SELMA: A Digital Coach for Self-Management of Pain

Almost everyone has experienced pain before. Pain is an individual and subjective experience. Usually, the pain can be treated successfully. However, if pain episodes last longer than three to six months, they are classified as chronic pain. Today, chronic pain is one of the most common illnesses in everyday life and has a major impact on the quality of life of those affected. Chronic pain is not only related to physical impairment but also usually leads to psychological and social stress and high health costs. The bio-psycho-social model serves as a basis for understanding the development and maintenance of a pain disorder. It includes both biological and psychological factors and takes the social context into account.

The treatment of chronic pain is multimodal or interdisciplinary according to latest findings. The psychological therapy approach includes pain therapeutic interventions to change dysfunctional cognitions, emotions, and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has proven to be extremely effective in pain interventions. However, personal and financial resources are limited to reach out to those being affected, particularly in their everyday life.

Recently, web and text message-based interventions have been increasingly used for health interventions. The aim of this project is, therefore, to develop and assess the efficacy of SELMA, an 8-weel digital coaching program for self-management of pain.

Video Clip


Hauser-Ulrich, S., Künzli, H., Meier-Peterhans, D., Kowatsch, T. (in press) A Smartphone-based Healthcare Chatbot to Promote Self-Management of Chronic Pain (SELMA): A Pilot Randomized Control Trial, JMIR Mhealth Uhealth.

Hauser-Ulrich, S., Meier-Peterhans, D. (2018) SELMA: Chatbot Intervention zum Selbstmanagement bei Schmerzen, Master’s Thesis, Züricher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften, Angewante Psychologie.

Related Work

Kowatsch, T., Volland, D., Shih, I., Rüegger, D., Künzler, F., Barata, F., Filler, A., Büchter, D., Brogle, B., Heldt, K., Gindrat, P., Farpour-Lambert, N., l’Allemand, D. (2017) Design and Evaluation of a Mobile Chat App for the Open Source Behavioral Health Intervention Platform MobileCoach, In: Maedche A., vom Brocke J., Hevner A. (eds) Designing the Digital Transformation. DESRIST 2017. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 10243. Springer: Berlin; Germany, 485-489. (Paper-PDF | Poster-PDF | Slide-PDF | Screencast)

Filler, A., Kowatsch, T., Haug, S., Wahle, F., Staake, T. & Fleisch, E. (2015) MobileCoach: A Novel Open Source Platform for the Design of Evidence-based, Scalable and Low-Cost Behavioral Health Interventions – Overview and Preliminary Evaluation in the Public Health Context. Wireless Telecommunications Symposium 2015 (WTS 2015), New York, USA. ***Outstanding Paper Award & Best Graduate Student Paper Award*** PDF

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Working Group

Sandra Hauser-Ulrich (ZHAW), Danielle Meier-Peterhans (ZHAW), Hansjörg Künzli (ZHAW), Tobias Kowatsch


Oct 2017 – Dec 2019