Online therapy is a booming industry, and now AI-powered chatbots are starting to roll into the sector.

The recent arrival of ChatGPT and its enhanced language capability to handle human interaction may soon be a revolutionary alternative to revealing your deepest mental health issues to a human therapist.

How close is an AI-powered chatbot to replacing your human mental health specialist? Closer than you can imagine. In fact, some aspects of AI-powered medicine are already here.

Some software developers and mental health practitioners are already reaching for the pause button. Others in the medical and computer industries are pressing the panic button.

TechNewsWorld recently surveyed several dozen mental health experts and bot developers actively involved in artificial intelligence chatbot projects. Some respondents dismissed the credibility of AI tools to replace human physicians. Others raised a possibility for better algorithms down the road with current practices that they said are useful and effective.

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT reached 100 million active users in January, becoming the fastest growing consumer application in history. Launched by OpenAI as a prototype in November 2022, it is user-friendly while requiring advanced technical knowledge and understanding of AI and conversational technology.

Since then, the beta product has become explosively popular and integrated into many uses involving language and computer coding.

The product name, ChatGPT, stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer. It is a chatbot built on top of the GPT family of OpenAI large language models. Its popularity is a result of its ability to provide detailed feedback and clear answers in many areas of knowledge.

According to clinical psychologist Carolina Estevez of Infinite Recovery, some mental health websites use chatbots to set up appointments, answer frequently asked questions about services and policies, and store customer data for later convenience.

“However, they have not been used for therapy because the technology is not sophisticated enough to capture the necessary nuances. It will not be able to provide sound counseling, proper diagnosis, or even determine if a person is sick,” Estevez told TechNewsWorld. How are you feeling?”

From Chatbot to Digital Therapist

To be clear, ChatGPT is not a unit developed specifically for mental health services. It’s an AI-based language model that isn’t capable of providing mental health therapy, warned Ryan Faber, founder of Copymatic, an AI-powered platform for creating digital ads, website copy or blog content.

His eight years of technical experience sparked a curiosity about the potential of chatbots, which led him to pursue the innovative technology and found his company.

But it’s one thing to use ChatGPT to author written content. Employing it to provide mental health therapy is quite another.

“It can be more difficult to build rapport with a therapist when communicating through a screen. In addition, online therapy may not be appropriate for individuals with serious mental health issues or those who require more intensive treatment,” Faber told TechNewsWorld.

Ramiro Somosiera, founder and editor of the online music magazine GearAficionado, claimed to be a heavy user of ChatGPT in his daily publishing activities. He also admits to swearing by his doctor.

“I don’t believe there is a real use case for ChatGPT.” [therapy] replacement,” Somosierra told TechNewsWorld. “However, I would not put something as important as mental health in the ‘hands’ of an algorithm as imperfect as ChatGPT.”

In my experience, ChatGPT usually gets basic information wrong when asked to write an article. He is not alone in this assessment. Content inaccuracy is a common descriptor among ChatGPT users across all industries.

“So how can I be sure that it will provide me with mindful conversation if I’m telling it about my relationship with my father?” He quipped.

Pushing the limits of AI for online therapy

Online therapy has proven effective because it reaches a wider number of people and is more accessible because of its virtual capabilities, agreed Talin Banbasadian, director and technology team lead at project management and software development firm Waco. As the population continues to grow and the world moves towards more virtual ways of reaching its client set, online therapy is becoming more widely adopted.

“The main driver is the pandemic. This phenomenon has led to an increase in mental health cases, and as we move towards a world where being vulnerable is encouraged, online therapy will see a rise,” Banbasadian told TechNewsWorld.

Chatbots are currently used where there is a systematic and predictable way of providing therapy – whether for issues related to depression, addiction, or anxiety. Most reliable providers provide human triage options for edge cases.

The need to localize this type of automation based on cultural nuances cannot be stressed enough. What works in the West may not work everywhere, cautioned Atul Bhave, senior vice president of managed services for Waco.

“This is an area of ​​challenge for all enterprises engaged in scaling AI-enabled services. It will continue to be a challenge, but overcoming it will also bring the most benefits,” Bhave told TechNewsWorld.

ChatGPT has trouble with content accuracy, he agreed. But technology has started a revolution, and many more will follow that truly optimize the ability of machines to learn from humans and generate predictable success.

“It’s too early to expect a human level of empathy that can replace incorrect canned information with bots,” Bhave offered.

Advancing AI ethics and expectations

As an example – or perhaps a warning – some people are abusing the already childish ChatGPT. In January, behavioral health platform Koko cofounder Robert Morris announced on Twitter that his website had provided mental health support to nearly 4,000 people using ChatGPT-3 in an experiment.

Some software developers who responded to our questions raised concerns about the suitability of ChatGPT and its potential to replace a human doctor. For example, Chris Love, the proprietor of Love2Dev, has done several mental health projects involving ChatGPT.

“It is a general language model and is not an expert in medicine, nor (has it) been trained to respond like a clinician. If you want to ask it to help with general research in the field, it is resource-intensive. can help you with [and] research,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Love Chat appreciates the mental health potential that GPT can provide. However, we need to understand where the boundaries are, he offered.

“As far as using AI for medicine goes, it can add real value today. I like AI models as a way to triage tedious work and screen issues. That way, professionals can be more serious matters,” Love said. “ChatGPT is not a therapist, and most likely, it will give you a disclaimer in its answers.”

Love offered an example of potential failover features integrated into an online application they built for their customers. The medical field was looking for some “trigger” to either notify the actual medical staff or require the patient to call 911 for a better response.

Online Therapy vs Chatbot Therapist, No Deal

Chatbots are now a medical tool for mental health in two major ways, according to Flora Sadri-Azerbaijani, medical director of Cyclicity Health, an addiction treatment facility in the Boston area, providing support for self-care and cognitive behavioral therapy. (CBT) offers. ,

He explained that CBT is a form of talk therapy that helps people learn how to change their thinking and behavior in order to better manage their mental health.

“Chatbots can provide users with automated, on-demand self-help services by providing information about mental health topics, suggesting lifestyle changes to improve their well-being, or providing strategies to manage stress,” Sadri-Azerbayjani told TechNewsWorld. Can provide care support.”

These types of chatbots can be an effective way to provide additional support and guidance to people who are already receiving therapy and who do not have access to traditional medical services.

“But because medicine is essentially about connecting and understanding people, both chatbots are still quite limited in their capabilities,” she offered. “Even though platforms like ChatGPT can remember information from previous interactions, they are unable to provide personalized, high-quality care like a professional therapist.”