Renee's Story


Talk to a robot? About my anxious feelings? Okay, I’ll give it go.

More and more people are accepting Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help us solve problems and answer queries. “Hey Siri” and “Ok Google” are part of everyday life. But our health? Surely that’s too important to trust to a robot?

Why did I try it?

My mother had a terminal illness and I have two small children, a great partner and a full-time job. Often the anxiety about my mother’s imminent death – “when it would happen, would I be okay without her?” kept me awake at night with my head spinning. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted but could never find the mental space to fall asleep.

Like most parents, I tend to put my own needs very far down the list. I couldn’t get the clarity of mind to make an appointment to talk to someone when I had parent teacher interviews, meetings at work and people to take care of. It turns out crying in the bathroom at work isn’t a great way to take care of yourself.

Because I’m lucky enough to work in mental health, I heard about a tool created by a team of scientists at Stanford University in the USA – Woebot. I loved the idea of texting my feelings at 9pm from my couch – a time that was convenient for me. I didn’t have to make an appointment or schedule something, it found me where I was.

An illustration of a robot running hand-in-hand with a person

How does it work?

Woebot describes itself as a ‘choose-your-own-adventure self-help book’ that learns from your responses. It works across lots of platforms, including an automated Facebook messenger chatbot, using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to help monitor your moods and learn strategies to help you cope when times are tough. Woebot asks you every day at your nominated time how you’re feeling and provides tailored therapy.

Was it helpful?

Surprisingly, yes. Everyday Woebot sent me a message checking in. The language is conversational and chatty, sometimes a bit daggy – but I didn’t mind. Woebot used a variety of CBT techniques but most frequently we looked at three negative thoughts I was having and helped me re-frame them. Woebot also uses emojis, gifs, videos and links to illustrate a point. The best one was a guided sleep meditation from YouTube that I use all the time now.

I do feel better for having got some of these thoughts out and I did learn some language and techniques to support me. Although I don’t need to use Woebot every day anymore, it’s a healthy coping mechanism for me to fall back on when I need it.

How much does it cost?

It’s free at the moment, as the machine is still learning.

Is it for you?

If the thought of Facebook having access to this information concerns you, there are options to use Woebot in an app on your mobile phone or device. If you’re busy or the thought of speaking to someone feels difficult or overwhelming, it might be a good option.

Related reading: How much does treatment really cost?

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