AI for Therapy? No Way!

Ian Mitroff
3 min readMar 16, 2023

I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.

Talk with anyone who has had individual Therapy and they’ll tell you what a deeply personal experience it is. Indeed, it’s one of the most intimate of all human experiences. If one doesn’t form an emotional bond with one’s Therapist, then it’s virtually impossible for it to work. For this reason, I find it impossible to imagine AI playing a major role in the Therapeutic process. And, yet that’s precisely what AI developers are aiming for[i].

Thus, researchers have invented various systems that can analyze the language of those in need thereby detecting states of mind that require help in the form of explicit intervention, i.e., suicidal ideation. They can even engage in Talk Therapy. Given that there are not enough qualified Therapists to serve a Nation as big and as diverse as ours, especially small towns and rural areas, they are thereby supposedly invaluable in filling the gap. In addition, people often feel intimated by Therapy. So talking to a Bot can not only allay anxiety, but get people the help they need.

And yet, AI doesn’t listen and feel in any meaningful sense as humans do. It also doesn’t invent things on the spot that are the essence of “spontaneous human gestures”. Further, it doesn’t put things together to reach unexpected insights as only humans can do.

Dr. Dhruv Khullar, author of The New Yorker article, puts it well. I quote:

“…Our mental health is already being compromised by social media, online life, and the ceaseless distraction of the computers in our pockets. Do we want a world in which a teen-ager turns to an app, instead of a friend, to work through her struggles?”

In short, AI is supremely good at “faking it,” but it can never be as good as the “real thing”.

Don’t give your Soul to Technology.

[i] Dhruv Khullr, “Talking To Ourselves: Can artificial minds heal real ones?”, The New Yorker, March 6, 2023, PP 16–22.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.

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