Sonia's AI chatbot is making strides for clinicians.

WhatsApp Group Join Now
Telegram Group Join Now
Instagram Group Join Now

Can chatbots replace human therapists? Some startups — and patients — claim they can. But it's not exactly a settled science.

One study found that 80 percent of people who used OpenAI's ChatGPT for mental health counseling considered it a good alternative to regular therapy, while a separate report said Chatbots have been shown to be effective in reducing certain symptoms related to depression and anxiety. On the other hand, it is well established that the relationship between therapist and client—the human connection, in other words—is among the best predictors of success in mental health treatment.

Three entrepreneurs – Dustin Klebe, Lucas Wolfe and Chris Eberly – are in the pro-chatbot therapy camp. His startup, Sonia, offers an “AI therapist” that users can talk to or text about various topics through an iOS app.

“To some extent, creating an AI therapist is like developing a drug, in the sense that we're creating a new technology that repackages an existing one,” Sonia CEO Klebi told TechCrunch in an interview. is contrary to.”

The three met in 2018 while studying computer science at ETH Zürich and moved to the US together to pursue graduate studies at MIT. Shortly after graduating, they reunited to launch a startup that could encapsulate their shared passion for scalable tech.

That startup became Sonia.

Sonya leverages multiple generative AI models to analyze and respond to what users say during “therapy sessions” in the app. Applying techniques from cognitive-behavioral therapy, the app, which charges users $20 a month or $200 a year, gives “homework” aimed at taking home insights from conversations and visualizations that identify top stressors. I am designed to help.

Image credit: Sonia

Klebe claims that Sonya, which has not received FDA approval, can treat problems ranging from depression, stress and anxiety to relationship problems and poor sleep. For more serious situations, such as people having violent or suicidal thoughts, Sonya has “additional algorithms and models” to detect “emergency situations” and send users to national hotlines, Klebe says. are

Somewhat alarmingly, none of Sonia's founders have a background in psychology. But Klebe says the startup consults with psychologists, recently hired a cognitive psychology graduate, and is actively recruiting a full-time clinical psychologist.

“It's important to emphasize that we do not consider human therapists, or any company providing physical or virtual mental health care by humans, as our competition,” Klebe said. “For every response generated by Sonia, about seven additional language model calls are occurring in the background to analyze the situation from several different treatment perspectives to adjust, optimize, and optimize the treatment methods Sonia chooses. and can be personalized.”

What about privacy? Can users be sure their data isn't being stored in a vulnerable cloud or being used to train Sony's models without their knowledge?

Klebe says Sonia is committed to storing only the “absolute minimum” of personal information to administer therapy: a user's age and name. However, it did not say where, how, or for how long Sonia stores the conversational data.

Image credit: Sonia

Sonia, which has about 8,000 users and is backed by $3.35 million from investors including Y Combinator, Moonfire, Rebel Fund and SBXi, has asked unnamed mental health organizations to provide Sonia as a resource through its online portals. Communicating. Sonia's reviews on the App Store have been quite positive so far, with several users noting that they find it easier to talk about their problems with the chatbot than with a human therapist.

But is this a good thing?

Today's chatbot tech is limited in the quality of advice it can give — and it can't pick up on subtle signs that indicate a problem, such as an anorexic asking how to lose weight. (Sonia will not even know the person's weight.)

Chatbots' responses are also colored by biases—often Western biases reflected in their training data. As a result, they are more likely to miss cultural and linguistic differences in the way a person expresses mental illness, especially if English is the person's second language. (Sonia only supports English.)

In the worst case scenario, chatbots go off the rails. Last year, the National Eating Disorders Association came under fire for replacing humans with a chatbot, Tessa, that provided weight-loss tips that motivated people with eating disorders.

Klebe emphasized that Sonia is not trying to replace human therapists.

Image credit: Sonia

“We're creating a solution for the millions of people who struggle with their mental health but can't (or don't want) access to a human therapist,” Klebe said. “We want to bridge the huge gap between demand and supply.”

There is definitely a difference – both in the ratio of professionals to patients and the cost of treatment compared to what most patients can afford. According to a recent government report, more than half of Americans do not have adequate geographic access to mental health care. And a recent survey found that 42% of American adults with a mental health condition were unable to get care because they couldn't afford it.

A piece in Scientific America talks about therapy apps that cater to the “concerned well,” or people who can afford therapy and app subscriptions, and not isolated individuals who are most at risk. Can but don't know how to get help. At $20 per month, Sonia isn't exactly cheap — but Klebe says it's cheaper than a typical therapy appointment.

“It's much easier to get started using Sonia than seeing a human therapist, which involves finding a therapist, being on a four-month waiting list, going in at an appointment and paying $200,” she said. ,” They said. “Sonia has already seen more patients than a human physician will see in his entire career.”

I just hope Sonya's founders are transparent about the problems the app can and cannot create.

WhatsApp Group Join Now
Telegram Group Join Now
Instagram Group Join Now

Leave a Comment