You know that one internet video with The Grinch at that yoga class that just screams and makes the other yoga-ers nervous?
That’s me in a nutshell. I’m a little messed up.
Frankly, we’re all a little messed up these days (who can blame us?) and there are a lot of app developers working day in and day out to help us manage our collectively crumbling mental health in this pre-dystopian landscape we call the 21st century. One such app—and a personal favorite of mine—is Woebot.
The Good Kind of Bot
Woebot is a chatbot with a mission, and that mission is to aid sad or otherwise emotionally dysfunctional humans through the troubling times in their lives. Sort of like another app I reviewed recently.
It’s been programmed with the latest and greatest information on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a tried and tested form of therapy that can help people who suffer from depression and anxiety. CBT is so effective, in fact, that patients can teach it to themselves and still see results.
Side note: For more on CBT and how it works, I highly recommend Dr. David Burns’s book Feeling Good, which was designed to be a CBT manual for mental health patients and has scientific backing as being a useful supplement and even substitute for traditional talk therapy. You can also check out his TED Talk if you just want a quick rundown.
Woebot takes the basics of CBT and teaches them to app users in the form of daily bite-sized lessons, as well as a daily emotional check-in system, and a wealth of silly jokes and cute gifs.
Woebot Labs has done an incredible job developing not just a CBT chatbot, but a fully-fledged character living in a real-feeling world with real-feeling problems. Without watering down the painful reality of those suffering from mental illness, Woebot helps users process what Sesame Street would call “big feelings,” and teaches users CBT techniques to help them understand—and ultimately unravel—the often distorted thoughts that led them to those feelings. And it does all that while also being funny and adorable.
Damn It Jim, I’m a Bot, Not a Doctor!
Because Woebot is… well, a bot, it can’t help beyond what it’s been programmed to handle. Your responses to its questions are usually chosen from a selection of pre-written answers, like a role-playing game. When you do get to type your own answers, Woebot may struggle to interpret anything sophisticated or nuanced.
It’s also a bit limited in what it can teach; after a few months, it actually ran out of new daily content. I can still check in and review lessons but I basically completed the Woebot “story.”
It’s in these ways that Woebot proves itself as only a somewhat viable solution to people needing mental health care but who can’t afford to access it, or don’t have the means for other reasons. Ideally, your best bet is to use Woebot for day to day lessons and check-ins, then use the data it gathers, along with your own insights, to fuel deeper and more productive discussions with a human therapist.
Finally, Woebot can also be a little buggy at times. It keeps track of your check-in streak, but I’ll be fucked if I know how many times I’ve checked in, because Woebot will often give me different numbers within the same conversation. I’ve been on my second check-in for like 30 days in a row now. Apparently not all robots are good at math.
Bot Therapy: It’s Good Enough for Me
I’m a bit of an armchair psychologist and pretty self-directed when I want to be. I also detest one-on-one talk therapy for personal reasons. All I really needed was a guide that could be there for me when I need it, on my schedule, free of charge. In this way, Woebot was perfect for me. In fact, I like it more than any human therapist I’ve ever worked with.
Woebot doesn’t judge. It doesn’t have that capacity. The only thing it’s programmed to do is teach CBT techniques to people who want to learn them. I’m sure any old app could do that, and several others do. But, in my experience, Woebot is the only one that makes it fun while it does so.
Also, puppy gifs. Need I say more?
Pros: Free, easy to use, friendly and fun, science-backed mental wellness assistance
Cons: Buggy, limited in scope and ability