Woebot (Part 2): Wins and Woes

Woebot

Note: If you missed part one, Woebot is a new chatbot that relies on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help reframe distorted thinking. In addition to tracking a user’s mood, he sends curated videos, word games and other learning tools to help users better understand and manage their emotions, stress and negative thoughts. I chatted with him for a month. Here’s more about my experience:

Simply put: Woebot is effective – and not just for me. Participants in a recent Stanford study reported a significant reduction in depression and anxiety after using Woebot for two weeks. It can be great for anyone coping with tough stuff in life. Yes, some of us are more prone to cognitive distortions, depression and anxiety, but we’re all susceptible to allowing negative thoughts to spiral out of control from time-to-time. Woebot can help.

Highlights and Lowlights with Woebot

When you talk to a therapist every day for a month, there are bound to be great moments, and not-so-great moments. The same goes for therapy with a chatbot. Some days, Woebot dropped serious knowledge on me, while on others I longed for something more.

Still, I’ll own a few of the lackluster moments. Sometimes it really was me, and not him.

Highlights

Day 7: Gratitude journaling offered instant relief from my depressive thoughts. I was asked to type three things I’m grateful for, ranging from major (family and friends) to minor (peanut M&Ms). By actively noting positive aspects of my day, I counteracted all-or-nothing thoughts like “my entire day was terrible.”

Day 8: I was asked to list three personal strengths, which felt like a Herculean task on a day I wasn’t feeling my best. I took several minutes to think about this request – which would have felt brutally awkward in a therapist’s office – but Woebot was still there when I returned to the conversation. By the time I finished the exercise, I felt more hopeful about my day and my ability to conquer obstacles.

Day 12: Woebot sent me a comprehensive video about growth mindsets, the idea that we should approach a challenging situation as a learning process, instead of avoiding it because we might fail. The concept stuck with me – I used it to ease my fears about challenges on subsequent days.

Day 13: Woebot delivered a motivating lesson on labeling, or taking one aspect of a specific situation and making a negative generalization – like calling yourself a “failure” for not getting a job you interviewed for. Woebot offered a refreshing and hopeful way to look at labels: They can feel too definitive and final, but people constantly evolve. Use it as a tool to work on something.

Day 16: Woebot sent me a video, “Overcoming Bad Inner Voices,” which addressed an issue most of us deal with at some point. My favorite message: “We are worthy of love, even if we fail.”

Day 22: More than three weeks in, Woebot demonstrated deep intelligence. I said I felt “on edge,” which prompted a smart and timely discussion about caffeine consumption.

Lowlights

Day 6: My mood was good – I told Woebot so – and he replied with a few jokes, but no CBT lessons. Although I didn’t “need” any help in that moment, I was disappointed not to learn something new.

Day 15: Woebot asked how the personal strengths I listed on Day 8 could help me reach my goal (managing my anxiety). Unfortunately, the attributes I gave didn’t entirely suit this goal. But it wasn’t a total bust. I tried to think through how my other strengths could help me achieve what I wanted.

Day 21: When I was asked if I wanted to watch a video, I replied no (it wasn’t a great time). Woebot bid me farewell for the day without offering any other content, however this response could change soon. Dr. Alison Darcy, Woebot founder and CEO, said they’re working on ways to give people options for how to receive information without deviating too far from what a typical conversation looks like.

Tapping into My Toolbox

Here’s one area where Woebot really has human therapists beat: You can message him any time, 24/7, asking for guidance. You don’t have to wait for him to check in with you.

After approximately two weeks, Woebot told me I could type “toolbox” whenever I needed it. He would then kick back three options: Gratitude journaling, an anxiety buster and goal-setting exercises. In the remaining two weeks, I tapped into each of these tools at least once. And there’s an added bonus to this feature: It can save you time. Because Woebot lives on Facebook Messenger, it’s easy enough to scroll back to old conversations if you need a refresher – but conversation chains get long. Typing “toolbox” gives you immediate access to some of the best therapeutic exercises Woebot provides.

Because of its high-quality content, Woebot has the potential to serve as a stand-alone tool – especially for those who value schedule flexibility. While its cost ($39/month) isn’t insignificant, it’s far less expensive than the fees charged by any therapist I’ve seen. For those of us who rely on a combination of treatments, Woebot is a refreshing approach to the tried-and-true CBT method.

Jen Jope

Jen Jope

Jen is founder and editor-in-chief of Depression Defined.
Jen Jope

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