Dr. Fjóla Dögg Helgadóttir, a clinical psychology researcher at Oxford, was recently featured in Science Magazine for her online artificial intelligence therapy program, CPTpsych, which is based on traditional cognitive behavioral therapy.
A fellow Icelander and Oxford resident who had struggled with stress and unease since moving to the UK in 2010, met Fjóla three years ago, and agreed to try the program.
“I felt I was losing control,” the woman told Science Magazine.
Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on helping an individual overcome their problems, by changing underlying patterns of thought or behavior in practical, goal-oriented ways.
Fjóla’s program works in very much the same way, except no actual human psychologist needs to be involved.
It starts out by having the patient answer a series of interactive questions that get increasingly more complex over the course of several months.
At the conclusion of the diagnostic period, the program diagnosed the Icelandic woman with social anxiety—a diagnosis which resonated with the patient. “I didn’t want people to see me.”
The program then guided the woman “through a regimen of real-world exercises for taking control.”
While Fjóla does not believe that computers will ever completely replace human therapists, she does think that artificial intelligence programs can in some cases be successful, even in isolation.
“There are many psychological problems that people never seek help for. The advantage of a program like this, is that the anonymity allows more people to seek help,” Fjóla told RÚV.
This especially applies to individuals struggling with social anxiety, she added. It is also less costly than traditional therapy, and there is no waiting time for an appointment—both of which can be significant barriers to treatment.