Already, we are integrating technological advancement into psychotherapy by the way of online counseling, we are gradually replacing traditional or face-to-face counseling with this innovation. But, what if we can go all the way?
"How are you doing today?" "How are you coping with the challenges in the new normal?" "How do you feel?"
These are certainly everyday questions you may expect to hear from a friend or a relative, however, with how things are turning out in mental health care today, they can also be the beginning of a session with your virtual counselor.
We can radically deploy AI to psychotherapy to address the problems of people who need counseling. We can make AI the much-needed game-changer in mental health care.
According to a study by the WHO, it has been estimated that 44.3 million people suffer from depression and 37.3 million suffer from anxiety in Europe alone. Also, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) findings from 2017, reveals that approximately one in five adults in the United States (18.9%) experiences some type of mental health disorder.
By extrapolating these figures, we can arrive at the mammoths of the problem globally. It will also dawn on us that we cannot attempt to safely handle the cases of mental disorder patients by employing traditional counseling.
This is more so, given that the new normal will come up with its fair share of stress and related problems.
With online counseling, you can now enjoy weekly live sessions with your licensed counselor (via video chat), you have access to unlimited messaging, and can reach out to an online counselor from a safe environment as well as the privacy of your own home. You don't need to waste any time getting to your appointment; you can connect with your licensed counselor right away (as long as you have an internet connection).
One other benefit online counseling offers is the regularity of communication with your licensed counselor. These are all great innovations and departures from traditional counseling, where clients only have the opportunity of meeting with their licensed counselors once a week.
Although some brands have gone ahead to make therapy more accessible to clients: for instance, Mind Diagnostics introduced the "Find Out If You Have Anxiety" and other tests with just a click that guarantee an instant confidential result, however, we still need to do more to give succor to the teeming number of people who have mental disorder cases.
The coming of AI into the treatment of mental health issues and personalized CBT.
Deploying AI into psychology has taken an interesting shape especially with the efforts of Dr. Alison Darcy, a clinical research psychologist in creating Woebot. This is a Facebook-integrated computer program that is aimed at replicating conversations that may take place between patients and their counselors.
Woebot is a chatbot that works like a real-time messaging service. The health technology device uses cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to teach users how to modify dysfunctional thinking, ask about your mood and thoughts, listen to how you are feeling, and generally learn about you.
Counseling sessions with Woebot aim to emulate a real-life face-to-face meeting, and the session is personalized to suit your situation. While it's true that Woebot is a robot and may not be able to completely replace the human touch, it's a giant leap in ensuring that the large number of people who have counseling needs receive attention.
Bearing in mind that virtual sessions may not solve everybody's problem, options like Woebot have radically made CBT more accessible to a modern generation that is always on the go and accustomed to 24/7 connectivity. Quite unlike anything before it's inception, you don't need to be pre-booked, are affordable, and offers private sessions.
Before the advent of Woebot, Computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum, of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, came up with ELIZA in1966. ELIZA was able to simulate a short conversation between a therapist and a patient and is considered the precursor of systems being used today.
The global penetration of smartphones and advances in natural language processing have made chatbots the new favorites of AI for counseling and mental health care. Serious work has been done on chatbots to ensure they become more human-like and natural.
Presently, chatbots can counsel in many languages, for instance, Emma speaks Dutch and is a chatbot specifically designed to help with mild anxiety. Karim, on the other hand, which has been assisting Syrian refugees struggling to cope after fleeing the atrocities of war, speaks Arabic.
Woebot is not the only virtual therapist that you can comfortably access, there is also Ellie, which was launched and trialed by the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) successfully. Though it was designed to treat veterans experiencing depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, it has, however, come into general use.
Ellie comes with the huge advantage of detecting words and nonverbal signs such as facial expression, gestures, and posture. Nonverbal nuances are very important to therapists but can be subtle and difficult for them to pick up from patients.
Why do chatbots seem to be doing very well in counseling?
Mel Slater of the University of Barcelona, Spain, and University College London, has revealed in virtualized experiments, that people's brains react to virtual situations in analogous ways when compared to real ones. There is also the school of thought that believes humans tend to be more forthcoming in sharing their potentially embarrassing information with virtual therapists.
In face-to-face sessions, there is often a degree of reluctance with patients to fully express themselves, especially where they feel their privacy is at stake. It's easy for you to be ashamed when you have to share your innermost secrets with another person.
This, however, is not the case with a virtual therapist, you don't feel as if you are being judged, and that has an important therapeutic advantage.
AI has been deployed in a lot of industries, including mental health. With machine learning and advanced AI technologies, we are witnessing a radical transformation that has set out to enable a new type of care that focuses on providing personalized emotional support.
Staff shortages, which have been a huge barrier to seeing everyone who has a counseling need, was a global problem. Chatbots and online platforms are now readily available to see you whenever you require their support and in real-time too.
Even though we still have some complexities to deal with while integrating AI into mental health care, there are shreds of evidence to show that behavioral health interventions have hugely benefited from continuity, and technology is on hand to offer an improved user experience. Good mental health care is now here with just a click.