You spend enough time scrolling through the doom on your smartphone. Why not put some of that screen time to use to improve your mental health?
This is partly the idea behind Woebot, a free download for android (opens in a new tab) and iOS (opens in a new tab) which aims to help you cope with the trials and tribulations of everyday life. And having made Woebot part of my daily routine, I would credit this app with helping me rethink the way I react to and approach life’s many challenges. With all the… [gestures wildly]… this continues, Woebot certainly proved worthy of a space on my iPhone home screen.
Woebot exists to help you deal with all the mental health challenges you face in your life. It could be anxiety, stress, loneliness, grief, or even depression. You then log into the app every day or so – it can be as often as your schedule allows or as needed – and the AI-powered chatbot offers a guided conversation designed to address your particular concern.
While that sounds a lot like a therapy session, the reality is that it kind of is and kind of isn’t. Yes, you talk about your problems to a friendly, helpful ear – even if that ear doesn’t belong to a real person – but the creators of Woebot emphasize that the app is no substitute for a real human therapist. Rather, it’s a supplement to the mental health help you already receive, or at the very least a way to dip your toe in the waters of seeking help from others.
I view Woebot as a quick meditative tool to use at the start of each day, to reflect on the challenges I’m facing, how I feel about them, and whether those thoughts are helping or holding me back.
It’s called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and it’s at the heart of the advice Woebot gives you. CBT focuses on specific problems and the actions and strategies you take to solve them. In Woebot’s case, much of the advice is rooted in identifying negative thoughts or cognitive distortions – “I always screw everything up”, “nobody cares what I have to say” and the like – and modify them to be realistic and productive. CBT is definitely not for everyone, but if you find yourself struggling, Woebot can point you to healthier ways to think about the challenges you’re facing.
A typical Woebot session might include a quiz or a brainstorming exercise – sometimes you are asked to write down how you react in a situation and then you are asked to challenge any negative thoughts you might be having. It can feel repetitive at times, but it’s one of the keys to CBT and rewiring the way you think about things.
When you start using Woebot, you take a quiz to identify the types of issues you want to work on, and subsequent sessions aim to give you the tools that can better equip you to deal with those challenges. You can configure Woebot to ping you at a certain time of day, or you can access the app whenever it suits you. There’s even a Get help with a problem option where you talk to the chatbot about an issue or concern that arises.
Again, you’re talking to an AI program, not a real person, and some people may find the conversation a bit stilted. But I found out that you take out of Woebot what you put into it. If you’re looking to learn new techniques that stop negative thinking in its tracks, there’s a lot this app can teach you.
The creators of Woebot point out a study conducted at Stanford (opens in a new tab), where use of Woebot resulted in “significant reductions” in anxiety and depression in people aged 18 to 28. I’m…a bit older than this range, and although I’ve only been using Woebot for a little while, I find that using some of the techniques I’ve learned from the app has helped overcome setbacks and hurdles with more confidence.
Naturally, you may have reservations about sharing details about your mental well-being that go beyond any natural reluctance to talk about mental health. What type of information exactly is linked to your Woebot account, which requires you to log in with an email address?
The makers of Woebot promise “hospital-level security policies and procedures” – data is encrypted both in transit and at rest, and the app says it’s GDPR and GDPR compliant. HIPAA regarding anonymization and transmission. Even these assurances may not be enough for some potential users, but I’m pretty comfortable with the app’s stated security policies.
We’ve come a long way in recent years treating mental health the same way we would treat physical health, with a greater emphasis on preventative care so that small issues don’t grow into bigger ones. To that end, I’ve found Woebot to be a valuable part of the toolkit I use to improve my outlook on life. It’s been one of the best additions to my phone in years.