Would you entrust your mental health to artificial intelligence? That’s the question being posed by Woebot, a new chatbot available via Facebook Messenger. Co-invented by Stanford psychologists, Woebot provides “counseling” and “advice” to users in response to recognized keywords.
According to the Woebot landing page, Woebot is an "automated conversational agent" that "helps you monitor mood and learn about yourself." The Woebot script uses principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, a form of psychotherapy intended to address a patient’s skewed or distorted views of self and modify their thinking into more productive and positive directions. If you’re feeling low, Woebot might empathize (“That’s totally understandable”) and then ask if it can help out by suggesting an altered way of thinking.
According to Woebot Labs Inc., a small sample group of 70 young adults aged 18 to 28 reported lowered symptoms of anxiety and depression following two weeks of messaging the app compared to subjects who referenced a self-help manual.
What place an application like Woebot will take in the spectrum of mental health treatments remains unclear. It’s more interactive than online research, but far from a substitute for in-person assistance from a trained (and human) professional. Woebot likely falls somewhere under the umbrella of self-help, encouraging users to approach their situations with a more positive attitude. Woebot CEO Alison Darcy told News Atlas that Woebot might also help circumvent some of the financial or social obstacles that keep people from seeking mental health assistance.
Bear in mind, however, that a chatbot is not subject to HIPAA privacy standards, and your conversations are not privileged.
If your interest is piqued, Woebot offers a free two-week trial. Then it’ll charge $39 a month to continue listening to your problems.