Mental Health Chatbots – the rise of the AI therapists

With anxiety and depression rates on the rise due to Covid-19, mental health chatbots are becoming an increasingly popular way of providing counselling support. According to a study by the University of Southern California, 71% of people said they’d be willing to use a chatbot for mental health support. But do they work?

There is some scientific evidence to suggest that chatbots can be helpful. A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that people who used a mental health chatbot reported feeling more supported and less alone. The lower cost and ease of use of these apps reduced the barriers to access mental health support, which is a major plus.

“I’ve been using a chatbot for the past few months and it has really helped me. I can talk to it about anything and I don’t feel like I’m being judged.”

“I find it really helpful to talk to a chatbot when I’m feeling down. It’s like talking to a friend but without the pressure of having to keep up a conversation.”

Things to look at when assessing mental health chatbots

When looking for a mental health chatbot, it’s important to find one that is suited to your needs. Here are some things to look for:

  • Does the chatbot have a good reputation?
  • Are the reviews of the app positive?
  • Does the chatbot offer a free trial?
  • Is the chatbot confidential?
  • Does the chatbot offer 24/hour support?

Once you’ve found a chatbot that you think will be helpful, it’s important to set some ground rules. For example, let the chatbot know if you only want to talk about certain topics or if there are any topics that you don’t want to talk about.

Some reputable counselling chatbots include:

Woebot – this mental health chatbot is based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The first thing I noticed about the app was how user-friendly it was. The session started with a brief survey to determine where I wanted to focus my efforts. It also reminded me that it is not a substitute for human assistance, and it provided instructions on what to do if I had an emergency. It rapidly identified my mood and helped me reframe my worries to make them more manageable.

Wysa – this chatbot works on iPhone and Android platforms. Wysa began by noting the importance of confidentiality and informing me that our conversations were private and encrypted. I informed Wysa that I was stressed and was prompted to complete a quick questionnaire as a result. The playful AI penguin then presented me with a variety of exercises that would help me relax, based on my answers. These included activities such as mindful meditation and yoga. Wysa informed me that I would be contacted each evening for progress monitoring, which is exactly what happened. This app also offers a real-life coach at an extra monthly charge of $29.99.

So, if you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, a mental health chatbot could be worth considering. Just remember to choose one that is reputable and has good reviews. And, of course, if you’re feeling suicidal or are in any other way immediate danger, please seek professional help. Mental health chatbots should not be used as a replacement for professional help, but rather as a supplement to it.

For Further Reading

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2 thoughts on “Mental Health Chatbots – the rise of the AI therapists”

  1. Thank you for taking the time to put this post together but I have to say that I have never heard of a ‘chatbot’ — would love to know what it is.

    Thank you for you posts. I identify with a great deal of what you write, especially, most recently, the post about the parentified child. That particular post really hit home.

    • Hello D. – chatbots are online chats where on one end you have a human being (the client) and on the other end you have an artificial intelligence program (the therapist). Basically it’s using software to provide first line mental health support to people via the Internet. If necessary, the client can be passed on to an actual human therapist at a later stage in the process.
      I’m glad you are finding my posts useful. Thanks for letting me know!


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