Can ChatGPT be an effective mental health therapist?
Online therapy is a booming industry, and now AI-powered chatbots are starting to hit the territory.
The recent arrival of ChatGPT and its improved linguistic ability to handle human interaction could soon be a revolutionary alternative to disclosing your darkest mental health issues to a human therapist.
How close is an AI-based chatbot to replacing your human mental health specialist? Much closer than you think. In fact, some aspects of AI-powered therapy are already here.
Some software developers and mental health practitioners already use the pause button. Others in the medical and IT industries are pressing the panic button.
TechNewsWorld recently interviewed several dozen mental health experts and bot developers actively involved in AI chatbot projects. Some respondents dismissed the reliability of AI tools to replace human therapists. Others grouped potential for improving algorithms with current practices which they described as useful and effective.
What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT hit 100 million active users in January to become the fastest growing consumer app in history. Launched by OpenAI in November 2022 as a prototype, it is user-friendly despite requiring advanced technical knowledge and understanding of AI and conversational technology.
Since then, the beta product has become extremely popular and integrated into many uses involving language and computer coding.
The product name, ChatGPT, stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer. It is a chatbot built on OpenAI’s GPT family of large language models. Its popularity stems from its ability to provide detailed answers and articulate answers in many fields of knowledge.
According to Carolina Estevez, clinical psychologist at Infinite Recovery, some mental health websites use chatbots to schedule appointments, answer service and policy FAQs, and store client data for convenience.
“However, they have not been used for the therapy itself because the technology is not sophisticated enough to capture the necessary nuances. It would not be able to give sound advice, proper diagnosis or even determine how a person feels,” Estevez told TechNewsWorld.
From chatbot to digital therapist
To be clear, ChatGPT is not a single entity developed exclusively for mental health services. It is an AI-based language model that is not capable of providing mental health therapy, warned Ryan Faber, founder of Copymatic, an AI-powered platform for creating digital advertisements, website copy or blog content.
His eight years of experience in technology sparked a curiosity about the potential of chatbots, which led him to pursue innovative technology and found his company.
But using ChatGPT to create written content is one thing. Using it to provide mental health therapy is something completely different.
“Building a relationship with a therapist can be more difficult when communicating through a screen. Also, online therapy may not be suitable for people with serious mental health issues or those who require more intensive treatment. Faber told TechNewsWorld.
Ramiro Somosierra, the founder and editor of online music magazine GearAficionado, said he is a heavy user of ChatGPT in his day-to-day publishing activities. He also admits to swearing by his therapist.
“I don’t believe there’s a real use case for ChatGPT as a (therapeutic) replacement,” Somosierra told TechNewsWorld. “However, I wouldn’t put something as important as sanity in the ‘hands’ of an algorithm as flawed as ChatGPT.”
From his experience, ChatGPT usually gets the wrong basic information when asking him to write an article. He is not alone in this appreciation. Content inaccuracy is a common descriptor among ChatGPT users across all industries.
“So how do I make sure it would provide me with conscious interactions if I tell him about the relationship with my dad?” he joked.
Pushing the boundaries of AI for online therapy
Online therapy has proven effective as it reaches more people and is more accessible due to its virtual capabilities, agreed Talin Banbassadian, director and technology team leader at the project management and Vaco software development. As the population continues to grow and the world continues to move towards more virtual methods of reaching clientele, online therapy is gaining more adoption.
“The main driver is the pandemic. There has been an increase in mental health cases due to this event, and as we move towards a world where vulnerability is encouraged, online therapy will continue to grow,” Banbassadian told TechNewsWorld.
Chatbots are currently being used where there is a systemized and predictable way to deliver therapy, whether for depression, addiction, or anxiety-related issues. The most reliable providers offer a human triage option for extreme cases.
The need to localize this type of automation based on cultural nuances cannot be overemphasized. What works in the West may not work everywhere, warned Atul Bhave, senior vice president of managed services at Vaco.
“This is a challenge for all companies engaged in scaling AI-enabled services. It will remain a challenge, but overcoming it will also yield the most gains,” Bhave told TechNewsWorld.
ChatGPT is troubled by the accuracy of the content, he agreed. But technology has ushered in the revolution, and many more will follow that will truly optimize the ability of machines to learn from humans and produce predictable success.
“It’s too early to expect human-level empathy, which can replace inaccurate preset information from a bot,” Bhave offered.
Pushing AI ethics and expectations
As an example – or perhaps a warning – some people are already abusing the still infant ChatGPT. In January, behavioral health platform Koko co-founder Robert Morris announced on Twitter that his website was providing mental health support to some 4,000 people using ChatGPT-3 as part of an experiment.
Some software developers responding to our questions raised concerns about the suitability and ability of ChatGPT to replace human therapists. For example, Chris Love, owner of Love2Dev, has done several mental health-related projects involving ChatGPT.
“He is a general language model and does not specialize in therapy, nor has (he) been trained to respond as a therapist. If you wanted to ask him to help with general research in the domain, it might help you with resources (and) research,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Love appreciates the mental health potential that ChatGPT can offer. However, we need to understand where the limits are, he proposed.
“When it comes to using AI for therapy, it can add real value today. I love AI models as a way to sort through tedious work and screen issues. this way, professionals can focus care on the most serious cases,” Love added. “ChatGPT is not a therapist, and most likely, it will give you a warning in its responses.”
Love offered an example of potential security features his clients have incorporated into the online applications he has created for them. The medical field watched for certain “triggers” to notify the real medical personnel or compel the patient to call 911 for a better response.
Online therapy vs chatbot therapist, disagree
Chatbots are now a therapeutic tool for mental health in two key ways, according to Flora Sadri-Azarbayejani, medical director of Psyclarity Health, a Boston-area addiction treatment center that provides self-care support and offers counseling. cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). .
She explained that CBT is a form of talk therapy that helps people learn how to modify their thinking and behavior to better manage their mental health.
“Chatbots can provide users with automated, on-demand self-care assistance by providing information on mental health topics, suggesting lifestyle changes to improve their well-being, or providing strategies to manage mental illness. stress,” Sadri-Azarbayejani told TechNewsWorld.
These types of chatbots can be an effective way to provide additional support and guidance to those already in therapy and those who may not have access to traditional therapy services.
“But because therapy is all about connecting and understanding people, the two chatbots are still quite limited in their abilities,” she explained. “Even though platforms like ChatGPT can remember information from previous conversations, they still aren’t able to provide the same level of personalized, high-quality care that a professional therapist can.”
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