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 prompt users to look for a human alternative.
In this way, Woebot does not approach 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 category “general wellness ”productwho only receives FDA guidance.
But Woebot strives for something more. With $ 22 million in venture capital, Woebot applies to the FDA for approval to develop its algorithm to treat two psychiatric diagnoses, postpartum depression and adolescent depression, and then to sell the program to healthcare 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 still have to recruit therapists to join their platforms, AI apps can hire new users without paying extra work. And while therapists can vary in their skills and approaches, 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 actually some opportunities that are being created by 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 ability to be able to engage with a therapeutic technique the moment you need it,” she said.