Meet Woebot: The Friendly Chatbot Reducing Depression

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Humans really seem to like it.

Woebot

It’s estimated that 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health condition over the course of their lifetime. Although this number is staggeringly high, the footprint of depression is larger than this number still: mental health touches not just those who directly experience it, but also surrounding friends and family.

Despite studies suggesting that an increase in time online has contributed to a rise in mental health issues, one leading psychologist decided to use the very same outlet to treat issues some claim it can cause.

Woebot, a kind of online psychologist chatbot developed by Stanford University clinical psychologist Dr Alison Darcy, uses cognitive behavioural therapy to treat depression through its online interface and accompanying app. Using Facebook’s Messenger app to engage in conversation with its clients, Woebot chats away with anyone who needs it, using “natural language processing, therapeutic expertise” as well as a sense of humour to converse successfully with its users.

“I’m ready to listen, 24/7,” says Woebot on the website. “No couches, no meds, no childhood stuff. Just strategies to improve your mood. And the occasional dorky joke.”

Woebot doesn’t just offer you an e-couch to chat on, and it’s more than an online shrink: through the app, Woebot can track your moods, feed you relevant and interesting content that can help, and, of course, offer complete, round-the-clock clinical care, seeing as Woebot keeps some pretty impressively long hours.

One of the fundamental functions of Woebot, however, is to be able to recognise behavioural patterns, some of which are invisible to those who experience them.

Read more: Are You Suffering From App-Separation Anxiety?

If you’re wondering how much Woebot can actually help your woes, founder and CEO Alison herself was floored by findings conducted by Stanford University. According to research conducted on 70 participants, symptoms of depression significantly decreased within just two weeks of Woebot use.

And although the app was originally built with college and graduate students who can’t afford access to therapy in mind, Alison says the use of cognitive behavioural therapy can assist people from many different backgrounds.

“A lot of this content is very universal,” she says. “That’s the beauty of cognitive behavioural therapy. It’s demonstrated to be useful across populations and across different diagnoses.”

Woebot offers the first 14 sessions for free, and annual memberships start from US$6 a week.

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