As chatbots become more sophisticated, some experts are considering whether they could become effective therapists. One example of a chatbot with therapeutic potential is Replika, an app that has over two million users and offers an “AI companion who cares”. Replika’s chatbot is tailored to each user, with some using it to practice for job interviews, talk about politics, or even as a marriage counselor. Founder Eugenia Kuyda says that the app can help users with mental health, although it is not intended to replace professional help.
Keep it at bay!.. While AI chatbots can be helpful, they should only be used as a supplement to in-person therapy. In-person therapy is still the gold standard for treating mental health issues. Dr Paul Marsden of the British Psychological Society said that he was excited by the potential for AI to make therapeutic chatbots more effective. However, he also warned of the risks that chatbot-therapy relationships could become unhealthy. Users may become overly dependent on the chatbot and may rely on it to the exclusion of real-life social interactions.
Replika recently came under scrutiny after it was discovered that some users had been having explicit conversations with their chatbot. Italian authorities have also banned Replika from using personal data due to concerns about the inappropriateness of some of the chatbot’s responses. UK online privacy campaigner Jen Persson has called for more regulation of chatbot therapists. This highlights the importance of ensuring that chatbot therapy is closely monitored and regulated to ensure that users are not put at risk.
Human-led and Human-focused!.. Some mental health apps, such as Headspace, are more cautious about using AI. Headspace CEO Russell Glass says that the app remains “human-led and human-focused”. The app uses a team of therapists to develop content and ensure that it is appropriate for users. This human oversight helps to ensure that users receive the best possible care and that their mental health is not put at risk.
Caution!.. While AI chatbots like Replika offer great potential for mental health support, they should be used with caution. They are not a substitute for in-person therapy and should only be used as a supplement. The risks of becoming overly dependent on chatbots and the potential for inappropriate conversations highlight the need for careful regulation and monitoring of chatbot therapists. As AI continues to evolve, it is likely that chatbots will become increasingly sophisticated, offering new opportunities for mental health support. However, it is essential to ensure that the benefits of chatbot therapy are balanced against the risks to users.