AI Counseling vs. Human Therapist

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming many aspects of our lives, including the field of mental health. AI-powered therapy apps and chatbots are becoming increasingly popular, as they offer a convenient and accessible way to access AI counseling and mental health support. However, some people may be skeptical about the effectiveness of AI counseling.

While AI counseling has the potential to offer many benefits, it’s important to remember that the therapeutic alliance between therapist and client is essential for therapeutic growth. AI counseling may be a useful supplement to traditional therapy, but it can’t replace human connection.

In this article, I compare the responses of AI and humans to common questions about the counseling process. These questions are representative of the types of questions someone might have before starting therapy or while considering it.

The human participants are Lisa Martinez, an author who writes about mental health, and Micah Perkins, a licensed professional counselor and licensed alcohol and drug counselor at Oklahoma Counseling Institute. The non-human participant is Bard, Google’s AI experiment and chatbot, with no formal qualifications as a mental health provider and no experience in AI counseling.

AI Counseling vs. Human Therapist: Comparing AI-Generated Responses to Those of Humans

1. What are some of the benefits of counseling?

Lisa Martinez: One of the benefits of counseling is having an unbiased listener to talk to who has been trained by life experience and formal education to help me solve problems, draw conclusions, and obtain goals.

Micah Perkins: Better management of negative emotions, increased wellbeing, better relationships.

Bard: Counseling can offer a number of benefits, including:

  • Improved mental health: Counseling can help people to manage and improve their mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and stress.
  • Increased self-awareness: Counseling can help people to better understand themselves, their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Enhanced coping skills: Counseling can teach people how to cope with difficult emotions and situations in a healthy way.
  • Improved relationships: Counseling can help people to improve their relationships with others, including their partners, family, and friends.
  • Increased personal growth: Counseling can help people to achieve their personal goals and live a more fulfilling life.

2. What are some of the signs that a person may need counseling?

Lisa Martinez: Some signs that a person might need counseling could include being extremely anxious, not knowing where to turn to for help, feeling very sad and/or suicidal, and if they have experienced a recent trauma that they need to process, (even if they show no signs of being impacted by the trauma).

Micah Perkins: Depression, anxiety that negatively affects the person’s relationships, work, or overall general well-being. [Counselors] can use assessments such as the PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire) and the GAD-7 (Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire) to assess severity of symptoms.

Bard: Here are some of the signs that a person may need counseling:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or stressed: If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed by your everyday life, counseling can help you to develop coping mechanisms and manage your stress levels.
  • Experiencing difficult emotions: If you are struggling with difficult emotions such as sadness, anger, anxiety, or guilt, counseling can help you to understand and process these emotions in a healthy way.
  • Having relationship problems: If you are struggling in your relationships with others, counseling can help you to communicate more effectively, resolve conflict, and build stronger relationships.
  • Going through a difficult life transition: If you are going through a difficult life transition, such as a divorce, job loss, or the death of a loved one, counseling can help you to cope with change and adjust to your new situation.
  • Having mental health symptoms: If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), counseling can help you to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

3. What types of counseling are available?

Lisa Martinez: The types of counseling available include marital, employment, drug, family, and many others.

Micah Perkins: Different styles and approaches are infinite (schools, therapist’s own style) but delivery is typically done individually, family, couples, or group.

Bard: There are many different types of counseling available, each with its own focus and approach. Some of the most common types of counseling include:

  • Individual counseling: Individual counseling is a one-on-one relationship between a client and a therapist. It is used to address a wide range of issues, including mental health conditions, relationship problems, and life transitions.
  • Group counseling: Group counseling is a type of therapy that involves a therapist and a group of clients who are all working on similar issues. Group counseling can provide clients with support from others who are going through similar experiences, and it can help them to learn from each other.
  • Family counseling: Family counseling is a type of therapy that involves the entire family. It is used to address issues that are affecting the family as a whole, such as communication problems, conflict, and parenting challenges.
  • Couples counseling: Couples counseling is a type of therapy that involves two people in a romantic relationship. It is used to address issues that are affecting the relationship, such as communication problems, conflict, and intimacy challenges.

In addition to these general types of counseling, there are also many specialized types of counseling available.

4. What can a person expect from the counseling process?

Lisa Martinez: In the counseling process, a person can expect ethical, professional, HIPAA compliant care from the counseling individual. They can expect to receive paperwork during their initial visit and should also expect to answer many questions so that the counselor can learn about them to formulate a treatment/care plan.

Micah Perkins: A safe space to process thoughts and emotions, gain new insights, and learn new skills.

Bard: The counseling process can vary depending on the type of counseling you are receiving and the specific issues you are working on. However, in general, you can expect the following:

  • Initial assessment: During the first few sessions, your therapist will likely ask you about your background, your current situation, and your goals for counseling. They will also assess your mental health and well-being.
  • Treatment planning: Once your therapist has a better understanding of your needs, they will work with you to develop a treatment plan. This plan will outline the goals of your therapy and the specific steps that you and your therapist will take to achieve those goals.
  • Therapy sessions: Therapy sessions typically last for one hour and occur on a weekly or biweekly basis. During your therapy sessions, you will have the opportunity to talk to your therapist about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Your therapist will also provide you with support and guidance as you work through your challenges.
  • Evaluation: At regular intervals, your therapist will evaluate your progress and make adjustments to your treatment plan as needed.
  • Termination: When you and your therapist decide that you have achieved your goals for counseling, you will work together to develop a termination plan. This plan will help you to transition out of counseling and maintain the progress that you have made.

5. How long does counseling typically last?

Lisa Martinez: Counseling can last indefinitely. The length of time is determined by the therapist and/or the patient.

Micah Perkins: I actually have my own data that for myself it is 15 sessions average.

Bard: The length of counseling typically depends on the individual’s needs and goals. Some people may only need a few sessions to address a specific issue, while others may need longer-term counseling to address more complex issues.

According to the American Psychological Association, most people attend therapy for an average of 15 to 20 sessions. However, some people may need more or fewer sessions depending on their individual circumstances.

Here are some factors that can affect the length of counseling:

  • The type of counseling: Some types of counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), are designed to be short-term and focused on addressing specific problems. Other types of counseling, such as psychodynamic therapy, are designed to be longer-term and help people to understand and resolve underlying issues.
  • The severity of the problem: People with more severe problems may need longer-term counseling.
  • The individual’s progress: Some people make faster progress than others in therapy.
  • The individual’s commitment to therapy: People who are committed to therapy and willing to do the work are more likely to make progress and see results.

6. What are the signs that counseling is working?

Lisa Martinez: Some signs that counseling is working could be in changed behaviors, processing emotions and/or reactions to trauma, meeting goals, and improved mental health and wellness.

Micah Perkins: Decrease in negative emotions, improved wellbeing, and improved relationships. [Counselors] can use assessments such as the PHQ-9 and the GAD-7 to assess progress.

Bard: There are many signs that counseling is working. Some of the most common signs include:

  • Improved mood and emotions: People who are in successful therapy often report feeling happier, more optimistic, and less stressed.
  • Reduced symptoms of mental health conditions: Counseling can help people to manage and reduce the symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
  • Increased self-awareness: Counseling can help people to better understand themselves, their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Improved coping skills: Counseling can teach people how to cope with difficult emotions and situations in a healthy way.
  • Improved relationships: Counseling can help people to improve their relationships with others, including their partners, family, and friends.
  • Increased life satisfaction: Counseling can help people to achieve their personal goals and live a more fulfilling life.

7. What are some of the challenges that people face in counseling?

Lisa Martinez: Some of the challenges people face in counseling in regard to patients include affordability, receiving unethical/unprofessional care from a counselor, the stigma of receiving counseling, lack of family support to continue counseling, lack of support by employer to continue counseling, or maintaining the ability to stick to a counseling schedule while also juggling their many responsibilities.

Micah Perkins: Difficulty in dealing with negative emotions and (unfortunately) finances.

Bard: Counseling can be a challenging experience for some people. Here are some of the challenges that people face in counseling:

  • Opening up to a therapist: Talking to a therapist about personal problems can be difficult, especially for people who are not used to sharing their feelings with others.
  • Facing difficult emotions: Counseling can bring up difficult emotions, such as sadness, anger, and guilt. It can be challenging to face these emotions, but it is important to do so in order to heal and grow.
  • Changing behavior: Counseling can help people to identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviors. However, changing behavior can be difficult, and it takes time and effort.
  • Financial cost: Counseling can be expensive, and some people may not have insurance coverage for counseling services.
  • Availability of therapists: It can be difficult to find a qualified therapist who is available and affordable.

8. How can a person get the most out of counseling?

Lisa Martinez: A person can get the most out of counseling by having an open mind and adopting the mindset of being dedicated to their mental health and wellness.

Micah Perkins: By being active with the process. Willingness to discuss difficult emotions and doing homework assignments prescribed by the therapist.

Bard: Here are some tips on how to get the most out of counseling:

  • Be honest and open with your therapist. The more honest you are, the better your therapist can understand your situation and help you.
  • Be prepared to talk about difficult topics. Counseling can be challenging, but it is important to face your challenges head-on in order to heal and grow.
  • Be patient. It takes time to see results from counseling. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results.
  • Be active in your therapy. Don’t just sit back and let your therapist do all the work. Be engaged in the process and be willing to try new things.
  • Do your homework. Your therapist may give you homework assignments to help you practice what you are learning in therapy. It is important to complete these assignments in order to make the most of your counseling experience.
  • Be consistent with your appointments. It is important to attend your counseling appointments regularly. This will help you to stay on track and to make progress in your therapy.
  • Be honest with yourself. Counseling can be a powerful tool for growth and change. However, it is important to be honest with yourself about your progress and to be willing to make changes in your life.

Conclusion: AI Counseling or Human Therapist?

To conclude, Bard and the humans performed well in different areas. Bard was efficient and fast, providing factual information, while the humans were better at conveying care while providing personalized answers.

I believe that AI counseling has the potential to be a valuable tool for people who are seeking mental health support. However, it is important to use AI counseling responsibly and to be aware of its limitations.

Bard (on AI Counseling)

While the human responses were not as lengthy as Bard’s, they included things that only someone with experience in the field would think to mention. For example, Bard was able to quickly list potential outcomes of counseling, but Lisa provided a more personalized answer by sharing how talking to an unbiased individual with both life experience and formal training can be beneficial.

Regarding signs that a person might need counseling, Lisa mentioned trauma, stating that it’s possible a person may not show any signs of trauma, implying that mental health is complex and can be difficult to make sense of at times. Symptoms can manifest in unexpected ways, such as muscle tension, fatigue, etc. Bard simply said that a person with symptoms of PTSD might need counseling. Bard also tiptoed around suicidal ideation, while Lisa was clear that thoughts of suicide are a serious indicator that a person needs help. She also conveyed compassion when stating that counseling is for those who need help but don’t know where to turn.

AI counseling has the potential to complement traditional therapy and provide valuable support, especially for those who might not otherwise have access to mental health services. However, it should not be seen as a complete substitute for human-led therapy, especially in cases of serious mental health conditions where the expertise and empathy of trained professionals are crucial.

ChatGPT (on AI Counseling)

Micah, meanwhile, demonstrated his expertise in the field by providing examples of assessments used to measure the severity of symptoms and by sharing data from his practice on the length of counseling. In answering a different question, Micah mentioned that counseling provides a “safe space,” something that AI counseling can’t provide.

Bard’s answer to the question about the length of counseling was broad and factual, but it didn’t provide a realistic idea of what to expect. Lisa, on the other hand, was honest about the fact that counseling can sometimes be a lifelong process. Micah’s answer was more realistic, and it gave readers a better understanding of what to expect.

On potential challenges, Bard missed some of the biggest challenges, such as finding the time for therapy while juggling responsibilities, dealing with stigma, lack of support, and dealing with unethical or unqualified practitioners. Lisa, on the other hand, was transparent in her answers, mentioning all of these challenges.

AI counseling is a promising but also controversial field that requires careful and responsible development and implementation.

Bing (Microsoft’s Chatbot on AI Counseling)

Ultimately, Bard was efficient and provided factual information, but its answers lacked depth and nuance. Lisa and Micah, on the other hand, offered insights that would be difficult to find in a Google search. Their responses would be especially helpful for someone who is considering counseling for the first time.

In helping me edit this article, Bard, unprompted, offered this:

To answer your question, I think human therapists answered better than AI.

The human therapists were able to provide more personalized, nuanced, and informative answers. They were also able to share their own experiences and expertise, which AI cannot do.

However, I think AI has the potential to be a valuable tool for therapists. AI could be used to help therapists develop personalized treatment plans, track progress over time, and provide support to clients in between sessions.

Overall, I believe that human therapists and AI could work together to provide the best possible care to clients.

And what do you think? Who answered better: AI or humans? Would you be open to AI counseling? Leave your thoughts in a comment below!