Posted on November 1, 2018 by staff

Should AI chatbots ever replace ‘face-to-face’ therapy?


Ads promising text-based digital therapy or AI chatbot therapists to help with mental health issues are never going to be as effective as face-to-face sessions warns Mynurva founder Dr Zain Sikafi .

Dr Zain Sikafi set up Mynurva in October last year to help people battling mental health issues connect with a therapist quickly over video chat.

He believes tech can help tackle the often long waiting times to get help, but ultimately people will always need to see a human.

“Having set up AI companies before I’m very aware of what it can and can’t do,” he told BusinessCloud.

“I didn’t want to build a service that’#s text-based or where the therapy is automated because I firmly believe the best service that can be offered is face-to-face, and live video does that.

“There’s plenty of medical data that shows live video tech works for delivering therapy. If I had a problem, I’d want to see someone like that.”

Sikafi got the idea for Mynurva after seeing a rising number of patients in his surgery seeking help for their mental health.

Discovering that the UK economy loses billions each year to mental health issues, Sikafi set out to solve the issue. He found users wanted a confidential service that operated outside of the usual 9-5 doctor’s hours.

“We were the first digital therapy provider to do weekends and evenings and we just built something really straightforward and simple to use,” he said.

While the service is paid-for appointments only, he believes the key issue is stigma and accessibility, both of which Mynurva’s counselling platform solves.

“In the US 56 per cent of Americans with mental health problems don’t receive treatment,” said Sikafi.

“It’s a deeply personal issue. In the UK a good comparison is with the sexual health service, which is completely anonymised. If you have chlamydia you can go to a drop-in clinic, be treated and leave without anyone ever knowing you’ve been there.”

The company recently received investment from a VC firm which it will use to grow its encrypted system, which sets it apart from other video offerings.

The most important thing for anyone searching for help online is to figure out what will work for them.

“Therapy has got to be part of a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle,” he said. It’s also important to see what scientific evidence is out there to support what works.

“We found the most important thing for our users is to see someone quickly. It wasn’t so much wanting a library of therapists with pictures and bios, the most important was seeing someone highly qualified quickly.

“People are having to deal with their symptoms day in, day out. They’re having to function with relationships, work, kids, a dog, whatever it is, and they wanted someone to help with that.”