What Therapists (Ok, Just this One) Are Saying About Mental Health Chatbots

Earlier this summer, articles about “WoeBot” took social media by storm. Or at least in the mental health and technology circles I hang with. And in case you missed it the WoeBot is a automated chatbot that checks on you daily and offers some “sessions” in cognitive behavioral therapy. It was again brought up on Facebook and I sort of dismissed it. My gut reaction is there is no way that robot could replace a therapist and if it did. It would be rather clunky.

A robot doing therapy would probably look something like this. It would give a try but fall a bit short…

 

I thought about writing a blog post based on this GIF alone but wanted to do more research. Life happened and I moved on to other things.  But a recent conversation on twitter renewed this topic for me and helped me refine my message…

 

Other joined and shared some other thought provoking resources…

 

The above articles and resources provided some more “use cases” for chat bots in both healthcare and mental health.  This helped tip the scale for me.  I am certainly more open the possibility of chatbots for mental health. Still maintaining my stance that technology can be an adjunct to treatment but not a full on replacement.

I think the WoeBot can be good adjunct to therapy.  There could be two very useful scenarios.  One would be those who are placed on a wait-list. To start some WoeBot sessions to get a sense of what CBT is like and if it is a good fit. The data that is generated can be useful for the first actual session.  Similar to previous posts I have argued that data generated by using technology can create a “sitting around the campfire” talking about it scene. You can go into the session and talk about what you and WoeBot did.

The other useful scenario is as a bridge between therapy sessions. That again the conversation with the WoeBot can reinforce the face to face relationship with the therapist. Also thinking about how a WoeBot can be part of somebody’s discharge plan. That after you are done with therapy then use the WoeBot to reinforce things. If one does not feel like the WoeBot is enough they can promptly return to therapy.

Image Credit: WoeBot.IO

 

I continue to be enthused about mental health apps. However I remain cautious of these being stand alone treatments.  Yes there are not of therapists and psychiatrists. Yes we need to do something different. And no mental health professionals don’t have to run the other way from technology.  We should be embracing mental health apps as our assists.  In the case of WoeBot our virtual assistant.  It would be in the interest of therapists and maybe insurance companies to take a deeper dive into this technology to see how we can make therapy a more active than a passive experience.

 

I would love to know your thoughts on this topic. Please feel free to comment below, yell at me on twitter @StuckOnSW, or email me at StuckOnSW@yahoo.com 

#ABetterDeal: For Who?

I am going to take a slight break from reading/tweeting about the healthcare bill to talk about the Democratic theme for the mid-term elections in 2018. I was both surprised and disappointed to see the message.

Drum roll please…

“A Better Deal”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced this today in this New York Times Op Ed piece..

It is largely an economic message with focus on “Raising wages”, “decreasing daily expenses”, and giving “workers the tools they need for the 21st Century”. Sounds like a great plan…right? However someone already ran on an economic platform….and pssst he is already the President of The United States. Like or not, “Make America Great Again” was a powerful economic message that resonated with voters.

Putting on my social work/change maker hat on, I see a major flaw with “A Better Deal”. If the intention is to target Trump voters who were sort of neutral about Hillary, this was not the way to go. Trying to get individuals, groups, and communities to change is tricky business. One thing people don’t like is being told what to think. When I heard the title of “A Better Deal” I thought… better for who??

“But we already elected the guy who wrote “The Art of Deal’.”

“You are not going to offer me a better deal than Trump, we gave you eight years”

The Trump voter on the fence will not listen to this. I don’t claim to be a political genius but I know a bit about what it takes to change someones mind. So what should be the mid-term election message? There needs to be a more listening stance. In continuing to think about the 2016 Democratic “autopsy”, one thing is for sure… people did not feel like The Democratic Party was listening. This was especially true of the economic situation.

It is too soon call the Trump economic message a failure. Yes there is discrepancies about where the tax breaks will go but Trump supporters are not willing to hear that yet. My suspicion is the Trump economic message will begin to unravel. The reality of the proposed tax breaks in the healthcare bill will set in. Once the tax plan is announced, one could hope that Trump supporters will see through the focus on corporate tax relief.

So my long answer to what the mid-term message should be is one of listening, hearing, and reaching out. “A Better Deal” says “you don’t know what’s better, I do”. As a therapist we often do this without realizing. We often try to fix problems and try to repair what is “wrong”. Typically a more collaborative problem solving stance is more effective. From the more macro social work perspective, we don’t go into a group or community and tell people what to need.

image credit: New York Times

Perhaps this is way we need more social workers in office. Last month The Congressional Research Institute For Social Work And Policy held it’s first “Political Bootcamp”. It was inspiring to follow this on social media and to think about how we can use our skills to make an impact. Our listening skills are perhaps what Democrats need. Democrats also need to be reminded of its’ focus on social justice and I hope this does not get lost either.

What we need right now is more listening and questioning. Not demands that I can do this better. The challenge is come along side Trump supporters, listening to their concerns, but also asking them to think about how those policies actually help them. So my plan would be “A Better Ear”. It’s time for Democrats to listen to what they missed and then create a compelling case for how we can do it “Better”.

 

This post was originally published on @Medium