How AI is shaping psychotherapy today

Ben Toronto

Co-Founder & CEO

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It’s been just over a year now since ChatGPT debuted and took the world by storm, becoming an overnight hit and, for a time at least, the fastest-growing internet application in history, reaching 100 million users just two months after launch.

I was one of those early users, as, no doubt, were many of you (if you haven’t tried ChatGPT yet, you should — you can do so for free). I have a background in computer science and language, and the advances made in natural language understanding and generation by machines in the past few years have been nothing short of stunning. Or to put it more clearly, we (the humans) are the ones making the advances in them (the machines). For now, at least. ChatGPT is the most widely-known and easiest-to-access example of these advances.

You may have noticed more than a small amount of hype recently around how Artificial Intelligence (AI), which includes the natural language production and reasoning capabilities we see in ChatGPT, is going to change the world. And it’s true, AI will continue to improve and will affect our lives in ways we can hardly imagine today.

But tuning out speculation about our utopian (or dystopian, depending on who you ask) futures, what do advances in AI mean for the field of psychotherapy today? Currently, I see two broad camps when it comes to AI and psychotherapy: the Displacers and the Scalers. We at TheraPro are working on establishing a third camp, the Empowerers. Let me explain.

Displacers. The first camp, and the one that’s top of mind in popular culture, is what I’ll call the Displacers. This is the “AI is coming for my job” camp, and includes the emotional support bots, companionship bots, wellness bots, etc., that are generally (though not universally) clinically unsophisticated, highly variable in their approach (attempting to substitute for friends, romantic partners, or yes, even therapists), and highly uncertain in their outcomes (in some cases, tragically so). As a technologist close to your field, my verdict is that these apps are a long way off from displacing therapists. Your job is not in danger.

Scalers. The second camp is less well-known but more immediately promising, and includes apps like Wysa and Youper that are using AI to bridge the gap between psychotherapy supply and demand, in what they call a “clinically validated” way. The goal is not to displace, but rather to scale therapists by giving people who need it a way to access care through AI when a therapist is not available, while being ready to make a connection to a human when needed. This camp wants to use AI to work with you, not against you. I believe this direction has merit and is worth exploring further. But that’s not what we’re doing.

Empowerers. Our focus when it comes to AI and psychotherapy is on establishing a third camp, one I’m calling the Empowerers. Ok, maybe that’s a mouthful, but I think it captures well what we’re trying to do: use AI to enhance the therapist’s role at the center of providing care. We want to use AI to work for you, not just with you, and certainly not against you. We’re working on harnessing the power of AI to make you a better, happier, more informed, more insightful, more skilled, and more empathetic therapist, so that you can provide better care to more of your patients.

What does this mean in practice? We’re starting with a (conceptually) simple tool: AI-assisted progress notes. Put simply, TheraPro listens (with your permission and the consent of your patient) to your session, then drafts a progress note for you in SOAP or DAP format, or in general summary form. You then review, edit, and sign off on your note in your EHR or practice management system. The result? More time spent in session with patients, less time writing notes. And, hopefully, less of a sense of dread from having those notes hanging over you at the end of the week.

And this is just the beginning. Our vision is that TheraPro will, over time, turn into a suite of AI-driven tools to make your life, and your therapy, better. We want TheraPro to be your AI assistant, something you can lean on, interact with, brainstorm with, converse with, and that is tailored to your needs, your practice, your patients. This is what we mean by empowering therapists with AI. Yes, this is ambitious, it will take a lot of work to make this vision come to life, but I’m confident we’ll get there. AI has the potential to be truly transformative for your field, and we want to help you get the most out of that transformation.

Try out TheraPro for free today. A world without having to draft progress notes from scratch awaits.