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  • Writer's pictureJulia Gillis

Can You Use AI as a Therapist? If You Can't Afford Counselling - Could a Robot Accessed with Wifi be Your Answer?

***Disclaimer - don't be an idiot with this blog. No where in this blog do I intend to communicate or suggest that AI is a adequate replacement for professional mental health help. "If you are struggling with significant emotional or psychological barriers, it's recommended that you seek support from a qualified therapist, counselor, or mental health professional." The highlighted quote is copy & pasted directly from a chat I had with AI ChatGPT.

With the rise of mental health struggles, the lowered resiliency levels of Millennials & Gen Z and Canadas suffering socioeconomic status that has been reported by the RCMP to be on the brink of potential civil war uprising - how many people are hitting barriers in accessing mental health support?

There have been many times in my life where I am unable to afford therapy, usually in a time when I need it most. Even being covered by a health care plan from a great job maxes out at around $400-$600 worth of sessions in year time span. Over a decade ago, that would have afforded you 4-6 sessions at $100 each. We've seen the rise of therapy sessions to $120 or above, as the current standard, making basic coverage reduce the number of accessible sessions.

The advances in AI in the past 3-5 years have been massive. Platforms like ChatGPT (the one I'm currently most familiar with) have become freely accessible. They are used for everything from writing pitch perfect computer code for super nerds, to helping Instagram Influencers pump out social media posts, eBooks & online courses at a pace previously unfathomable.

Something else happened as well though - some people just wanted to talk to someone.

In the frenzy to have AI help solve problems, people started to wonder "Can AI help me solve... my emotional problems? My relationship problem? My social problems at work? What would would these open AI platforms suggest if I was struggling with my mental health?"

I've combed through some of the top articles on google & the umbrella is a pretty mixed bag but is always laced with the warnings. Some feel that it can be a really helpful tool, especially for those who need an active listener & cannot afford therapy. Some say it is extremely dangerous, due to the reasons I list below. Some say it shows promise as the fail-safes are coded in. Some say there is simply no replacement for a the bond built between a therapist & patient. While others have said they enjoyed being able to request that the AI chat specifically respond to them with a certain personality type & had a better experience with better suggestions then they ever experienced with a human psychologist or counsellor.

I did some of my own testing with this concept & was really surprised with what I got back.

Here is an example:

Me: Lets go back to my prior questions: if someone was struggling with depression & told you their biggest issue was being in a toxic relationship, their partner was constantly mean to them & they didn't know what to do about it, how would you respond?

ChatGPT: If someone expressed that they were struggling with depression and cited being in a toxic relationship as their biggest issue, specifically mentioning their partner's constant meanness, I would respond with empathy and offer supportive guidance. Here's how I might respond:

"I'm truly sorry to hear that you're going through such a difficult time, especially with the added weight of depression. It takes a lot of courage to recognize and acknowledge the toxicity in a relationship. No one deserves to be treated poorly, and it's important to prioritize your well-being.

Firstly, know that you are not alone, and there is support available to help you navigate this situation. It might be helpful to confide in a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional about what you're experiencing. They can offer perspective and support as you consider your options.

It's also essential to set boundaries and communicate your needs with your partner. However, if the behavior continues despite your efforts to address it, it may be necessary to consider whether this relationship is truly serving your best interests and overall mental health.

Remember that prioritizing your own well-being is not selfish—it's necessary for your happiness and fulfillment. You deserve to be in a relationship that uplifts and supports you, rather than one that brings you down. Take things one step at a time, and know that there are resources and people who can help you through this challenging situation."

This response aims to validate the individual's feelings, provide reassurance, and offer practical suggestions for seeking support and considering their options within the context of their toxic relationship and struggles with depression.

Me: Let's dig further into the details: What are the details of learning how to set boundaries in a relationship

ChatGPT: Learning how to set boundaries in a relationship is an important skill for maintaining healthy dynamics and promoting mutual respect. Here are some key details and steps involved in setting boundaries:

  1. Self-awareness: Before setting boundaries, it's essential to reflect on your own needs, values, and limits. Consider what behaviors or actions are acceptable or unacceptable to you in a relationship, and identify areas where you may need to establish boundaries.

  2. Identify specific boundaries: Be clear and specific about the boundaries you want to set. This might include boundaries related to communication, personal space, time, finances, or emotional needs. For example, you may establish boundaries around respectful communication, personal privacy, or the amount of time spent together.

  3. Communicate assertively: Express your boundaries assertively, yet respectfully, to your partner. Use "I" statements to communicate your needs and feelings clearly and directly. For example, instead of saying, "You always invade my personal space," you could say, "I feel uncomfortable when my personal space is invaded."

  4. Set consequences: Clearly communicate the consequences of crossing boundaries. Consequences should be reasonable and proportional to the boundary violation. For example, if a boundary related to respectful communication is crossed, the consequence might be taking a break from the conversation until both parties can communicate calmly and respectfully.

  5. Enforce boundaries: Consistently enforce your boundaries by taking appropriate action when they are crossed. This may involve calmly reminding your partner of the boundary, implementing consequences, or temporarily distancing yourself from the situation if necessary.

  6. Practice self-care: Setting and maintaining boundaries can be challenging, especially in toxic or unhealthy relationships. Prioritize self-care practices to replenish your emotional and mental well-being. This may include engaging in activities that bring you joy, spending time with supportive friends and family, or seeking professional support from a therapist or counselor.

  7. Revisit and adjust as needed: As relationships evolve, it's important to periodically revisit and adjust boundaries as necessary. Open communication and flexibility are key to ensuring that boundaries remain effective and aligned with both partners' needs and expectations.

Learning to set boundaries effectively takes time, practice, and patience. It's a skill that can strengthen relationships, enhance self-respect, and foster healthier dynamics over time. If setting boundaries feels overwhelming or challenging, don't hesitate to seek support from a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional.

Prior to this chat section I didn't ask for any specific style of response. This was bland, straight forward AI ChatGPT. Not bad! There were a lot of other great points in this conversation with the program. If you would like to see the entire dialogue you can visit it here. It's under a 10 minute read.

What I recognize though, is that I already show up with a pretty healthy tool bag. But if someone were to use this tool in a non-effective way (aka pose danger to themselves from lack of cognitive ability, critical thinking skills or an undefined purpose & get into a conversation where they should definitely have the support of a trained professional...) things could go very badly.

So what are the reasons someone should NOT use Open AI chat platforms for mental health support?

  1. There is no privacy - anything you type into an AI platform goes back to the people coding it as material to help AI learn better AND is connected to your profile/account that you signed up with. None of what you say to the AI chat is private or kept secret for you.

  2. There is no regulatory board - AI chats are making recommendations to you based on codes, algorithms & its databanks. It will say or suggest what it deems most effective or answers your question best. There is no 'counsel' to get it in trouble or hold it accountable for suggesting the 'wrong' thing to you. It's actually YOUR feed back into the system that helps it determine that. It can straight up tell you to leave your partner or tell you to give up your kids to the foster care system, if that looks like it makes the most sense from the information you've given it.

  3. Which means there are no safeguards - it 'can & could' make mistakes with no follow up for the person effected & no repercussions on the program. AI chat platforms cannot respond to emergencies or someone feeling like their mental health is moving into self harm concerns (or harm to someone else.) *This happened to a man in Belgium who was considering taking his own life & the AI chat platform allegedly supported him to do so.

  4. It cannot diagnose - an AI chat platform, helping someone who has approached with mental health struggles, is not trained to offer a person appropriate responses based on a knowledge of their mental health status (bipolar, schizophrenic, PTSD, an anxiety disorder.) It can't even assess 'where a person is at' unless the user informs the program - which it is still not trained to address this in specific ways. It can 'display' empathy through words & responses - but response to human nuances is not in the code.

  5. Which means the USER does not go through any pre-qualifying evaluation for the way they are using it - If you only know how to ride a bicycle & need to get to the store & find access to a car - you should NOT drive the car. If someone with extreme mental health struggles uses an Open AI chat platform in a dysfunctional way - they will have replies & support that is not functional for their needs; potentially destructive replies & support.

Who COULD use Open AI chats as a way to help them with their mental health?

Well just like any tool - put into the wrong hands it can become a weapon.

BUT there are a number of instances that I'm going to suggest could be a great way to access supportive help from an Open AI chat platform for mental health struggles when spending money on therapy just isn't in your budget.

  1. If you just need 'talk' therapy - aka someone to be an active listener while you 'vent' & need healthy, progressive validation. Tell the AI source that you need an active, empathetic & compassionate listener for a story you need to unload. This is probably one of the easiest ways to not waste money on therapy you don't actually need. Many of us just need a good listener. Honestly, many other humans are not great at responding in an unbiased, non-judgmental way or feeling the urge to get our own trauma dump in return. Just remember - your story...isn't private.

  2. If you know exactly what your problem is that your having difficult solving - if you know (or are pretty sure) you have daddy issues, or that you need to make a plan for addressing your stress eating, or you have a family member that is emotionally abusive & you want to start cutting ties with them, or you're worried you're going to get laid off from work - AI is pretty effective at helping you make a step by step plan & consider multiple options of approach. This can massively lower anxiety or simply help you 'see' a plan laid out that makes sense.

  3. You understand CBT or NLP & you need someone to bounce ideas off of or to have a purposeful growth conversation with. This is actually something AI is VERY good at. If you have made a plan for increasing your income or breaking up with someone or even becoming a better parent - but your not quite sure yet...AI will kind of toss some ideas around with you. But you need to already be an effective 'question asker' or have developed critical thinking. It can be extremely reassuring to have the Open AI never get exhausted with you asking "But what if 'this' happens?" It legit has a suggested risk management plan for EVERYTHING. (maybe...almost)

  4. If you need a coach - there have been some reports that Open AI works as an accountability buddy. If you open a chat & keep using the same one, day after day, you can check in with your AI bot. It can help you make a plan for progressing in everything from developing positive internal dialogue to a workout routine or nutrition plan. Then as you plug in your progress it will give you encouragement, validation & help you problem solve. Things like arranging to go to the gym in the morning, but you keep putting it off - it will give you habit change options like sleeping in your workout clothes or having your gym bag packed & ready in the car the night before.

  5. Resources (with limits) - say you've lost your job or your current income isn't allowing you to get debt paid off, or maybe you want to figure out how to become a the best parent possible, or meditate like a badass. Open AI can find books, podcasts or programs to suggest that you explore to learn more about reaching your goal. It cannot, however, scan the internet for you & give you links to articles or even look up the top suggestions for a doctor or therapist in your area. BUT if you're talking through a problem, and you ask for it, it can tell you what a effective google search phrase would be to find those things yourself.

My last comment on this is: set a time limit. There have been reports of people with mental health struggles using Open AI chat platforms & becoming addicted to the bottomless support. This is codependency. Just like a therapy session or coaching session - there is a point where you need to get up, get out & put your new frame of mind or your plan into action in the real world. If you really think you need talk therapy every day - set a 1 hour time limit. Make a plan for weening yourself off. Move to 3 times a week at 1 hour a day. Then once a week.

The purpose of mental health support is to get you back on your feet. Not to become a permanent crutch.

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If you would like to start building your Core Resiliency Skills contact Coach Julia today. You will learn how to Thrive beyond your damage, become a Transitional Character, break abuse cycles in your family cycle & build the core resiliency skills most often missed when being raised in a low nurture environment.

Julia is a Holistic Health Consultant, holding a Double Diploma in Community Support & Addictions Work, is a Certified Transformation Specialist, Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach & a Lvl 2 Reiki Practitioner. She specializes in Trauma Informed Practice & Resiliency Coaching and Holistic Pregnancy & Postpartum Health Coaching. 

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