I am usually hesitant about mental health aps that utilize conversation between the user and a bot because I just do not think a bot can replace human interaction. Although Woebot has published some research about users bonding with the ap, I am hesitant about these results for a few reasons:
- Looking at the data provided, participants in the studies did show a reduction in symptoms, but the study focused on people whose symptoms were mild to begin with. I would want to see how this worked with a bigger range of presenting issues.
- When I was a graduate student, I did some sessions with Eliza (the original therapy bot) and wanted to assess whether a bot could effectively assess risk. I told her I was suicidal, and basically she told me it might help “take your pain away.” (YIKES, right?)
- I don’t doubt people can develop an emotional connection to a bot. I bonded with my Roomba. But I would need a pretty big body of evidence to believe that the benefits of a therapeutic relationship could be replicated with a bot.
Then again, I used to think 3D printing was sci-fi nonsense that would never happen in the real world. Who knows what will develop in the future?
Anyway, Curable is an ap developed for people with chronic pain. It introduces you to Clara, a bot who says that she is your “personal pain relief coach.” She provides education about pain and has a gentle, conversational tone.
Clara facilitates a conversation providing education about chronic pain, with prompts to specify the information she gives you to your specific concerns. As a psychologist, I felt that she did a good job explaining how pain can be psychological in origin without invalidating or implying that somatic pain is “made up” or less real than pain with a known medical cause. (I would love to hear how people with chronic pain perceived this, though!)
The ap gives you the option to read stories from people who have shown improvement and are able to do things that their pain previously kept them from doing. I didn’t go too in-depth exploring these stories, but I do like the idea behind offering hope.
At the same time, some people don’t “get better.” I would be hesitant about pushing the narrative that you can recover if you just do the right thing in the right way, even if this is not the intent.
There is a paid version of the ap that connects you to support groups as well as therapists. I like that it incorporates additional resources, including groups focused on specific ailments. Isolation is so draining, and connecting people going through similar issues is such an important part of treatment and recovery.
The ap in the section labeled “Ask A Therapist” has recordings of licensed professionals answering questions submitted by users about chronic pain. There is some great information here, and you can submit your own questions to be included as a resource.
Overall, I think Curable uses AI in a way that could be beneficial, offers education and a sense of hope, and has options to connect users with people going through the same thing. It seems like a great resource for people with pain.