- Woebot is a free therapy chatbot that launched as a stand-alone app in January.
- Alison Darcy, a clinical psychologist at Stanford University, created it.
- Woebot uses one of the most well-researched approaches to treating depression, cognitive behavioral therapy, to deliver scripted responses to users.
- It’s part of a growing trend of incorporating smartphone apps into therapy.
The message I couldn’t ignore appeared around 6pm. I was on the bus. Instinctively, I cupped a hand around my phone and stole a furtive glance at the newest blue bubble on the screen.
“Hey Erin, you ready to check in?” someone — or something — asked.
The message was from Woebot, an artificially intelligent chatbot designed to help people cope with feelings of depression and anxiety. It was my latest jaunt into the new and often uncharted territory of digital mental health care.
Alison Darcy, the clinical psychologist at Stanford University who created Woebot, based the tool on a type of treatment called cognitive-behavioral therapy, a heavily-researched clinical approach to depression that encourages people to examine how they react to challenging situations.
Woebot isn’t a replacement for an in-person therapist, according to Darcy, nor will it help you find one. Instead, the tool is part of a widening array of approaches to mental health. But it’s fundamentally different from any form of therapy that’s existed before.
“The Woebot experience doesn’t map onto what we know to be a human-to-computer relationship and it doesn’t map onto what we know to be a human-to-human relationship either,” Darcy told Business Insider. “It seems to be something in the middle.”
The uniqueness of Woebot could prove to be its biggest strength — or cause its downfall. But with roughly one in five Americans struggling with some form of mental illness or psychiatric disease, experts agree that it’s time for something new.