How Phobot, an artificially intelligent (AI) conversational agent, facilitates mental health support.
Phobot is a voice and text operated conversational agent (chatbot) designed to deliver purpose-built cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) programmes to treat anxiety in adolescents (aged 12-16). It has a natural, low-friction dialogue-based interface to facilitate engagement and adherence. The chatbot uses reflection and empathy to build a connection with the user, conveyed through an avatar and its responses. A trial, focusing on social anxiety was developed and evaluated. The feedback was excellent and showed that Phobot has the potential to provide a range of effective therapy interventions easily and conveniently.
According to an office of communications (OFCOM) survey: 83% of 12-15 year olds are likely to own a smartphone making Phobot a familiar, user-friendly platform to interact with. Whilst this age group is familiar with text messaging and using apps, the language used to describe mental health therapies can be difficult to understand. Phobot has been purposefully designed for use with young people, simplifying complex terms in easy-to-understand and digestible content, available at the user’s convenience. It will also have settings allowing the user to decide whether to communicate by text or speech, and whether the avatar should be shown or hidden.
The high availability of high-speed networks also facilitates out-of-home access for numerous smartphone users. This is evidenced by an OFCOM communication market report which suggests at least 52% of commuters use their smartphones for navigation, 66% banking and 41% shopping. The convenience of smartphones is likely to extend therapeutic coverage, improve compliance and facilitate just-in-time support for the user. User trials have shown exciting responses in Phobot’s presentation and CBT delivery.
Acceptability, Understandability, Engagement and Ease of Use.
Personalised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
To ensure interactions with the user are as close to real life therapy sessions as possible, Phobot was trained by Dr.Simon Lewis, expert in clinical psychology. The conversational agent has been trained to never provide inappropriate or distressing responses. It must always interpret and analyse inputs before providing a response. The virtual therapist is a true chatbot trained to adhere to widely used CBT models, and deliver personalised evidence-based assistance for the most vulnerable and difficult to reach populations.
Privacy and data security
CBT captures sensitive information about a user’s emotions and feelings and interaction with a computer on these issues is effective because users feel they are not being judged by another human being. Sharing this information with a third party would betray the user’s trust. While conversations need to be recorded and kept on the phone for the therapy to work, access to the app will be restricted using an extra layer of security similar to banking apps. There may be occasions when sharing the RCADS scores and CBT conversations with a GP or therapist would be useful, for example where further support is needed. We will include the facility to download the content for the user to share if they wish to do so.
Key stakeholders: Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist, Human computer interface experts, HMI researchers have worked alongside Cadscan to develop Phobot.
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