A Local Therapist’s App Makes Saying Hard Things Easier

Minnetonka resident Betsy Sansby is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Last year, she received the OpenCare Patients’ Choice award for therapists in the Minnetonka area. In her work over the last 30 years, she’s come to understand the impact saying—and hearing—a difficult truth can have on a relationship.

“People come to therapy to be heard and understood,” Sansby says. She often found that even when patients seemed to be making progress speaking honestly and listening to one another carefully during their sessions with her, they weren’t able to continue the conversation without her help.

“What are the skills they are missing at home that I could give them help with?” Sansby wondered. She was already using 4x6 notecards in her sessions, with suggested topics and responses on them to encourage conversation. When she began to explore homework assignments to keep clients on the right path, she started giving them the cards to take home. In 2004, she had the cards printed and boxed so other therapists could use them and clients could give them as gifts.

She called that first boxed set The Ouch Kit. The prompts on the cards encouraged clients to open up about their partner’s upsetting or hurtful behaviors and then offered multiple-choice suggestions to help them express exactly how the behavior felt. For example, “To me it meant that ___” was followed by options like “you forgot I was even there,” “you don’t respect me,” or “I can’t count on you.”

“Finding the words to express what you’ve been feeling can be very empowering,” Sansby says. “It’s that feeling you get when you’re reading something and you come across a passage that puts things in just the right words … it’s a sense of recognition.”

Even though she wasn’t particularly tech-savvy—“I was still sharing a single flip phone with my husband,” she says—Sansby began to think about turning the cards into a smartphone app to make them easily available to everyone all the time. It took a lot longer than she imagined, and she had to get help from several app developers before she found the right technical partner. Sansby’s app, Express Yourself eCards, launched last June and is available in the Apple App Store with a free trial. For 99 cents, users can buy all ten cards and send them as many times as they want. (Use of one card of the user’s choice is free.) The cards address topics that might be hard to talk about: “Can you help? I can’t do this alone,” and “Can I be honest?” But they also include positive conversation starters: “Today, I’m Loving You Because …” and “Thanks!” Each card helps to organize thoughts and keep the dialogue constructive.

The app not only offers wide access to the cards, but it also allowed Sansby to expand the content. The choices and prompts she could write for the original cards were limited by the physical size of them. In the app, more problems and responses are possible. That’s important, because it means more people will recognize themselves in the choices.

“The deeper I dived into writing for the app, the more I realized that the power of the cards was in the feeling of recognition,” Sansby says. “You don’t [necessarily] need to pay a lot of money to a therapist to improve your relationships. This is a simple tool, but simple things you do can have a big impact on you … so why not use the tool?”

To download the app for iPhone, search for Express Yourself eCards in the App Store.