The Limited Times

Now you can see non-English news...

Would you go to a robot to get psychological care?


Highlights: Mental health tools based on artificial intelligence are gaining more and more followers. Would you turn to an AI-based virtual therapist to provide you with some type of psychological help? “Surely, depending on what problems,” confesses Rubén Nieto, professor of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the Open University of Catalonia. One of the first conversational bots in history, Eliza, was created in 1966 by Professor Joseph Weizenbaum, based on Carl Rogers' psychotherapy method.

Mental health tools based on artificial intelligence are gaining more and more followers and are already useful in certain tasks and situations

Judging by the increasing presence of apps


on artificial intelligence (AI), it is almost incredible to think that most of what is almost everyday today less than two years ago bordered on science fiction.

And yet, we already talk quite naturally about generative AI and its multiple applications in the creation of almost any type of content.

ChatGPT, without going any further, exceeded 180.5 million monthly active users in December 2023, and was chosen as the application of the year by Android users.

The presence of AI in our daily lives is almost ubiquitous, and reaches fields as diverse as leisure (with streaming platforms


, scientific research, education, marketing or medical care.

And that, of course, also includes psychology.

But would you turn to an AI-based virtual therapist to provide you with some type of psychological help?

“Surely, depending on what problems,” confesses Rubén Nieto, professor of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC).

“When it comes to receiving a psychological intervention, there are people who may find it less difficult to enter through a machine than with a person (...).

Furthermore, the cost is surely much lower, and it could be an entry point for a demand for psychological care that we are not currently providing a solution to,” he argues.

Not in vain, in Character AI: AI-Powered Chat, the best AI


of the year for Google, one of the most popular chatbots is the one called


which, according to the BBC, received 18 million visits last year alone month of November.

And the platform also has 475 robots that include terms such as “therapy”, “therapist”, “psychiatrist” or “psychologist” in their names.

An example of the importance of AI in the field of psychology is an experiment carried out in the United States at the beginning of the century, to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in war veterans.

“They created the avatar of a psychologist in a virtual reality world, and it was really very well programmed, since it showed understanding to the patients, made them reflect that I was understanding them, asked them about their problem and made them feel comfortable,” explains Nieto, “to the point that some of those veterans found it easier to talk to that avatar than to a real person.”

And be careful, because in reality it was not even a pioneering system: one of the first conversational bots in history, Eliza, was created in 1966 at the prestigious American MIT, by Professor Joseph Weizenbaum, based on Carl Rogers' psychotherapy method. .

What applications does AI have in psychology?

Contemplating the use of AI applications in the field of psychology raises many doubts about its convenience and effectiveness.

One may wonder, for example, if we do not run the risk of getting used to turning to a virtual therapist and, therefore, not turning to a real professional when necessary.

Or even, since an AI is only as good as the information it has been trained with, wondering to what extent an AI is programmed by someone who is an expert in how mental health works.

“The risk is that if you go to Google and type “psychological interventions with artificial intelligence”, you can access a machine that you do not know who programmed it, where it gets the data from and how it guides you.

But if it is correctly programmed and tested, I think it should not be a problem,” says Nieto.

It all depends, she says, on where the trend is going: after all, a few years ago no one used Google Maps to get around, and today it is essential.

“For this reason, I have the feeling that we will end up integrating it much more into our daily lives, and I suppose also for psychological intervention.”

For Mireia Cabero, collaborating professor of Psychology and Educational Sciences studies at the UOC, AI applied to this field is already proving to be efficient in concrete actions "such as the first screening of cases and the diagnosis and evaluation of mental disorders." , so that it facilitates the professional's diagnosis and speeds up decision-making."

It is also useful to accompany patients in different processes of emotional pain (such as grief or recovery from trauma), self-knowledge and rethinking strategies in discomfort or non-serious life conflicts, in addition to "reducing their experience of loneliness with conversations." therapeutic and for pedagogical and transformative purposes”, even assessing their possible referral to emergency support units such as suicide prevention or serious youth disorders.

Risks and challenges

Some interventions that, however, also pose risks that must not be ignored, "such as the possibility of critical, serious and potentially risky cases (suicides, image and eating disorders or substance abuse, among others) being missed due to to possible errors due to biases or imperfect algorithms,” says Cabero.

And there is still a question to be resolved: are we in danger of AI replacing the work of a real therapist?

It seems, at the moment, unlikely: “It does not seem that artificial intelligence can replicate human empathy, psychological presence (being and knowing how to be there for the other) and the emotional accompaniment that we humans provide with sensitivity, joy and with our own DNA.” ”.

When it comes to making good use of AI in the field of mental health, the strategy, for Nieto, is to educate the population so that they know how to determine whether any technology is appropriate or not: “This has already happened to us. previously in the field of health in general and psychology in particular.

If you had a health problem before AI, what did you do?

You went to Google and typed “it hurts like this,” and you got millions of entries, many of them with erroneous information (...).

We must teach people to pay attention, for example, to who is the author of that technology, to look for who and for what objectives developed it, etc.

Community medicine, research and support

As the UOC experts remind us, the current applications of AI in psychology are not limited to the aspects already mentioned.

In community mental health intervention programs, for example, standardized content is offered to the population over the Internet that, thanks to artificial intelligence, can be personalized to provide exactly the content that each person needs, through interaction with each person. .

On the other hand, in research work, AI can help search scientific literature more quickly, so that professionals are always aware of the most effective treatments at all times;

in addition to monitoring patients in the intervals between different therapy sessions.

The lack of psychologists, a key factor

If the pandemic highlighted the importance of paying attention to mental health problems, the post-pandemic has done the same, showing that little, or nothing, has been learned from that experience: “So, since it is a high-stress situation, The need for psychologists in the health and social system was very clear.

But the situation has returned to the starting point,” Nieto denounces.

The reality, he points out, is that the access route to the public health system is complicated and clearly insufficient.

“I think we have not made progress in that sense, and we have to continue working at the political level,” continues the expert.

"And not only at the level of mental health, but also in other series of diseases in which we have a very important role, such as oncology, chronic pain, diabetes and other traditional health problems."

The lack of doctors is even more evident when the Spanish scenario is compared with that of other partners in the European community, according to Andrea García: Spain has, in the public network, six clinical psychologists per 100,000 inhabitants (three times less than the European average), and 11 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, almost five times less than in Switzerland (52) and approximately half than in France (23), Germany (27) or the Netherlands (24).

Meanwhile, suicide rates and mental health problems continue to rise.





Subscribe to the 

 EL PAÍS Training


Recommended training

Distance learning postgraduate degree in Artificial Intelligence (ISEB)

Online Degree in Psychology (UNIR)

Master of Lifelong Training in Artificial Intelligence (OBS)

Distance Master in General Psychology (ISEB)

Online Master's Degree in Artificial Intelligence (VIU)

Master in Child and Youth Psychology & Early Care (ISEB)

Artificial Intelligence Course: Fundamentals and Practical Applications (CEI)

Postgraduate in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (IEBS)

Source: elparis

All business articles on 2024-02-22

You may like

Trends 24h


© Communities 2019 - Privacy

The information on this site is from external sources that are not under our control.
The inclusion of any links does not necessarily imply a recommendation or endorse the views expressed within them.