Woebot Labs, a mental health artificial intelligence platform, just landed $8 million in Series A funding with New Enterprise Associates leading and Andrew Ng’s AI Fund participating.
The new app, which launched in February, is a cross between a therapist and a friend. Woebot customers can use the messaging function on the app—just like using Google Hangouts or Apple's iMessage, but instead of a person at the other end of the messages, it's an artificial intelligence programmed to help users talk through their mental health using cognitive behavioral therapy principles.
“We have a huge issue of access [to mental health specialists], particularly globally,” Dr. Alison Darcy, CEO and founder of Woebot, told MobiHealthNews. “Woebot was created to be a fun and engaging way to talk about your mental health and look after mental health. It is drawn from cognitive behavioral therapy.”
The app is designed to help users talk about their anxiety or depression and give them ways of coping.
“It can talk them through their thinking and helping them rewrite those thoughts,” Darcy said. “Up until now that practice hasn’t been available outside the [therapists’ office].”
Therapists can’t officially prescribe Woebot since the product is not yet FDA cleared, but it can be suggested as one of the options for people outside of therapy.
Darcy said she has seen an uptake in people engaging with Woebot that don’t necessarily need to see a clinician. This creates an option for people who want to talk or go through CBT but don’t need to see a therapist or don’t have resources to see a therapist.
Darcy said many users have started talking about Woebot like a friend, not just an app.
“It’s kind of a therapeutic relationship that is really unusual and not really been available before in technology. People really enjoyed the fun of it and referring to Woebot as himself,” said Darcy.
In the future, Darcy said she wants to make the app accessible to more users globally.
“We have known for a long time that we do not have the resources to meet everyones needs,” Darcy said. “But we really hope we can start creating these tools that are folded up into everyday living and we can all begin to acknowledge we have mental health.”