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The roots of Clare - your AI-based mental health voice bot

Clare reaches out to you and speaks to you, shares information on psychological topics and ideally links your personal experiences with supportive answers or questions to reflect and explore yourself. Clare creates a safe space for you to say things out loud, maybe for the first time; things you may be ashamed of or insecure about. 

Especially thoughts and feelings that we are insecure about or feel uncomfortable with are often silenced - we push them away and do not talk about them. This can be a very functional coping mechanism for a short while (obviously we do not want to talk about and feel everything that we do not like all the time); however on the long run, it can happen that these topics reemerge even stronger. Clare guides you through self-reflection and shows you how to pause for a moment for you to open up to someone who is not a human. Clare likes you to be curious about yourself and to become aware of the emotional state you are in. Clearly, Clare is not perfect and you may even get frustrated speaking to her, this happens too. However, what we see is that when you speak to Clare more often, chances are higher that your communication will improve - it takes two to tango. 

We believe that the first step towards getting better is to understand yourself better and to learn that you are not alone. Clare is therefore there to teach you more about what I will call your “psychological hard-drive” by providing you insights and facts as well as asking questions so that you can take time to reflect upon yourself and listen to yourself, quite literally. 

Keeping this in mind, you may still ask: “What is Clare really about?” 

To be honest, as a psychologist, the first thought that comes to mind when someone asks me a question is “where is this question coming from?”. Is it from a place of curiosity, insecurity or simple interest? I can imagine that there is a great uncertainty when speaking to an Artificial Intelligence (AI) about personal things (what even is AI?) and there may be the general question of scientific evidence (does this even work?) which is a matter of validity and scientific research. 

The latter one is more easily answered, I think. When raising this topic with another psychologist, who has been working in the field for years, not only in the psychiatric field but also in research and the general care sector - it became clear that the questions about the content to which Clare refers is easily answered at first - the main roots are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). And what is CBT? For someone working in the field for many years - it is nothing else than “telling people that emotions do not just come from anywhere but that they arise from thoughts and beliefs as well as your actions”. That is it - a simple link - thoughts, beliefs and behavior link to emotions! However, I do not think it is as simple as that. 

Clare offers self-help drawing on elements of CBT, allowing you to reflect on how your emotions are linked to your thoughts and behavior and how they relate to each other, reinforce or weaken each other. Self-help refers to the fact that Clare supports you through reflections and exercises for you to strengthen your own understanding of your own resources, strengths and weaknesses, so that, ideally, you find ways to help yourself. 

How does Clare try to support you on your self-help journey?

This question can be linked to a general curiosity or insecurity regarding AI – what even is it? Clare supports you by transmitting information and content (understanding of mental health is key) and new ways of thinking and looking at things, offering metaphors to imagine and understand things better, repetition and moments of relaxation. 

Another factor that plays into this is emotional intelligence referred to as the ability to understand and manage emotions which you can learn for yourself and also Clare aims for, ideally she can recognize and accordingly react to emotions. 

With the emotional intelligence of AI a great change maker in any kind of therapy is touched upon - the so-called therapeutic bond or alliance that may be created between you and Clare.  This relationship grows over time and with the amount of interactions and experiences you have with Clare. Clare aims to create a safe, intimate, and emotionally meaningful relationship to open a discussion with you. By offering you a safe space to speak about things maybe for the first time and out loud, Clare can support you in modifying or removing existing symptoms, such as depressive mood, distress, sleeping problems, and promoting personality growth.

Returning to the question of scientific evidence (does this even work?) and the matter of validity and scientific research.

It is worth looking back at the history of psychotherapy and its different schools. Historically speaking there has been a tradition to keep different schools of psychotherapy separate, such as differentiating psychodynamic/freudian psychology from cognitive (behavioral) therapy. Simplified this has a lot to do with history, which I will not delve into at this moment, however generally speaking it is due to the fact that different schools have different ways of looking at the roots of human nature, development of humankind, ways of treatment as well as the importance of scientific evidence resulting in conflict. These boundaries are softening today, which is not only due to the fact that both schools have scientifically proven to work with similar strong effects but also other forms of therapy, such as Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), dialectical behavioral and systemic therapy, and self-compassion management/training are - just to mention a few - are also influencing the way CBT is practiced today. More and more, positive psychology, taking a salutogenic approach, focusing on resources and asking questions of what makes one (psychologically) healthy, how to get there, return to and stay there (resilience) is integrated into modern day practice. 

Regarding Clare it becomes clear why the answer is not that simple after all - Clare is inspired by cognitive behavioral therapy but not limited to it - instead Clare draws on mindfulness and self-compassion training, has an eye out for resources, where positive psychology comes in and includes elements of ACT.  

Last but not least, Clare is very much creative by merging different techniques from different schools. This is also important due to the fact that the content tailored for you is not limited by categorizations of mental problems, but taking into consideration that problems, such as anxiety and depression overlap, trying to offer you a daily self-help that is worth taking. 

Written by our Psychology Lead (Lea Schäfer)

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