Abridged History of Computer Therapy
by Karl Ericson
The idea of a computer aided psychotherapy has been around for a long time. The challenge of making an effective good computer psychotherapist is a formidable one because there are so many different problems that people have to talk about and the author of the therapy program can't possibly anticipate them all. The first therapy program or at least the first one that achieved publicity was called ELIZA. More programs of this type are listed at www.botspot.com. The Thinking Software company has developed programs called PC Therapist, PC Politician and so on. Their approach has been more to develop fun programs. On the other hand their PC therapist was the first program to win the Turing test by convincing 5 out of 10 judges that it was a human being and not a computer program.
Dr. Julian Simon, Dr. Kenneth Colby and Peter Colby developed a serious self help program that came free with the purchase of Julian Simon's book Good Mood: the New Psychology of Overcoming Depression. The Colbys founded a company called Malibu Artificial Intelligence Works and have continued development of their software. They give an example of dialog that a patient had with their program. Simple computer aided cognitive therapy exercises can be found at http://www.htmlempire.com/formsct/formsct.html.
There is a big push now to create computer therapists.
Self help programs will never be a match for a good human psychologist. However, that does not mean they won't be useful. Self help books are useful and they are not human either. A self help computer program in certain cases can bring up relevant helpful information for a particular problem. The advantages of Computer Aided therapy and answers to objections to this form of therapy are found at the MAIW web site.
A chat box is being developed to help smokers quit (NewScientistTech 5/25/2006). Virtual coaches have a good track record. Frequent conversations with the chatbot Laura, the brainchild of Timothy Bickmore at Northeastern University in Boston, helped to persuade a group of elderly people to exercise more (New Scientist, 3 December 2005, p 42).
I have been working for many years on a program I call Computer Aided Self Help. There are times when it runs and is totally off base and there are times where friends of mine have sat down and had therapeutic conversations with it. It has been exciting to watch. A friend once called me and told me how he had been thinking about what my program had said to him and thought it was right. That was a real triumph. My motivation to continue also has been increased by the help the program has given me on occasion.
A study published by the British Journal of Psychiatry July 2003 evaluated a clinic that used Computer Aided Self Help (not my program) in conjunction with a therapist.
I have made a very abbreviated version of the program for the internet version which runs on version 5 of Internet Explorer. It does not run on Netscape. If you are currently using Internet Explorer there will be a button at the top of this page that says "Start Program". Press that if you wish to try out CASH. I have sold the original program to a company that is developing it and that will probably make it available before January 2003.
Web sites with Psych Software are:
Inner Peace (Christian self help software)
Interesting Artificial Intelligence Software
Leo the language learning chatterbot
The Personality Forge: Make your own chatterbot
Archbot A Chatterbox Building Architecture
Online Therapy with a Therapist
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