Therapy Chat Bots are Paving the Way for New Psychological Assistance Technology

Conversational agents may be the best way to provide accessible and affordable therapy

(Kristen Frier)

If you find that therapy is too expensive, inaccessible, or time-consuming, online therapy bots could be the solution.

Online conversational agents work with the user to provide support and resources that fit their mental health needs. These recently developed tools, such as Woebot, Wysa, or Facebook’s Serenity employ cognitive-behavioral techniques (CBT) to help manage your thoughts and feelings. Their algorithms help them read keywords and phrases in the chat to determine your mood based on multiple questionnaires and measures.

The chatbots also emulate friendly and natural conversation, providing you with help and the sensation of companionship, depending on your situation.

A recent study found that 79 per cent of people who used Wysa regularly reported less severe symptoms of depression, a 40 per cent increase from those who didn’t use it regularly. A similar study conducted by the creators of Woebot also saw a large decrease in depressive symptoms from its study participants.

By using AI chat bots to emulate natural conversation, people can feel more at ease opening up than they might through face-to-face interactions. Chatting with an artificial companion instead of a human can allow them to share feelings without the fear of judgement.

However, these bots are incapable of properly reading every word of a conversation independently and, as a result, won’t be 100 per cent accurate. Sometimes messages may seem like they don’t belong in the chat. This takes away from the flow of the conversation and stops it from feeling natural.

About one in five Canadians will struggle with their mental health this year, and many of them won’t have access to proper health care for various reasons, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. In 2012, over 600,000 people aged 15 and over didn’t receive the health care they thought they needed. Chatbots provide the opportunity help to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to talk to someone for insight on how they’re feeling.

While easily accessible and helpful to some, conversational agents don’t actually replace therapists. They’re more like a tool they could use to further their work. Chatbots are incapable of properly diagnosing for illnesses and recommending medications, and in the event of an emergency, can only tell the person to call 911.

Most of these bots tell you in some way that they are not replacements for proper therapy, and that’s true. Modern robots aren’t capable of fully understanding human emotions or the complex human brain in its entirety. Currently, technology to replace sitting down and speaking to a professional face-to-face isn’t possible.

As we improve the technology over time, we can move towards actually creating something close to a robotic therapist. Even if we don’t go so far as to only use robots to help with mental illness, they’re incredible tools that could further our understanding of the human mind and make mental health care much more accessible.


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