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Mental Health

Unlocking New Possibilities – Can AI replace a therapist?

2023-10-06

If you’ve ever watched a modern dystopian movie, chances are you’ve seen something about the advancements of technology. But what does that mean for us now?


With the latest advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), there have been changes in multiple industries as companies shift to using technology to reduce costs and improve efficiency. This raises both concern and excitement for many about how these changes will impact the mental healthcare we receive. 


Many dystopian movies highlight valid concerns about AI and whether it can accurately and safely take on human jobs and positions, leading many to the question:


“Can AI replace a therapist?”


 


With all the hype from the developments to AI, I decided to try it myself. I had a session with an AI therapist. This is what I found:


 


Benefits: 


1. Enhancing diagnostics and treatment: AI has the capability to use extensive data and research to anticipate potential mental health crises, often detecting indicators before the individual or their healthcare provider is aware of them which may ultimately improve patient outcomes.


2. Instant personalised treatments and advice: By considering variables such as genetic predisposition, previous traumatic experiences, and lifestyle factors, AI can generate individualised treatment plans that prioritise the needs of patients (Graham et al., 2019).


3. Increased accessibility to care: The latest developments in teletherapy and online support systems has already significantly bridged the gap in mental health services for underserved or inaccessible areas. (PTSD; Gratzer et al., 2016). With further development of AI-powered chatbots, mental health resources can now be provided to individuals with instant and personalized guidance anytime and anywhere. What better way to break down barriers relating to distance and societal stigma? (Minerva & Giubilini, 2023).  


 


Limitations:


1. Limited training in clinical concerns: If you meet the clinical criteria for mental health conditions, AI has not been equipped with training to support you. As a result, AI can unknowingly provide harmful advice and consequently have disastrous outcomes on patient mental health (Aratani, 2023).


2. Lack of human emotion: While these innovative techniques can assist in therapeutic settings, they may lack the human touch that therapists provide, such as empathy and nuanced understanding. Therapists are skilled in picking up subtle emotional signals and providing immediate comfort through shared emotional understanding, something AI systems can never replicate. If AI was to take over entirely, therapy could feel less personal and less effective, as feeling understood and supported often helps people the most. 


3. Biased in algorithms: AI algorithms are only as fair as the data they learn from. If the data is biased, then the algorithm will be biased too. This could lead to wrong diagnoses or treatment suggestions, especially for people who are often overlooked.


4. Confidentiality concerns: Without human emotion and trust, AI tools are only able to consider scenarios from a black and white lens based on probability and risk. This means that decision making could be influenced whilst handling sensitive patient data, such as whether AI should break confidentiality or disclose patient information. 


5. Privacy concerns: It may be difficult to monitor and ensure that AI tools follow all the rules and laws to protect people's data, which may lead to a lack of client trust in therapy and therefore treatment effectiveness.


Overall, our perspective is that while AI can be used to aid and improve existing mental healthcare systems, it is not an equivalent replacement to a human therapist. 


What do you think? Would you ever try a therapy session with an AI Therapist? 


 


 


Aratani, L. (2023). US eating disorder helpline takes down AI chatbot over harmful advice. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/may/31/eating-disorder-hotline-union-ai-chatbot-harm 


D’Alfonso, S. (2020). AI in mental health. Current Opinion in Psychology,36,pp.112–117. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2020.04.005.


Graham, S., Depp, C., Lee, E. E., Nebeker, C., Tu, X., Kim, H. C., & Jeste, D. V. (2019). Artificial Intelligence for Mental Health and Mental Illnesses: an Overview. Current psychiatry reports, 21(11), 116. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-019-1094-0


Gratzer, D., & Khalid-Khan, F. (2016). Internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy in the treatment of psychiatric illness. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 188(4), 263–272. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.150007


Minerva, F., & Giubilini, A. (2023). Is AI the Future of Mental Healthcare?. Topoi : an international review of philosophy, 42(3), 1–9. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-023-09932-3

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