Apps to help reduce skin picking

Trudi Griffin - LPC
Jul 24th, 2017

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Using Competing Responses to Manage Skin Picking

Competing responses are movements or activities that are incompatible with habitual  or automatic behaviors. In simple terms, if your hands are not available to use for picking at your skin, you won’t pick at your skin. In addition, think of something that is the opposite of the behavior you want to replace. It should be something you can do for longer than a couple of minutes and will be more less unnoticeable by others. It may be something challenging that you do with your hands, or something easy to do that just keeps your hands occupied.


This video transcript talks about using your smart phone as a competing response.


Hi, welcome back to Talk Therapy Channel on YouTube.


I’m Tammy Fletcher, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California, and today, my friend Scooter and I are going to be talking to you about iPhone apps that can help with skin picking and hair pulling.

I’m always looking for ways to support my clients in their recovery from body-focused repetitive behaviors like skin picking and hair pulling. One of the accepted standard methods of treatment involves developing something called a competing response. That means finding a new habit or behavior that will actually prevent you from doing something like pulling your hair or picking at your skin. If you’ve ever seen my office, you know I have a big basket full of fidget toys, pipe cleaners, play-doh and things like that. My clients get a chance to play with things that are in there and see what types of things that they might like when they are developing their own basket of fidgets or tools or whatever you want to call them - strategies to help keep you from picking or pulling. I’ve also made a video on fidget toys and I’ll put a link to that video in the description bar below.

Video: Fidget Toys for Distracted Hands Fidget Toys for Distracted Hands


Sometimes people will be at school or at work or in the car and they will find themselves without their fidget toy of choice or their strategy they use to create a competing response when they are experiencing an urge to pick or pull. So in those cases I encourage them to be as creative as they can. Pick up a pencil and starting doodling on a piece of paper or create a fidget toy out of paperclips or rubber bands or anything like that. But one thing I do know that helps a lot of people is to make use of apps on their smartphone. Most people have an iPhone or Android or some type of smartphone nearby and by downloading some of these apps, it can be a way to keep your hands busy, to keep you distracted, and to ride out that urge.


This video will share a few favorites from my clients and the people who attend my BFRB support group. I’ve tried to stick to free apps so that you can try them out easily and I apologize in advance that they are only for iPhone. I don’t have an Android, I never have, but if you have an Android, chances are you can find these apps or ones similar to them in your own app store but these and the links below will be specifically for iPhone. You’ll notice some of these are designed to help you manage the behavior and some are designed to help distract you. You’ll easily see the difference.


The first one I want to talk about is Habit Builder Light.


Habit Builder | Light 

by Siarhei Marozau

There’s a habit builder you can pay for but there’s a light version that’s free. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this app. I have it on my phone and I’ve tried it out. You can use it, it’s not specifically for picking or pulling none of these are, but you can use it for any habit you want to either include in your life and do more of or that you want to eliminate, like picking or pulling. You can design a program to help you end that habit, as they call it, or behavior. I think the free version only limits you to one habit and if you want to pay to buy the version that costs a couple of dollars you maybe have unlimited habits that you can work on. But let’s say you’re working on skin picking. It will allow you to set up reminders. It allows you to track the behavior, which I really like as a therapist because my clients who use this app will come in and actually show me their tracking of the behavior over the course of a week.


The next app or the next two apps, are designed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the first one is ACT Coach.

ACT Coach 
by US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)


ACT stands for acceptance and commitment therapy which is a kind of therapy I like a lot. I find it’s effective for a lot of things, especially BFRBs, and I think it’s beginning to get more widely accepted around the country for other therapists who work with people who pick or pull. If you’re someone who’s working with a therapist and using acceptance and commitment therapy or you’re just curious about it, this is a great little app. It’s free. It’s very well made it talks about mindfulness, helps you identify some of your values in your life, gives you coping strategies, and has a willingness log. It’s very cool and it’s free.


The next one is also by the Department of Veterans Affairs and it is called Mindfulness Coach.


Mindfulness Coach 
by US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

I really like this one. I use mindfulness a lot in my practice not just for picking and pulling but for depression, anxiety, for couples to use together for all kinds of things. In looking at this app you might notice that it seems to be geared toward people who have post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, but that’s ok. It’s teaching you some very generic skills about mindfulness that you can utilize in virtually any situation. In this little app they actually teach you what mindfulness is, how to utilize it and you also get the option to set up reminders to help you remember to stop for a moment, maybe breathe and become mindful of your surroundings and your behavior.


The one thing I really like about this for people with body focused repetitive behaviors is that they often tell me that they pick or pull and that they are unaware of the fact they have started doing it until it’s kind of too late or they’ve already done some damage. So increasing mindfulness I find is a really good tool to help people begin to become aware of those behaviors and hopefully make a different choice. So that is Mindfulness Coach.


The next one I wanted to talk about is called Habitap.

by Katherine Blackwood


Many of my clients really like it. I’m not going to lie, I don’t like it because I’m not good at it at all. It’s a little bit of a game. It’s a game to very specifically keep your hands busy. You track a spot on the screen you can’t see, but you need to use your fingers to kind of feel around the screen. Then when you hit it, you get to go on to the nest screen. I’m terrible at it, I have no idea why, but I’ve seen my clients just zoom through it and it really keeps their hands busy, they enjoy it so don’t go by my experience. It’s free, you can check it out because I have a lot of people who really really like it so it’s a bit of a game. I think it was designed by someone who has trichotillomania if I’m not mistaken that’s what I read. But if you use trichotillomania as a search word in the app store you probably won’t find it. It’s called Habitap and I’ll put links to all of these down below so you can easily find them.


Ok, that last one that I wanted to mention is called Colorfy.


Colorfy: Coloring Book for Adults - Free by Fun Games For Free

It’s a coloring book for adults but it’s on your iPhone you can use your finger or I guess you could use a stylus if you’re doing it on an iPhone or iPad and you just color. It’s literally just a virtual coloring book. You can get a variety of designs like floral, or animals, or mandalas and this one is free to try but I don’t think it lasts very long. It just gives you one or two types of screens that you can color in. They do have a subscription service but obviously I didn’t check that out. I don’t know how much it costs exactly but the you have a free trial so check that one out. And I’ll put the link below.


So some other ideas I’ve heard are jigsaw puzzles on the iPhone, games, Candy Crush, anything that keeps your hands busy and that you like to do.


If you have any ideas to share, please put them down below. I’d be happy to see them. I did see some other apps in the app store that ranged from $3.99-$14.99 but I did not buy those. I’m not talking about them here because I have not experienced them but wanted to give an idea of some free apps you could go ahead and try.


Thanks so much for watching and I’ll see you next time. 

Trudi Griffin - LPC


Education, experience, and compassion for people informs Trudi's research and writing about mental health. She holds a Master of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Addictions and Mental Health from Marquette University, with Bachelor’s degrees in Communications and Psychology from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. Before committing to full-time research and writing, she practiced as a Licensed Professional Counselor providing therapy to people of all ages who struggled with addictions, mental health problems, and trauma recovery in community health settings and private practice.

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