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Friday, February 2, 2024

Young people turning to AI therapist bots

Joe Tidy
Originally posted 4 Jan 24

Here is an excerpt:

Sam has been so surprised by the success of the bot that he is working on a post-graduate research project about the emerging trend of AI therapy and why it appeals to young people. Character.ai is dominated by users aged 16 to 30.

"So many people who've messaged me say they access it when their thoughts get hard, like at 2am when they can't really talk to any friends or a real therapist,"
Sam also guesses that the text format is one with which young people are most comfortable.
"Talking by text is potentially less daunting than picking up the phone or having a face-to-face conversation," he theorises.

Theresa Plewman is a professional psychotherapist and has tried out Psychologist. She says she is not surprised this type of therapy is popular with younger generations, but questions its effectiveness.

"The bot has a lot to say and quickly makes assumptions, like giving me advice about depression when I said I was feeling sad. That's not how a human would respond," she said.

Theresa says the bot fails to gather all the information a human would and is not a competent therapist. But she says its immediate and spontaneous nature might be useful to people who need help.
She says the number of people using the bot is worrying and could point to high levels of mental ill health and a lack of public resources.

Here are some important points-

Reasons for appeal:
  • Cost: Traditional therapy's expense and limited availability drive some towards bots, seen as cheaper and readily accessible.
  • Stigma: Stigma associated with mental health might make bots a less intimidating first step compared to human therapists.
  • Technology familiarity: Young people, comfortable with technology, find text-based interaction with bots familiar and less daunting than face-to-face sessions.
Concerns and considerations:
  • Bias: Bots trained on potentially biased data might offer inaccurate or harmful advice, reinforcing existing prejudices.
  • Qualifications: Lack of professional mental health credentials and oversight raises concerns about the quality of support provided.
  • Limitations: Bots aren't replacements for human therapists. Complex issues or severe cases require professional intervention.