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Research Review: "The Usefulness of ChatGPT for Psychotherapists and Patients”

A new article released by Humanities & Social Sciences Communications in 2024 titled, "The usefulness of ChatGPT for psychotherapists and patients," examines ChatGPT's potential in psychotherapy through three case studies. It explores ChatGPT's role in assisting psychotherapists, supporting patients in ongoing therapy, and aiding individuals without psychotherapy. The paper highlights ChatGPT's strengths in offering information, support, and empathy, while also noting its limitations, such as a bias towards certain therapeutic methods and lack of comprehensive psychotherapeutic understanding. 


The study suggests ChatGPT can be a useful complement in psychotherapy, especially for those without access to professional help, but it cannot replace human psychotherapists. The findings emphasize the need for careful application and further development of AI in mental health support.





The three case studies

The research question in this study is about ChatGPT's potential use in psychotherapy, either as a tool for patients and therapists or as a therapy substitute. It presents three case studies, analyzed using a modified psychotherapeutic approach combined with hermeneutics. 


Hermeneutics is the theory and methodology of interpretation, often used in understanding texts, symbols, and language. In this context, it means interpreting the interactions and statements made by AI (ChatGPT) in a psychotherapeutic setting. This approach likely modifies traditional psychotherapy techniques to incorporate an understanding and analysis of AI communication, considering AI's unique characteristics and how they impact therapy.


The study doesn't rely on a single psychotherapy method but uses a pluralistic approach. It emphasizes practical relevance by using examples from the author's own practice and presents three diverse scenarios to show ChatGPT's wide application in psychotherapy.


Assisting psychotherapists

The author, a psychotherapist, used ChatGPT to assist a patient suffering from social phobia. ChatGPT provided diagnoses and treatment suggestions but with limitations. It missed mentioning a key treatment in logotherapy, only providing it when explicitly asked. This highlighted ChatGPT's bias towards certain psychotherapeutic approaches and its limited knowledge depth. The author notes the importance of tailored questions and psychotherapists' prior knowledge for effective use of ChatGPT. 


The paper suggests that while ChatGPT can offer insights, it lacks the diversity and depth of human psychotherapists and existing information sources.


Supporting patients in ongoing therapy

In this case study, a patient used ChatGPT for dream interpretation during a break in psychoanalytic therapy. ChatGPT offered interpretations from various psychological perspectives, but these were similar and lacked specific technical terms from each approach. The interpretations were not deep enough for professional use but could be beneficial for individuals with psychotherapy experience for personal reflection.

 

The case highlights ChatGPT's utility in offering new perspectives but also its limitations in providing professional-level psychoanalytic interpretations.


Helping individuals without psychotherapy

In this case study, the author tested ChatGPT's capabilities by simulating a conversation as a person with mental illness. ChatGPT responded empathetically and offered practical self-care suggestions, emphasizing the importance of professional help. However, it showed a bias towards cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and lacked in-depth queries for critical information like personal history or symptoms. 


The study concludes that while ChatGPT can offer supportive interactions and create a safe space for users, it should not be seen as a standalone solution for psychotherapy.

“ChatGPT can be a supportive tool, especially because it provides a safe framework and ‘empathy’, but it must not replace psychotherapy as a stand-alone tool until important adjustments have been made. I strongly agree with the persistent reminders that ChatGPT cannot replace a professional psychotherapist and that the user should consult one.”

- Paolo Raile, author of "The usefulness of ChatGPT for psychotherapists and patients”


ChatGPT’s role in psychoeducation

The research suggests that ChatGPT provides general information about mental health issues and treatments, with a focus on cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness-based therapies. However, it notes limitations, such as brief responses that lack patient context and a bias towards certain therapeutic approaches. The text emphasizes that ChatGPT cannot fully replace human empathy or recognize nonverbal cues, crucial in therapy. ChatGPT can be seen as a valuable tool for psychotherapy, offering second opinions and accessible information, but it should not be viewed as a substitute for professional therapy.

ChatGPT's role executive coaching

Just as ChatGPT can provide supplementary information and perspectives in therapy, it could assist executive coaches by offering insights, additional viewpoints, or educational content. However, its limitations in fully understanding context, showing empathy, and tailoring responses to individual needs are critical in coaching, where personalized guidance and deep understanding of the coachee's challenges are essential. Coaches could use AI tools like ChatGPT as a resource, but they should not rely on them as a replacement for the nuanced, human-centric approach required in executive coaching.


References

Raile, P. (2024). The usefulness of ChatGPT for psychotherapists and patients. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-023-02567-0.


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