Trinity friends build an app to manage obsessive compulsive disorder and allow sufferers to live more life
by Carlos Anchondo ’14
As a Trinity undergrad, Stephen Smith ’12-’14 outwardly appeared to have it all. He was a stellar student, majoring in economics and minoring in Chinese. He was the quarterback of the football team and enjoyed an active social life. Smith seemed to be “living the life,” but privately, things were a different story.
Like one in 40 people worldwide, Smith was living with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). A disorder that is characterized by obsessions, or unreasonable fears or thoughts, OCD is known for leading to compulsive behaviors. After the onset during the summer, Smith recalls swinging from “the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in just a split second,” a drop that sometimes left him in his room for up to nine hours on-end, struggling with his obsessions.
“It completely took control of my life,” Smith says. “My old life, the life that I truly loved and brought so much joy and happiness, just vanished out of thin air.”
Searching for the right treatment, Smith found his options lonely, subjective, and disorganized. Determined to find a treatment that fit, he turned to Daniel Greenfeld ’14, a friend from his days at Trinity. The pair began work on what today is nOCD, an app that brings structured on-the-go treatment to OCD sufferers when they need it the most. The smartphone and smartwatch app provides guidance using exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP), the only evidence-based therapy for OCD.
Greenfeld says that the app appeals to people at all levels of the OCD spectrum and is designed to help manage all degrees of symptoms, whether they are severe or mild. He calls the app a “useful tool” that people can use as an extension of the strategy developed with their therapists. The app provides messaging that walks sufferers through an episode and coaches them on how to effectively minimize the number of episodes they have, as well as the episode’s duration.
“There is a certain amount of life that people are having trouble living because of their OCD,” Greenfeld says. “This tool is a clear-cut solution to help those people live more life and it means a lot to be able to help people with this specific disorder.”
After thinking of the app idea, Greenfeld and Smith proved that their concept was scientifically sound by bringing their idea to multiple clinical therapists and testing it to ensure that it enhanced ERP treatment. Drawing on the expertise of Christopher Warren ’78, a former Trinity entrepreneur-in-residence, the pair conducted market research, built a business plan, and started fundraising.* After finalizing development in early February, nOCD launched in March. The app can be purchased on the iTunes store.
A business administration major with a marketing concentration, Greenfeld recalls the Principles of Marketing course he took with business administration professor Kim Robertson. During class, Robertson explained that products themselves are less important than the benefit they provide. Taking this wisdom to heart, Greenfeld, originally from Tucson, Ariz., says that advice has “been a humongous source of motivation for me and for all of us at nOCD.”
“The benefit that we are providing is such a concrete and powerful one,” Greenfeld says. “It can directly translate into somebody managing the symptoms of a chronic disorder they will have for the rest of their life.”
As their app takes off, Greenfeld and Smith stress that nOCD is a tool meant to enhance treatment, not replace it. If someone has OCD to a degree where a therapist is necessary, this app will not serve as a substitute for the analytical capabilities of a therapist. It can, however, provide extremely valuable data that can improve strategies. The app collects real-time metrics regarding a user’s OCD, such as subject of compulsion, time, location, frequency, intensity, and more.
Although no cure for OCD exists, Greenfeld and Smith hope their app can help those suffering, many who, at one time were like Smith, by managing their symptoms. They believe that in time nOCD users will be able to live lives of purpose, happiness, and dignity.
*noCD is looking to start another private investment fundraising round during summer 2016.
Carlos Anchondo is a writer and editor for University Marketing and Communications. He is a 2014 graduate of Trinity and can be found at @cjanchondo or canchond [at] trinity.edu.