Would you trust a chatbot therapist? | BBC Tomorrow’s World


NARRATOR: Would you trust
a chatbot therapist? There are so many apps that come up
when you search under mental health. Could an app be as effective as a real
person in providing help or therapy? Talking apps are everywhere now, helping us with facts, finance,
shopping and news. Facebook Messenger alone
has over 30,000 chatbots for us to interact with. But how about a therapy app at your
fingertips, available day and night? Could it help you if you were feeling bad? And how much would you trust it? How we think affects the way we feel, and by changing the way we think, we can feel or act better
in challenging circumstances. Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT is a way for people to understand
problematic thinking patterns and challenge the way
we think about things. Wysa and Woebot are two automated chatbots that have adapted
this effective technique. They’re much cheaper than seeing an
actual therapist and are available 24/7. But could apps like these actually
replace face-to-face therapy? ALISON DARCY: Woebot is a chatbot, and people should not use him
as a replacement for getting real care. Really what he is is a sort  of easy way to be brought through
a cognitive behavioural therapy process, but he doesn’t really deliver
in the same way that a therapist would. JO AGGARWAL: One of the reasons
that people don’t reach out to a therapist or their loved ones is because they don’t want to expose
themselves to another human being as being emotionally weak. We do work really hard
to pick up things like crisis and our number one responsibility
to people is transparency. Wysa uses artificial intelligence to be able to detect what you are saying and then decide what to say next. Those responses have been pre-approved
by therapists. NARRATOR: What could be the pros and cons
of using these kind of apps? NEW SPEAKER: I just don’t know how willing
I am to rely on technology completely because of the fact
that it only has to fail once and that could be someone’s life. NEW SPEAKER: If it’s bullying
with social media that has caused you to become depressed
or something, you’re not going to want to
chat on Messenger, if that’s the root of what started it. NEW SPEAKER: And what surprised me
was quite how human it was, in that when you said, “I don’t really
want to talk about it right now,” they offered something else
for you to do – play a game with it,
something like that. – So I think that quite good…
– Yeah, that’s really good. … although it’s not quite human. NEW SPEAKER: It’s almost
that first port of call within a crisis. If someone doesn’t have someone
to talk to – they might not have access
to mental health services – if they can literally download an app
and then it helps… ..then who says that it isn’t
a good idea, know what I mean? NARRATOR: Would you be honest
in using an app? NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I would, actually. So if you talk to someone who already
knows you, like a friend or something, they’re going to have their set opinion
on what they think you should do, because they know you, but sometimes
you don’t want to hear that. You just want someone like the app
to just ask questions. NEW SPEAKER: I’m not going to lie.
This app, I’m really, really impressed. It’s like a full-on conversation… NEW SPEAKER: It gave me
a breathing exercise earlier. NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, I saw that.
I was like…whoa! ILINA SINGH: We have many people
suffering from mental health concerns all over the world, and we just don’t have
enough therapies or people power to meet those needs. The very fact that a young person
is seeking mental health online means that there’s something wrong. And so having people in their lives
who can support them through that in addition to the app
would be very important. NARRATOR: Challenging the stigma
around mental illness and getting everyone to open up
and talk is a difficult challenge. For those reluctant
to talk to a real person, then perhaps talking to a machine might
provide a step in the right direction. If you have a problem,
no matter how bad it feels right now, speak to somebody you trust
and get medical help. There are kind and caring mental health
professionals out there who can help. All you have to do is ask.

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