Facebook now has a chatbot therapist to help reduce your anxieties

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

I have a few clients, business owners and executives who rely heavily on coaches and therapists to help them better balance their professional and personal lives. One recently told me that spending an hour a week with his therapist was the only time he could speak to someone who “didn’t bring their own agenda to the conversation.” He, like many others, will probably love WoeBot.

WoeBot, created by a “team of Stanford psychologists and artificial intelligence experts” is a “talk therapy chatbot,” according to this article in Wired. Your personalized WoeBot, which is delivered via Facebook Messenger, will check in on you once a day and use your ongoing daily conversations, videos and word games to better evaluate your mood and hopefully improve your mental health. The cost is only $39 a month, which is a good bit cheaper than the $150 an hour my client is paying his therapist.

The bot asks questions like “What is your energy like today?” and “How are you feeling?” It gathers data. It processes texts and emojis that you enter and then goes through a decision-tree process before offering cognitive behavioral responses designed, like a good therapist, to “facilitate someone else’s process, not become a part of it,” Alison Darcy, one of the psychologists behind WoeBot, and the chief executive of WoeBot Inc., told Wired.

The idea isn’t exactly new. A 2014 research study at the University of California introduced a virtual therapist named Ellie who was taught to talk through problems with the study’s 239 participants. There’s also an Arabic-speaking bot adorably named X2AI that was deployed in 2016 to help Syrian people deal with mild anxieties.

But WoeBot isn’t just a therepeutic “assistant” as X2AI is. It’s a therapeutic solution. And it can help you, on demand, with the problems of the day–both professionally and personally. Better yet, it can be done anonymously without the fear of judgment or the stigma of dealing with a human therapist.

It could be a hard sell.  Business owners like me are used to social media and technology that frequently increases our stress level, not reduces it.


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