions Are Hard… But They’re Also Predictable
And therapy and recovery are HUGE transitions.
William Bridges’ spent his life studying how people navigate the major transitions of their lives – and he broke it down into 3 stages.
These 3 stages are universal. Your user is going to go through them, so it’s a good idea to know them.
Stage 1: Endings
Most people think about a transition starting with a new beginning, but Bridges starts with an ending.
The ending begins when someone realizes they can’t continue with the way things currently are or someone else made that decision for them (they lost their job, their partner left them or died, they had to move, etc.). Something ended and what used to work doesn’t anymore.
People look to therapy or treatment programs to help them get through this time.
Stage 2: The Neutral Zone
There’s a purgatory in between the ending and the new beginning.
The person is becalmed… their boat isn’t going anywhere — no matter how much they want to just move on.
This is when they start envisioning new possibilities or start coming to terms with their situation.
Standing still can feel agonizing, but it’s a time of rest before a new breeze fills their sails.
Sometimes this is where people leave therapy or stop using apps that are helping them manage their lives — especially if the support was more geared for crisis support and not for planning and education.
But not always. If your technology is designed to take them through the whole journey, it might become a life tool.
Stage 3: New Beginnings
Once the person decides how to move forward, they step into their new life to see if it’s going to work.
They go back to school, they get a new job, they move out on their own, they take up a new hobby, or they find new friends that support their recovery.
2. Sometimes Users Stop because They’re Tired, Exhausted, Burned-out, or Disillusioned
But what if your user is stuck or what if they’re getting worse?
Therapy and substance use treatment is hard. It takes everything someone has.
And whether someone is relying on medications, counseling, or both to provide relief — when it doesn’t help, it’s exhausting and frustrating.
That same yearning for normality also means someone who is tired of struggling may start to neglect the steps and processes they are supposed to take. w what’s going on? Ask your user!
Quick self-assessments or check-ins through the entire treatment process can help you determine what your user needs.
Services like Ginger go a step further and communicate that data to the counselor in real time through their therapist dashboard. This gives them concrete information to guide the sessions and help the client.
Without feedback, counselors often assume that things are improving. When we ask, we know, and that’s data a therapist can use.
What The 3-Month Rule Means for Your Behavioral Health Tech Offering
At some point — often at the 3-month mark, users are going to stop logging in whether they’re doing well or whether they’re continuing to struggle. You need more information to find out whether it’s because they are successfully navigating the waves or whether they’re stuck on a sandbar.
There are 3 ways you can account for transitions in your behavioral healthcare tech offering:
- Planned obsolescence – Your program is really only designed to work with one stage of transition, notably, the ending stage when they’re in crisis. And that’s okay.
- Education – Tailor your offering to prepare your user for that restless stage. Let them know this will be happening, and find ways to encourage them through this as they learn to incorporate your program into their lives as they turn from their problem and start re-entering their life. Nothing significant is changing about your offerings other than recognizing your users need additional encouragement to keep going.
- Integration – Design your offering to meet the needs of each stage, determining what the ending should look like.
What Is Your Behavioral Health Tech Designed to Do?
A lot of behavioral health tech is designed for Stage 1. That means users will eventually outgrow them, and new users will come aboard.
Some tech continues to support in Stage 2 through education — they help the client build strategies, tools, and soft skills.
If technology provides solid support and education, the client might use it through all 3 stages. But the user’s goal is to get better, and if that’s happening, it’s a good thing when a behavioral health tool no longer serves its original purpose.