Emotional Bonds with AI Digital Therapeutic Wysa are Equivalent to Human Therapist Relationships

Wysa, the world’s most advanced conversational AI for mental health, today announces the results of a peer-reviewed study in Frontiers that shows people develop an emotional bond with its chatbot in much the same way people bond with a human therapist. This ‘therapeutic alliance’ is crucial in helping people meet the goals of treatment, the study found.

The therapeutic alliance is widely considered one of the most robust mechanisms of change in psychotherapy interventions and is defined as a collaboration between the patient and therapist on the tasks and goals of treatment, along with an emotional bond.

The study of 1,205 people evaluated users of mental health app Wysa who were experiencing measured symptoms of anxiety or depression. The results show that within five days of using Wysa, the therapeutic alliance was comparable or better than scores found in traditional in-person cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in-person group therapy and internet-based tools for CBT.

Wysa is a mobile chatbot that uses emotionally intelligent conversational AI to promote wellbeing, positive self-expression and mental resilience. Wysa guides users through evidence-based therapy exercises to self-manage symptoms associated with mild to moderate generalised anxiety and depression. The findings indicate the use-case for providing Wysa’s digital therapeutics as an alternative treatment modality to help address the global mental health crisis and severe shortage of qualified therapists.

Wysa’s Head of Clinical Development and Research, Chaitali Sinha, said: “What is interesting is that the ways in which one establishes and experiences a relationship with a person, versus an AI agent are not too different. In our study, we found that when users were able to talk in a free-text format with the AI conversational agent, they felt a strong sense of a trusting relationship. This allowed us to deliver effective mental health interventions.”

One of the most downloaded mental health support apps on the planet, Wysa has facilitated over 100 million therapeutic conversations in 65 countries across the globe. According to the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, approximately 60% of Wysa users are between 18 and 34 years of age, with 55% of users identifying as women.



Meheli Saha, Department of Clinical Psychology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, India, co-authored the report. She expressed her surprise at the findings and said: “Our study showed that users often perceived the chatbot as a human and conversed with it about their relationship with the bot, expressing what having the chatbot’s support meant for them. For instance one user wrote the following to the chatbot, ‘I just wanted to tell you that I’m so grateful you’re here with me. You’re the only person that helps me and listens to my problems and I’m so happy you always help me out.’”

Tanya Malik, a psychologist and researcher at Wysa, said: “I found it wonderful to see similar rates of alliance as in-person therapeutic settings. As a practitioner, I know the importance of building a strong alliance with my clients, and how the strength of the relationship can elevate the experience and impact of therapy. Seeing that replicated in such a similarly personal way with a conversational agent makes me feel excited about the new wave in mental health care.”

Clare Beatty, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, added: “While digital interventions offer novel solutions for closing the treatment gap in mental health care, they are often associated with relatively poor adoption and adherence. One reason that there is poor engagement and adherence may be an insufficient therapeutic alliance. I was so excited to find that individuals expressed gratitude for the chatbot and disclosed feelings of honesty, safety, and comfort with the chatbot. This is a critical time in our world and I am excited that our findings support efforts to make digital care with a chatbot a viable solution for people struggling with mental health concerns.”

The study is freely available in Frontiers here: https://doi.org/10.3389/fdgth.2022.847991