Will computers replace psychologists?
In the 60s, an MIT scientist named Joseph Weizenbaum developed a computer program designed to simulate therapy sessions humanist Carl Rogers.
This program carried out a succession of open questions so that, seeing them through a screen, the patient could express his feelings as he would with a humanistic therapist. The initiative was so successful that many patients had difficulty accepting the idea that they had been interacting with a computer program, and believed that there were real people sending messages to them.
Today, what is known as computerized therapy exploits all the possibilities of current technological development to offer something similar to what the Weizenbaum program offered. Now, will psychologists replace computers if they continue to bet on this line of action?
The computerized therapy
Until now, computers have been used occasionally as a channel of therapy, that is, a place where therapists and clients or patients have been found through the Internet . This possibility has almost always been seen as a limited version of the face-to-face sessions, and therefore when it is possible it is recommended to physically attend a psychologist's office.
Computerized therapy causes computers to stop being simply the channel and to be active agents in the process of interacting with the person.
It is based on the use of computer programs that adapt to what the person does and offer coherent reactions accordingly. In a way, they are something similar to interactive self-help books, with the difference that in the latter the message is much more important (because it is the only thing that is offered) and that In computerized therapy, the most important thing is the interaction in real time with the person .
As happens in psychotherapy, in computerized therapy the person who interacts with the patient speaks only the patient (something that would happen with self-help), but rather their service consists in asking the questions and the reactions that they make the other person change in a psychological sense, for example, through the cognitive restructuring of Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
Undoubtedly, having a computer program capable of adapting to what is said can be interesting as a form of self-help : instead of self-administering fragments of text from a book, we use as a service a program that allows us to express ourselves reflecting on what happens to us.
This makes, for example, that this service can be used almost always, simply by turning on a computer, and that this is a relatively cheap service if we compare it to psychotherapy sessions. However, these two factors do not make this option a substitute for the query. Let's see why
Why a computer can not be a psychologist
The first thing to be clear about when understanding computerized therapy is that a computer program, at least with the technology currently available, will always have a limited capacity to adapt and learn from what it is. a real person tells you through language.
What characterizes us when we speak is that we use words and phrases very flexibly , using the same term in many possible ways and causing it to change its meaning depending on the context.
The computer program that is behind a form of computerized therapy works through a decision tree, that is, a sequence of actions that is already programmed in advance and that in certain points is divided into several parallel routes, such as occurs in the "Choose your own adventure" books.
This simple fact is what makes computerized therapy can not be compared to real psychotherapy and, therefore, is closer to self-help: the computer can not understand the whole range of thoughts, feelings and actions of a person ; he will only interpret them starting from a very limited processing scheme. The computer will "force" the information it collects about us so that it fits into its predefined schemas, while a psychotherapist does have enough sensitivity to adapt his behavior in totally original ways.
This capacity, by the way, is not typical of therapists themselves: it corresponds to human beings in general.
How to use the sessions with a computer?
In conclusion, computerized therapy can be an interesting option as a complement to real therapy, always taking into account that computers can not get to empathize or "read between the lines" what a real human being does. That is why We can understand this service as a more developed form of self-help in which some margin is left to the participation of the person.
Even though this option It is very cheap because a computer program can be sold many times With the minimum cost using the same intellectual property, the time and space to match a flesh-and-blood psychotherapist is still important so that both the actions and the mental processes of the patient can be matched by a mind as complex and changing as the his.