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Can AI Replace Human Therapists?

Many therapists are afraid that AI-enabled chatbots will take their jobs. But research shows that psychotherapy cannot be reduced to finding the most suitable techniques for each patient; instead, unique human characteristics, such as forming empathic bonds, are at the root of successful treatment.

BOCHUM – Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the release of ChatGPT, OpenAI’s chatbot. As companies rush to incorporate the groundbreaking technology into their operations, many workers remain anxious that generative artificial intelligence – which tends to rely on large language models (LLMs) – will replace them. Ironically, this anxiety is shared by professionals who are trained to deal with it: therapists.

To be sure, generative AI services, of which ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, and Meta’s LLaMA are only the tip of the iceberg, will disrupt work as we know it today. Accenture estimates that language tasks account for 62% of total work time in the United States, and that LLMs are likely to automate or augmented 65% of those tasks. Earlier this year, the US National Bureau of Economic Research published a study showing that access to a generative AI-based conversational assistant increased the productivity of customer-support agents by an average of 14%.

Global health systems could also benefit from productivity gains, as many are contending with underfunded prevention programs, overworked staff, and the rising costs of chronic diseases. This is especially true in the mental-health field, where providers have struggled to meet growing demand in the wake of the pandemic. According to a 2021 report by the OECD, 67% of people had difficulties getting the mental-health support that they needed. Moreover, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, in 2022, one in eight Americans regularly had feelings of worry, nervousness, or anxiety, while nearly half of US health workers reported often feeling burned out.