Instead, she says, the bot delivers "digital therapeutics". And Woebot's Terms of Service call it a "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 under the "General Wellness" category only receives FDA guidance.
But Woebot strives for something more. With $ 22 million in venture capital, Woebot applies for approval from the F.D.A. develop his algorithm to treat two psychiatric diagnoses, postpartum depression and adolescent depression, and then sell the program to health systems.
And this is where Woebot hopes to make money by taking advantage of its practical advantage over any human therapist: scaling.
While other virtual therapy companies like BetterHelp or Talkspace have to continue to recruit therapists to join their platforms, A.I. Apps can add new users without paying for extra work. And while therapists can vary in terms of skills and approach, a bot is consistent and doesn't get stressed out from 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 indeed some opportunities that arise from the 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 it is necessary," she said.