March 5, 2024

Instead, she says, the bot delivers “digital therapeutics”. And Woebot’s Terms of Use call it a “pure self-help program” that is not intended for emergencies. In fact, Woebot says that in the event of a major crisis, it is programmed to recognize suicidal language and urge users to seek a human alternative.

In this way, Woebot is not approaching any real therapy – like many mental health apps, the current, free version of Woebot is not subject to strict supervision by the Food and Drug Administration as it falls into the category of “general wellness” products that receives FDA instructions only.

But Woebot strives for something more. With $ 22 million in venture capital, Woebot is seeking FDA approval to develop its algorithm to treat two psychiatric diagnoses, postpartum and adolescent depression, and then sell the program to healthcare systems.

And this is where Woebot hopes to make money using its practical advantage over any human therapist: size.

While other virtual therapy companies like BetterHelp or Talkspace still have to recruit therapists for their platforms, AI apps can add new users without paying for extra work. And while therapists can vary in skills and approach, a bot is consistent and doesn’t get stressed by back-to-back sessions.

“The assumption is always that it will always be limited because it is digital,” said Dr. Darcy from Woebot. “There are actually some opportunities that are being created by technology itself that are a real challenge for us in traditional treatment.”

An advantage of an artificial therapist – or, as Dr. Darcy calls it a “relational agent” – is 24-hour access. Very few human therapists answer the phone at 2 a.m. during a panic attack, as Dr. Darcy emphasized. “I think people have probably underestimated the power of being able to use a therapeutic technique at the moment there is a need,” she said.