Digital Therapy Chatbots Provide Mental Health Services 24/7

Digital therapy apps and bots use artificial intelligence and natural language processing (NLP) to provide mental health services to users when and where they want it. And demand is on the rise, as a recent global workplace study shows that 68 percent of workers would rather talk about work-related stress and anxiety with a robot instead of their manager.


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Image credit: Woebot Health

Living through a global pandemic is taking a toll on our collective mental health. During the past year, about four in 10 adults have indicated symptoms of anxiety or depression, up from one in 10 in the first half of 2019.

Despite the surge, many people are reluctant to seek therapy because there is often a stigma attached to mental health. In some cases, people are uncomfortable admitting they need help, or they feel judged, or they can’t schedule or afford consistent therapy sessions.

Talk Therapy and the Intelligent Chatbot

Now digital therapy platforms are meeting the needs of people who want help but are hesitant to get it. Alison Darcy, founder and president of Woebot Health, created Woebot, a talk therapy chatbot that uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to interact with the user.

Users download a mobile app, and Woebot asks questions to determine the issues the user wants to address. It connects through frequent conversations, storing the data and referring to it in later conversations. Woebot analyzes responses and identifies patterns in the user’s motivation and decision-making processes.

three mobile screens offering health tips

Image credit: Woebot Health

Using AI, Woebot can gauge and adapt to the user’s emotional state, encourage users to monitor mood swings, suggest therapeutic strategies, or send relevant information and videos to them. Woebot is always available, so users can access it at any time of day or night. Users also can take a break and revisit Woebot weeks or months later without any knowledge loss.

The Digital Couch

Digital therapy platforms use AI to establish baseline information, check in with users, and detect changes in tone of voice or text communications. They can offer techniques to alleviate stress, depression, or loneliness. While chatbots aren’t designed to handle advanced mental health issues, the AI can identify and predict who might require more sophisticated treatment options. Woebot’s machine learning capabilities enable it to identify crisis communications with 98.9 percent accuracy, according to company claims, and will subsequently suggest that a user seek in-person therapy.

Not all digital therapy services rely on chatbots. Talkspace uses a digital platform to match clients with human therapists. Clients can send text, voice, or video messages to the therapists, who reply within two days. Ginger offers a hybrid approach using on-demand chatbot “coaches” and self-guided activities provided by the company’s data platform; video therapy sessions are available if desired. Shine, a wellness app specifically designed for BIPOC communities, provides users with daily meditations, calming activities, and access to advice through its network of other users.

Home Health 2.0

Last year saw unprecedented funding for digital health. According to Rock Health, a venture fund focused on digital healthcare, overall investments in digital health reached $9.4 billion in 2020, and $4 billion of that occurred in Q3 alone. 

People like the anonymity of these services. One survey of 12,000 workers worldwide found that 80 percent of workers were open to having a robot as a therapist or counselor, and 68 percent of people would rather talk about work-related stress and anxiety with a robot instead of their manager.

Because users access these services privately, they don’t have to admit they are struggling, and they avoid judgement. Plus, a chatbot can’t tell where on the corporate ladder the user falls, so there’s no fear of retribution at work.

People are already using personalized technology to improve their physical health. Fitness trackers, weight loss programs, and heart monitors are all accessible on one’s phone. An app that addresses mental health seems like the next logical step.

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