Recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) have got people curious about their applications in different fields. In a new study, a group of researchers assessed whether an AI voice assistant app could deliver psychotherapy that can help people with mild depression and anxiety.
The findings, published in Translational Psychiatry, showed that using AI voice assistant Lumen for eight sessions of problem-solving therapy resulted in changes in brain activity along with improvement in symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to a press statement from the University of Illinois Chicago.
This study is the first to test an AI voice-based virtual coach for behavioural therapy and provide positive feedback about virtual therapy’s role in mental healthcare, said co-first author Dr Olusola A. Ajilore.
“We’ve had an incredible explosion of need, especially in the wake of COVID, with soaring rates of anxiety and depression and not enough practitioners,” said Ajilore, professor of psychiatry at UIC, in the statement. “This kind of technology may serve as a bridge. It’s not meant to be a replacement for traditional therapy, but it may be an important stop-gap before somebody can seek treatment.”
After developing Lumen, the researchers recruited 63 patients for the study. Two-thirds of the patients used Lumen and the rest received no intervention. After the intervention, the Lumen group showed decreased scores for depression, anxiety and psychological distress compared with the control group, according to the statement. The study also showed promising results for women and underrepresented populations.
“If this form of treatment might actually offer, not only just access but greater benefits to ethnic and racial minorities, that’s very meaningful,” said Dr Jun Ma, the study's senior author.
Further talking about digital mental health services, Ma said that these apps should not be thought of as technology replacing humans but instead, as a way to find novel and effective ways to deliver treatments to people who otherwise do not have access to them. “Then there is more of an opportunity to think about how we allocate our very limited resources so that we can serve more patients who need care,” Ma added.
The researchers feel that the AI voice coach is not meant to be a replacement for traditional therapy, but could be an important stop-gap before a person seeks treatment, according to the statement.