Quirk (YC S19) – Open-Source Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Hey HN, I'm Evan. We make Quirk, an open-source Cognitive Behavioral Therapy app. (https://github.com/flaque/quirk)

If you've never seen a cognitive-behavioral therapist before, it's easiest to understand by analogy with physical therapy. Like a physical therapist, a cognitive-therapist gives you goals and exercises to do, only they're mental rather than physical. Similarly, Quirk gives you exercises where you record and challenge negative thoughts.

I work on Quirk with my brother, Koby, a former founder and marketer in both consumer products and the mortgage industry. He's really good at simplifying, branding, and explaining complicated topics to the average consumer. Personally, I'm just an engineer who used to work on Segment's developer platform.

Quirk started as a command line tool (https://github.com/flaque/freak) that I used to track my panic attacks. I've had severe attacks for as long as I can remember, some lasting several hours. I always used to down-play them, saying "they're a once-in-a-blue-moon thing." But that wasn't really true and they started happening more and more. At a certain point they got so bad that I felt hopeless; I always assumed at some point in my life they'd just stop. But they didn't. So I picked up a book on depression, which turned out to be the CBT bible, "Feeling Good" by David Burns. I started working through the exercises and saw a dramatic drop in panic attacks. (https://i.imgur.com/P29BSRC.jpg)

I started turning the CLI into a little app so I could use it wherever. But since I was having so few panic attacks and was constantly recording thoughts all the time, the project became a CBT app. And the more thoughts I recorded, the better I felt; I went from having multiple attacks a week to having two in a six month period.

I gave Quirk to folks with a "this-software-will-probably-break-if-you-look-at-it-funny" guarantee and open sourced it. But after a bit, it became pretty hard to ignore how many folks were relying on it. That was surprising; it's small and it doesn't really do much from a technical perspective. Its main claim-to-fame is that it works pretty well. Everyday we wake up to folks writing in saying that "for the first time in 30 years I feel peaceful," or that they're "happier, healthier and feel so much better about everything," or that they feel like Quirk is "their secret weapon.” We’re recommended by quite a few therapists but we’re also used by folks who aren’t currently seeing one and had never planned to before trying Quirk.

That's fantastic, but that's not really surprising: CBT has 40 years of evidence saying that it works really well, even in "bibliotherapy" where someone isn't necessarily seeing a therapist. Quirk doesn't do every part of CBT, but it does the most general, applicable-to-everyone part. So what Quirk is really doing is fixing CBT's branding and consistency problems. Most people don't know what CBT is, or if they do, they don't realize just how effective it is and how much evidence is behind it. And when they "try" it, they often don't really do it consistently enough to see the value. Quirk's current feature set is just the thought-recording exercise with some cute illustrations, evidence building to prove to you that it works, and some silly skinner-box tricks to remind you to use it.

A lot of companies solve these massive technical or structural problems. We make a little toy app that helps you feel better. But given just how approachable we could make CBT, we think we can help around 100 million people world-wide in the future. We're translated into 14 languages (kinda, it's a bit broken right now) and have quite an amazing and supportive community.

We charge a small subscription for Quirk, currently $4, though the price might change as we figure stuff out. Unlike a lot of other apps, we're quite privacy conscious; we store your thoughts only on the device and don't have any email or phone collection.

We want your feedback, questions, and ideas. If you're comfortable sharing, we really want to hear about your experiences. But mainly, we want you to know that CBT exists and that this is really something that could help you if you haven't been doing so hot lately.

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andrey azimov by Andrey Azimov