Many eons ago, when I was suffering from chronic anxiety, I was housebound.
I remember it was a hot summer’s day. I would look out the window of my room, envying people who were out walking or talking to their friends and expressing an opinion without running out of breath.
I would spend my days ruminating on the oncoming stroke or the heart attack I thought I’ll suffer because of those anxiety-induced palpitations.
If only phone applications were a thing then, my chronic anxiety wouldn’t have lasted for so long.
What is AI Therapy?
AI therapy is a type of therapy that involves chatbots on a phone app. These chatbots can offer advice in times of crisis, deliver mental health assessments to the user, find a local therapist or facilitate the distribution of medicine.
AI therapy was developed by therapists and is a combination of technology, innovation, and professional therapy that helps phone users who suffer from anxiety and other mental health conditions. Anyone interested in such a service must have a smartphone and an internet connection.
Some experts believe that AI therapy can make therapy more accessible to people and convince those who are initially less interested in getting help.
Another advantage of AI therapy is helping the user deal with a relapse.
For example, in the case of alcohol addiction, the app can help with emotion regulation. An AI-powered mental health platform like Youper for example, encourages its user to track their daily moods. A period of negative emotions might suggest to the chatbot that the user is experiencing a relapse in their addiction recovery. (it’s known that those who engage in substance abuse have a hard time handling negative emotions)
Thus, AI can help someone experiencing a relapse by suggesting a course of action or a therapist for them.
How effective is AI therapy?
A 2021 study done by Ashish Mehta et al. and published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research used 4500 participants who had access to Youper on their phones.
After 2 weeks of evaluation, their anxiety decreased by 24%, while the depression levels were down by 19%. The reason Youper helps its user manage their anxiety effectively is because the application uses Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy exercises to manage their negative emotions.
Anger, fear, frustration, and sadness are negative emotions that those suffering from anxiety have a hard time dealing with.
When my anxiety was at its peak, I was afraid of my emotions and did not know what to do with them. So, instead, I repressed them.
Emotions are an important part of our lives.
We can’t have healthy, balanced lives if we refuse to accept our emotions and live with them. I’ve once read an article that touted the importance of processing our negative energy.
The author said that not expressing emotions is as uncomfortable (and dangerous) as holding your pee for too long. If you don’t pee when you have to, you can weaken your pelvic floor muscles or develop a UTI.
Holding in your anger, for example, can cause an increase in blood pressure and even heart problems.
A 2006 study by David E. Anderson suggests that suppressing your anger for long periods of time increases the risk of coronary heart disease. This means not getting pissed off when you should be is bad for your heart.
Moreover, your subconscious mind will learn that not getting angry is dangerous. Thus, it will try to protect you from your own anger by getting you into the fight-or-flight mode.
Can AI therapy replace human interaction?
Although chatbots can store and remember a significant amount of information about the user and deliver fast replies to their concerns, AI therapy is not as efficient as in-person therapy.
Therapists who see their patients in their office have the advantage of reading their clients’ body language, mirroring their emotions, and establishing a connection with them. From my experience in therapy, what helps people heal is the bond the patient forms with their therapist.
There is also ‘transference’, which is a phenomenon where the patient transfers the feelings they have for a person in their lives onto their therapist. This is important because one can then analyze these projected feelings, which facilitate recovery.
Transference is more possible in traditional psychotherapy settings and harder on a phone app.
Being in the presence of an experienced professional and talking about your intimate issues, which one cannot handle on their own, is very soothing.
Who benefits more from AI therapy?
An AI therapy platform like Youper was designed to benefit people who can’t afford traditional psychotherapy.
A Youper subscription costs $89 a year, while traditional therapy will make you spend hundreds of dollars every month or more. Few people can shell out an extra five hundred dollars a month to talk about their problems.
AI can also benefit those who only want to dip their toes into teletherapy and are not yet sure if they need a local therapist.
For example, Youper can help you track your own moods and engage in CBT-based exercises that will help you manage your emotions. However, you’re not obliged to sign up with a therapist.
This way, a therapy platform like Youper can help you help yourself and see that there’s no shame in wanting to feel better.
Some people live with a physical disability for which teletherapy is valuable. Those affected by chronic anxiety who are housebound can also benefit from a mental health app.
However, for the rest of us, traditional therapy can have better and faster results.
And, if you’re serious about your mental health, making physical appointments with a trained psychotherapist can go a long way.
Those who avoid going out because they may think they’ll have a panic attack in public should start facing their fear little by little. Taking small steps to defeat this fear will have lifelong benefits.
I wasn’t house bond for too long when I had chronic anxiety.
I knew that if I didn’t go out despite me having a dozen of panic attacks per day, I would soon become a prisoner in my home.
So I got out. I almost panicked at first, but I pushed through those feelings and did the same thing the next day.
Fast forward, I ended up getting a job and interacting with children and adults who depended on me for emotional support. Later, I won an international master’s degree program and moved to Northern Europe.
I found a great therapist there who helped me manage my anxiety and be an active participant in my life.
Do I have panic attacks now? I don’t get them anymore, however, sometimes I get anxious and ruminate over something I or someone else has done.
Stress is a part of modern life and I now make space for it instead of running away from it.
AI therapy is a brilliant method of managing your negative emotions that can make you anxious for weeks, even months. AI helps those who need medication for their anxiety or depression, and it’s definitely more affordable than in-person therapy.
However, AI therapy has its limitations and it may not be as productive as psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis deals with the subconscious reasons you do the things you do which, if uncovered, can lead to growth.
If you’re struggling and live in the city, a platform like Youper can put you in touch with a therapist who can see you in the comfort of their office.
Getting out of your house to meet a mental health professional has many benefits.
You’ll become more confident by interacting with someone with a pulse who can look you in the eye and hand you a box of tissues if needed.