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  • Paula Thompson
    Paula Thompson

    AI Therapy: The Difference between Knowledge and Experience

    Gigabytes of digital data are effortlessly gathered and stored every second, more information at our fingertips than ever before. From news stories and YouTube tutorials to self-guided learning, if we want something, the answers are right in front of us. But the truth is, knowledge without experience is incomplete, and so too is the current trend towards human-less AI therapy.

    When it comes to emotional and mental health, time and time again successful treatment comes not from simply understanding the situation we're in, but from actually experiencing it with someone who can help us navigate it – a real-life therapist, rather than a computer algorithm.

    This is what psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichmann said many years ago; "the patient needs an experience, not an explanation". And although cost-effectiveness has made AI therapy a viable option for many, there is still so much that can be offered by a living, breathing person when it comes to diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues.

    Traditional therapy gives sufferers the opportunity to discuss their personal problems in an intimate, safe environment, allowing both patient and therapist to explore individual experiences. In contrast, the human element of AI therapy is lacking – even a machine trained with the best datasets available won't account for the nuances of a personal situation.

    Where AI does have potential is in enhancing traditional therapies; for example, AI-enabled products are helping therapists to quantify data that was wildly ambiguous and subjective in the past. By algorithms tracking personal behaviour, engagement, empathy and response times, clinicians can make better decisions on where to focus their treatments.

    At the same time, AI itself can be a valuable tool for experiential learning, boosting psychological literacy for the layman who may not have access to traditional therapy. It can crowdsource wisdom from a wide range of experts, curate material into tailored advice, and offer general support to those who need it. However, while this could understandably create hope and reach those who may have previously stayed unheard, artificial intelligence should never be considered as a replacement for conventional therapy, which has been, and will always remain, the lifeblood of meaningful change.

    In the wake of the ongoing health crisis, virtual appointments and telehealth - including the integration of AI – are becoming the norm, so it's essential that those in need of mental health treatment don't simply settle for whatever is available. With the right frame of mind, AI therapy can be a useful supplemental measure to a holistic, human-centered approach – but we must never forget that information alone is never enough.

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