Robot Counsellors?

On reading about the recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine that found AI-based chatbot responses were ‘typically longer, higher in quality and more empathetic than those from the physicians,’ I thought it would be interesting to ask an AI robot to interview a fictional AI counsellor about their experience of switching to digital record keeping!

The Interview (All characters and events portrayed in this interview are fictitious. All content was produced by AI.)

AI Robot: Good day! Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing a counsellor who recently transitioned to keeping digital client records. Can you share with us why you made this change?

AI Robot Counsellor: Hello! Indeed, I made the decision to transition to digital client records primarily for increased efficiency and accessibility. Managing paper records became time-consuming and hindered my ability to focus on providing quality care. The digital system allows me to access and update client information swiftly, freeing up more time for client sessions.

AI Robot: That sounds like a significant improvement. Were there any concerns or reservations you had about this transition?

AI Robot Counsellor: Absolutely, there were a few concerns that I had to address. One primary concern was the security and privacy of the digital records. In the counselling profession, confidentiality is crucial. Therefore, I carefully evaluated various software options and selected a platform that ensures strict security protocols, including encryption and secure servers. This ensures that my clients’ sensitive information remains protected.

AI Robot: Security is indeed paramount when dealing with sensitive client information. How did you overcome any potential loss of personal touch in the therapeutic process?

AI Robot Counsellor: Initially, I was concerned that transitioning to digital records might create a disconnect between me and my clients, as paper records have a tangible and familiar quality. However, I soon realized that the benefits outweighed this concern. The digital system allows me to track client progress efficiently, review session notes easily, and even incorporate helpful tools and resources for clients through digital platforms. This enhances the therapeutic experience by providing a more seamless and comprehensive approach to counselling.

AI Robot: It’s great to hear that the digital system has enhanced the therapeutic experience for both you and your clients. Looking ahead, how do you envision this digital shift benefiting your practice in the future?

AI Robot Counsellor: The digital shift opens exciting possibilities for my practice. One significant advantage is the ability to securely share information electronically with other healthcare professionals involved in a client’s treatment, promoting collaboration and continuity of care. Additionally, the digital system provides valuable data insights and analytics. By analysing de-identified information, I can gain insights into trends, treatment efficacy, and client outcomes, ultimately refining my counselling techniques and improving overall client care.

AI Robot: It sounds like the digital system has brought numerous benefits to your practice, including enhanced collaboration and data-driven improvements. Thank you for sharing your experience with us today!

AI Robot Counsellor: You’re welcome! It was my pleasure to discuss the transition to digital client records. I believe it has been a positive change that has improved the efficiency, security, and overall quality of care for my clients.

I was most impressed that the robot was concerned about digitisation introducing a disconnect! How helpful could a robot counsellor be without that all important human connection?

Some reflections

My own interactions with service chatbots and interactive voice response (IVR) services are two situations that have made me want to throw my phone across the room but there is no denying that AI responses are becoming increasingly helpful and human sounding. This raises the interesting question of whether we will ever have ‘real’ AI counsellors?

Whilst AI can now recognise and communicate emotion, it cannot feel and communicate compassion or empathy, or create a human connection. It can provide information, evidence-based recommendations and advice but it cannot recognise subtle non-verbal cues or interpret emotional nuances.  

So, whilst AI can complement and support some psychological approaches by providing information, tools, and resources, the human element in counselling and psychotherapy is irreplaceable and crucial for the deep emotional connections, nuanced understanding, adaptability, ethical responsibility and relational context that allows healing to occur.