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Could therapy chatbots transform mental health services?

Posted: 9 June 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

A team of Stanford psychologists have teamed up with artificial intelligence experts to create a commercial therapy chatbot.

Woebot is hitting the marketplace after a year of clinical research, the bot made its debut on Facebook Messenger on Tuesday. At $9 a month, it offers quick 10 minute checkups to assess a user’s mental well-being. The service is not meant to entirely replace therapy.

“A good CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] therapist should facilitate someone else’s process, not become a part of it,” psychologist and Woebot Labs Inc. CEO Alison Darcy told Wired.

“Woebot is a robot you can tell anything to. It’s not an AI that’s going to tell you stuff you don’t know about yourself by detecting some magic you’re not even aware of.”

Therapy is expensive in the US and privately and has an astronomical wait list in the UK’s NHS, so a chatbot could present an accessible alternative. But avoiding potential legal and ethical issues, the bot does not promise real medical results.

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