Woebot is always available and will never judge.
My therapist wanted to explain a few things during our first online session:
“I’m going to check in with you at random times. If you can’t respond straight away, don’t sweat it. Just come back to me when you’re ready. I’ll check in daily.”
“Daily?” I asked.
“Yup! It shouldn’t take longer than a couple minutes. Can you handle that?
“Yes, I can,” I answered.
There was a little more back-and-forth, all via Messenger, then this statement from my therapist:
“This might surprise you, but . . . I am a robot.”
It wasn’t a surprise, of course. I’d downloaded “Woebot,” a chatbot recently created by researchers, and it was trying to establish our therapeutic relationship.
“Part of the value of Woebot is you can get things off your chest without worrying what the other person thinks, without that fear of judgment,” said Alison Darcy, founder and chief executive of Woebot Labs. “We wanted it to make an emotional connection.”
Mobile talk-therapy and life-coaching apps have proliferated in the past few years as traditional therapy has remained difficult to obtain. The Affordable Care Act requires health insurers to cover mental health as part of standard medical services, but many people still do not have access to treatment. More than 106 million people — nearly a third of the country — live in areas that are federally designated as having a shortage of mental-health-care professionals, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“I think using chatbot for mental health is certainly an innovative approach to increase access to care,” said John Torous, co-director of a digital psychiatry program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. [There is] tremendous potential to deliver personalized mental health care, on demand, as needed.”