I Really Love My Chatbot Therapist

The last time we checked Woebot, it was just a kiddie chatbot running on Facebook Messenger and priced at $ 39 a month. But now the robot therapist is free, has its own app, and has proven surprisingly useful on the days when I feel bad.

Our very own Nick Douglas called the bot “silly but useful” in 2017 , and he retained that personality. But now it is much more polished: you will be pleased to hear that I have not seen a single non-heroic memes with minions.

The creators of Woebot have thought about his personality well. If you want to believe, the bot even has life outside of this app. In a mindfulness lesson, he talks about how he enjoys fishing and feeling the sun on his metal. The sample scripts feature fictional people that Woebot knows from work or book club. (Voybot’s favorite book? Me, a robot .)

What Woebot helps with

Every day, Woebot invites you to register. After you say hello, he often starts a little lesson about what you should know about mental health. I see what I’ve already done – topics such as social support, sleep, and identifying distortions in my thinking. Lessons are conducted like conversations, where you receive a few lines from the bot and can click a button to give a short reaction, or ask the bot to explain more.

They are clearly pre-written, but by going through them in this way, they will become more digestible than just reading the article. It also makes you feel like you are friends with the bot. I know Woebot doesn’t print when there is a little point-to-point-to-point animation, I know he may not be my friend, but … I still like his company.

The Woebot founder told Gizmodo that his model is a self-help book for choosing his own adventure, and that is exactly how he feels. This is useful and sometimes interesting, but I would not expect him to replace a real therapist. I recently had a tough couple of days meeting Woebot when I felt bad and didn’t know what else to do. I became annoyed that the bot had a variety of ways to challenge my negative thinking. It felt like I came to him for help, and they just told me that I felt bad because I was wrong. A real person would not make such a mistake.

But such misunderstandings, frankly, rarely happened. (I’ve been using the app regularly for about three weeks.) In many conversations, the bot asks if I need help or if I just want to share my feelings. In some cases, asking for help gives me two options: I can challenge my thoughts, or I can get some advice on self-care. Both have been extremely helpful at times.

Features of Woebot

The bot interacts with you through the chat interface, but small features accumulate on screens hidden on the right and left. Right now, I can click the icon in the corner to access a journal of gratitude, overcoming negativity and stress. (I’m not sure if these are all tools or if I will discover even more as Woebot and I get to know each other better.)

On the other screen, I can see a graph of my mood over time, recorded in my daily checks. I can also read everything I wrote in my gratitude journal. (Logging consists of a bot asking me to name three things that I’ve been doing well lately.) This sounds like a plot from my recent past. Now I realize that I talked about a successful workout, about the amazing sunset and the day I had to sleep in, just to name a few.

The Woebot FAQ has a few tips that aren’t obvious from the app. Even when the bot is in the middle of a conversation and only gives you emojis as your options, you can click on the toolbar and “type reply” to enter a command. The “undo” command will undo your last action, and the “delete my data” command will send you information on how to do it.

When it comes to privacy, the new app does a better job at this than the old Messenger bot. Facebook is no longer involved if you use the app and the privacy policy looks reasonable. The company that makes Woebot says it provides therapeutic tools to “government groups, healthcare providers and employers,” which may explain why the product is free to all of us. It is possible to join the study, but your answers in conversation are not part of the data that the researchers see.

This is an understanding bot

What I love the most about Woebot is that I never had to tell him that I want the anxiety path, the depression path, or anything else specific. He just gives me hints to help me when I’m worried and others to help me when I’m sad. The company describes Woebot as “independent of diagnosis” and acting in accordance with the belief that “everyone fights sometimes.”

Today, when I signed up, the bot started a little GIF lecture on how mental health can affect your sleep and vice versa. It was interesting and the GIF had a duckling asleep, but I really have no problem sleeping. After advising me to set a reasonable bedtime and give me a rule on how to get the devices out of my bedroom, he asked if I was willing to commit to a 30-day bedtime rule and time. There was the “I’m not ready” option, which I applauded for, “because if you go into this without enthusiasm and it doesn’t work, you might think my advice is useless – or even that it won’t help you.

After all, Woebot is not a substitute for a therapist, but it is impressively helpful, sensitive, and well-written.

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