Successful mental health therapy depends on forming a bond between patient and therapist. A new study demonstrates that a mental health chatbot can form a bond with users comparable to the bond formed with a human therapist. The study conducted by Woebot Health suggests that digital therapeutic solutions have far-reaching potential in virtual mental health treatment.

Based on Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, the Woebot chatbot uses natural language processing programs to learn from a database of millions of conversations each year. Using AI algorithms, Woebot provides responsive interactions and tools to deliver psychological support to users. The Woebot agent is a core feature of the Woebot Health platform that offers tailored therapeutic programs for adult, adolescent, and maternal mental health as well as for substance abuse.

The large-scale study involved 36,070 participants aged 18-78. In 3 to 5 days of interaction with the chatbot, a majority of participants formed a bond with the fully automated, conversational Woebot agent. Researchers found this bond to be non-inferior to human therapist-patient bonds. Furthermore, users bonded more rapidly with the chatbot, and the bond appeared to remain strong over time.

With mental health concerns on the rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of individuals in need of therapy outnumbers that of available human therapists. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll published in February 2021 reported that more than 20 percent of adults in need of counseling or therapy weren’t receiving any type of mental health care. Meanwhile, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2020 Behavioral Health Workforce Report estimates a shortage of about 100,000 psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health counselors in the United States this year. Woebot can bond with thousands (and perhaps millions) of patients at a time, ushering in a new level of accessibility when it comes to effective mental health care.