In therapy with the psycho-bot

It is named Woebot, a chatbot created by Alison Darcey, psychologist at Standford University, who responds to the requests of support from suffering people by means of Facebook Messenger or an iOS/Android app.

Woebot can provide a sort of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), questioning people about their feeling during short daily conversations. Woebot also operates through videos and useful suggestions in relation to the person behaviour when answering questions, also thanks to machine learning functions. Woebot is the result of several studies during the years on the chatbot theme and on the possibility to digitalize some therapies which normally operate through conversations.

Woebot learns about its patient’s personality during the conversation with him and in parallel it tries to provide him with useful suggestions on how to manage the negative emotions. It is a pointed approach aimed to solve specific situations: by chatting on the problem a possible solution is defined and suggested.

Woebot was designed to let people – especially young – to approach the therapeutic conversations. It is a self-help, encouraging and supporting tool, but as its creators say, it does not absolutely replace a traditional therapy.

A study about the Woebot clinic efficiency was conducted by Standford University on two groups of 70 young people from 18 to 28 years old. 85% of participants who daily used Woebot reported a significative reduction of Depression and Anxiety symptoms just after two weeks, and measured through the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item scale (GAD-7) and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS).

Anyway, it should be remarked that the study was financed by the app producer company, that one of the article author is Alison Darcey, founder and CEO of the company and, for what concerns the methodological aspect, there are several critic points, one of them the low participants number (70) and their selection (volunteers from a New York university campus of high social-economic level). Moreover, the lack of follow-up impedes the results generalization; for these reasons the authors underline the need of additional studies to determine the real utility of this app in caring anxiety and depression sympthoms.

Woebot is free, if you desire to try it, simply download the app on your PC or smarthphone.
Woebot is not the only app of this kind. Many start up invested in this fields also considering that 300 million of people worldwide have this disease, as stated by the World Health Organization. Shim is born in Stockholm and is based on the cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), very similar to Woebot.

Tom Insel, the psychiatric who revealed the effect of oxytocin on the state of mind, founded Mindstrong, a company offering to patient apps, care centres and tele-psychology and psychiatric services, Tess is an app and chatbot for the mental health developed by X2. The Holland Emma was thought to help people suffering of low anxiety disease.

Despite experts affirm that the cognitive-behavioural therapy can be digitalized through combined chat box and AI technics, some limits are arising. These apps, although advanced they are, cannot distinguish important elements like the voice timber or the corporal language, comprehensible only with a face-to-face conversation.

The human dimension is the other lacking component: to chat with a robot is not the same than speaking with a real person: empathy and friendliness cannot be reproduced by the technology, yet!

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