Dr. Şerife Tekin, associate professor of philosophy in SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Center for Bioethics and Humanities, explored the use of AI in psychotherapy during a presentation at Niagara University on March 20, 2024.

Can chatbots bridge the gulf between the needs of individuals with mental disorders and available mental health care services? Dr. Şerife Tekin, associate professor of philosophy in SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Center for Bioethics and Humanities, explored the idea on March 20 as part of a series of events hosted by the Niagara University Ostapenko Center for Ethics in Medicine and Healthcare.

While advances in applications of artificial intelligence and the use of data analytics technology in biomedicine have created some optimism about the use of psychotherapy chatbots in light of these apps' low cost, wide accessibility through cell phones, and availability in different languages, there are also epistemic and ethical concerns about their use as medical tools. In her presentation, “Artificial Intelligence, Chatbot Therapists and the Future of Psychiatry” Dr. Tekin addressed these concerns.

Dr. Tekin noted that, because this technology is being developed by businesses seeking to make a profit, the normal clinical testing that other medical tools and therapies undergo is not required, so there is very little empirical evidence proving its effectiveness. In addition, the algorithms used by these chatbots do not take into account the cultural differences of the individuals using them, which could “further exasperate the health disparities that these individuals are already experiencing,” she said.

“This doesn't mean that we should not think about the kind of excitement of this technology in a productive way. I think there is a place for these kinds of chatbots to be helpful in the patient-clinician interaction,” she said. But she also cautioned that “we should stop calling these apps a medical device or tool or therapist until we prove and show that they are efficacious as medical tools. I think that the researchers and these developers need to do a better job of proving themselves before we go on to accepting (these tools).”

Made possible by the generous gift of Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko, the Ostapenko Center for Ethics in Medicine and Healthcare is dedicated to investigating the various ethical issues related to healthcare and medicine facing our local and global communities.