In 2010, Aquilera set up an automated text-message service that would remind patients being treated for depression and other disorders to take their medications, track their moods and think about interactions that had a positive effect on their outlook.
Even though the messages were automated, pre-scheduled and impersonal compared to texts from friends, the daily messages checking on their progress gave patients a boost in both mood and confidence.
"When I was in a difficult situation and I received a message, I felt much better. I felt cared for and supported. My mood even improved," the paper quotes on patient in Aguilera's cognitive behavior therapy group at San Francisco General Hospital.
Texting can enhance in-person or phone conversations, but not replace them
The effect worked in conjunction with in-person group-therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, so the Internet can't do everything.
It can reach a population that suffers high stress, high rates of depression and less support than average to deal with it all, however.
The first group Aguilera signed up for the text-updates were from a CBT group made up largely of low-income Latinos suffering depression and other emotional disorders.
Many patients had trouble applying the lessons from CBT to their daily livs. They had too many problems to be able to focus on CBT techniques designed to help them change the way they think about or approach situations that cause problems and improve their problem-solving ability.
Most couldn't afford computers, or spent little time during the day online, but did have cell-phones and texting services.
The Pew Research Center’s 2011 Internet & American Life Project survey found African-Americans and Latinos text at far higher rates than whites, especially if they earned incomes of less than $30,000 per year and had not graduated from high school.
Email and other more typical 'net-based means of communication were unreliable at reaching that low-income, often Spanish-speaking population; texting was inexpensive, reliable and effective.
Though the messages only lasted a few weeks, 75 percent of those who had been receiving them asked to continue after the test period was over.