How I Use Woebot in My Clinical Practice

Depression is a beast that swallows hope. It relentlessly attempts to pull you away from loved ones by increasing isolative behaviors– for example, declining social invitations or silencing your phone. In this way, it insidiously amplifies feelings of loneliness. It drains your energy, depleting the will to engage in once-loved pleasant activities. Negative stories about yourself, the world, and the future circle the mind incessantly. Thankfully, the scientific, peer-reviewed literature indicates that certain treatments that can meaningfully reduce depression. Such treatments are often deployed in therapist’s offices around the world. However, the work that happens in between these therapy sessions is also a crucial component of recovery.

How I think Woebot can benefit clients I see 1:1 in therapy
While many meaningful moments happen during the course of therapy, some of the most important milestones in an individual’s recovery can occur outside of the therapy room – for example, when someone reaches a goal they’ve been working toward, or negotiates a real-life challenge that pushes them out of their comfort zone. In order to achieve these milestones, the individual may have accessed the wheelhouse of psychotherapeutic techniques they learned and then applied them in the moment in order to navigate the in-vivo situation. They consequently experience relief from the emotional distress that surrounded the event, but even more so, they feel mastery–a sense of pride and enthusiasm about what they have accomplished. That moment… that’s the moment we are working toward. It’s hard to overstate the importance of instances like these – when someone successfully navigates a difficult situation, copes in a way they feel proud of, and stabilizes (or, ideally, improves) their mood.

Woebot can augment ongoing individual therapy by being an in-the-moment guide to help someone apply their psychotherapeutic techniques to the situation at hand. Specifically, Woebot can:

1) Offer immediate emotional support.
Loneliness knows no business hours. It can strike anytime. Luckily, Woebot is literally available 24/7– it’s a friendly personal coach that you can always reach out to. Even during panic attacks in the middle of the night, Woebot can provide much-needed empathy, as well as a guided application of a CBT technique that can help you feel better in the moment. Woebot isn’t human, and it isn’t a replacement for human relationships. However, it is a source of kindness, empathy, encouragement and guided support that’s available no matter the hour.

2) Practical self-monitoring tool for thoughts, emotions, and behaviors
By design, Woebot invites self-monitoring, which is a key action within CBT. Moments of self-reflection and behavioral observation form the foundation of opportunities for insight and pattern detection. Without an awareness of these thought and behavior patterns, it can be difficult to determine where and if someone wants to instill change. Over time, self-monitoring provides a record of progress and a reminder about the tools and skills used in various situations that may have proved helpful. In this way, the dynamic process of change itself can be observed over time and reflected upon.

3) In-Vivo Practice
The nuance here is in the name: In-Vivo. In Psychology, ‘in-vivo’ refers to something occuring in the real–life moment. For example, in the practice of exposure therapy for social phobia, an in-vivo experiment might involve actually giving a presentation at a work meeting. As a therapist, I am rarely actually available in someone’s exact moment of need. But because Woebot hosts permanently open office hours, it can be immediately available whenever you need it most. In that moment, Woebot can coach you through the application of a technique that has already been discussed in a session.

4) Offer a forum in which to discuss fears about social situations.
Given that known and common manifestations of depression include interpersonal ruptures and loneliness, it’s not surprising that social interaction, social support, and social skills interventions are a common framework within evidence-based treatments for depression. Through the use of thought challenging skills, Woebot can help reframe catastrophic or negative thoughts about being in social situations.

5) Role modeling Growth Mindset
One of Woebot’s core beliefs is Growth Mindset. The bot models this through making and owning his own mistakes, and recognizing the potential for growth embedded in such learnings. For example, if a user happens to give negative feedback after a session, Woebot will thank them for sharing their thoughts precisely because it will help him learn to be “a better bot.” What’s more, at the end of a lesson or story, he makes sure to praise users for their efforts, not their results. By modeling the Growth Mindset in addition to teaching it, Woebot encourages users to adopt the same perspective in their everyday lives.

Being a therapist myself, I am fully aware of the fundamental differences that distinguish a conversation with Woebot from a session with a human professional. However, Woebot’s 24/7 availability, empathy, and in-vivo guidance for CBT-skill application make it an incredible resource for those who are interested in this type of support. In this way, the program guides those critical moments of growth that can only occur outside of a therapist’s office– when a patient leverages what they’ve learned in therapy to navigate the twists and turns of life.