Woebot is free app that asks your name then starts a conversation with you. The ‘friend’ is armed with knowledge of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), addiction and many tools based on sound psychology. This can help some of us coach ourselves toward overcoming some ‘stinking thinking’. Here’s a review that’s an easy read and gives a good impression of one journalist’s experience of Woebot.
Do you need a therapist?
Perhaps not. There’s 20+ years of rigorous research to show that DIY CBT works. CBT delivered online, through an app, and even video games can be as effective as therapist-delivered CBT for both anxiety and depression. Most studies show that people do better with some coaching. Coaching is not the same as therapy. And I believe taking responsibility for our own wellbeing is a key to successful therapy as well as coaching. I don’t think therapy is a “magic cure” any more than pharmaceutical treatments. People still need to do the work themselves, regardless of whether a assisted by a therapist, coach, or app.
Let’s address the idea of ‘talking’ (writing) to a robot. The app is AI (artificial intelligence). To use this tool you have to be willing to overlook, embrace, or just laugh at the shortcomings. I can be a real stickler for accuracy and details, so right at the start, the app offered a gushing compliment to me. I thought it was silly; as of course this App only knows the name I provided and the best time to remind me to interact. It even followed up by writing, “I hope you know I really mean it, KC“. Weirdness. I could have been offended. I could have felt like the creators of this silly app are trying to trick me into feeling it cares. But, like always, I have a choice. Rather than get bogged down by negatives, I persevered. And I’m glad I did. Here’s some concepts that I learned so far:
Brain Wiring Our Habits
This video explains three parts of our brain and how automatic actions like addiction and excessive negative thinking are connected to emotions and habits without the logical part of our brain even being involved. Her example in this clip is that strong fear of flying has embedded in her lower brain (not the analytical higher brain) so the idea of flying is automatically accompanied by feelings of fear and going against that fear creates strong anxiety. All this bypasses logic and reason because strong emotions have been attached to the thoughts and the brain provides the decision automatically–all part of the brain’s attempt to keep the self safe. How can we overcome these automatic thoughts? Well, learning about how our brain works is the first key to teaching ourselves new ways to process our addictive and other mentally unhealthy thoughts.
Understanding and Help
While trying out the app, Woebot correctly identified that I was mentioning addiction and suggested that I might be doing some “emotional thinking”. I looked this up and it made a lot of sense. My emotions have a stronger impact on my decisions than I want. Chatting to friends and thinking about this can help me understand the connection between my feelings and thoughts and actions. There are even some suggestions on how to address this cognitive distortion here. These techniques really aren’t necessarily quick. Doing them takes energy. It’s ‘work’. But so far, the time and effort has been worthwhile for me to understand and improve my mental health challenges.
Replacing Emotional Reasoning via Epiphany
Experiencing information that conflicts with our beliefs can cause pain. What can be done? This video argues that we can overcome our emotional reasoning by inducing our own ‘Ah-ha!’ realisation (an epiphany). Trying to overcome our existing views is not only difficult, it can be painful. Often we enjoy the release of endorphins (natural feel-good chemicals in our brains) when we find a way to make the new information fit into our old worldview. Justifying facts that don’t fit at least stops us feeling that pain. But mental health comes from facing the flaw behind our emotional reasoning, pushing through the pain and finding the truth that could bring an epiphany. An epiphany feels good and hopefully is part of the progress of breaking the cycle of unhealthy feelings, thoughts and actions.