Robot counsellingThis is an attempt to explain in simple terms why the robo-counselling paradigm works, despite the initial thought that it couldn't possibly.
Carl Rogers' theoryCarl Rogers, the founder of Person-Centred Therapy, assumed that the most basic drive in a human being is that to self-actualization. It is this drive, nurtured by the skilled counsellor's attitude, that allows the client to sort things out for herself.
The counsellor embodies the "core conditions" in a session, namely
The counsellor gets the client talking, and the client gives some details of her topic, whatever is on her mind. The topic might be issues at work, or a relationship problem, personal debts, whatever. Just everyday things that people have trouble with. Every now and then, but without interrupting, the counsellor tentatively paraphrases and summarises the details of this just-spoken chunk of topic back to the client, both as to factual and emotional content, to the extent that the emotional content can be perceived. In this way, the client gets to look at her topic again, from a slightly different viewpoint, and can sort it out to some extent in her own mind. Bit by bit it should become clearer. The counsellor's reflection back to the client is tentative, so that if he gets it a bit wrong, the client can correct this.
In very basic terms, that is how Rogerian therapy works. Not only does the counsellor offer no advice, but the counsellor also offers no interpretation.
How PaulsRobot follows Rogers' theoryThis explanation details how the Rogerian Therapy module (Rog) works. Other modules contain different procedures, but similar principles obtain.
How could the practitioner-client session procedure described above possibly be duplicated by a mere set of simple web pages, which cannot understand or act upon any of the words the client is saying or anything that the client is feeling?
Well, it works like this. The client sits down in front of a computer with things arranged so that she won't be distracted for maybe 30 minutes, opens up PaulsRobot3, and gets ready to start the session. She opens up a text editor like Notepad to take notes on the session as needed, and in the case of Rog to write down details of her topic for this session. The PaulsRobot "counsellor" consists of a set of linked web pages that are static, i.e., each page does not change its content at all. A typical page fills one screen without scrolling and is in two columns. There is an audio file attached to the page that plays as soon as the page is opened. The audio is a simple command to the client, like
She executes the command, in this case by typing out some details of her topic in Notepad. There are some response options in the left-hand column. She selects an appropriate one, in this case maybe
Then she clicks on the
All right. Write down another paragraph of your topic. . .
Summarise it. . .
Feelings?. . .
Another paragraph. . .
Summarise it. . .
Feelings?. These steps are abbreviated here, but each is as complete as in the earlier examples.
Next is a screen asking the client how it's going, as the Robot can't tell, of course, not being human. If it's going fine like this, the client just continues as before, giving details, summarising, noting any feelings etc. If the client want to edit an existing paragraph, she can copy/paste it forward to the current place in her notes, then make any needed changes. She can edit any further paragraphs like this before continuing with writing new paragraphs. If she wants to, she can redo the whole thing from scratch. All of these options are carefully covered in the session pages that Rog shows her as the session is going along.
How it feelsContrary to expectation, most people find that this automated procedure, including the human voice giving session commands, feels like a real session with a live counsellor. One may know that it is automated, but that does not change how it feels.
Why it worksNow, what is happening is that in doing all this, she is examining and personally reflecting on her topic in minute detail. The rewrite is not so much about correcting any typos that she made, but more the point that her topic is changing before her eyes as she clarifies parts of it and sorts it out in her mind. And this is exactly what takes place in a normal Rogerian therapy session.
The client can continue like this until she has sorted out the whole thing and is not bothered any more by it. Or maybe until she runs out of time for today and although she feels somewhat better about her topic it is not fully dealt with yet. Or maybe the whole thing stalls and needs troubleshooting, which is a whole different subject and is well in hand but is discussed on a different page. Part of the Rog session procedure is to rate the topic on a scale of 0-10 based on how much she considers it is distressing or disturbing her at the moment of review. She does this both at the start and at the end of the session, to give herself a comparison and record of how things have been going.
Rogers' core conditions
GenuinenessGenuineness is the quality of the counsellor being real, transparent, and not trying to hide any of his personal thoughts or feelings from the client. The client has no expectation of any personal reaction at all to her from Rog, good or bad, whatever she says or however she acts.
Unconditional acceptanceSimilarly, the client cannot possibly pick up any criticism or hint of disapproval or lack of acceptance, as Rog is not a human being and the responses will always be neutral in tone.
EmpathyLastly, of course Rog cannot feel with the client and see life from her internal frame of reference. However, the main reason for this empathy in a conventional session is so that the counsellor can reflect back the client's topic, in summarised form, both as to factual content and emotional content. And in this way the client is given perhaps a different view on her topic, and from this is able to see it more clearly. Rog's regular session procedure will cause this reflection of both factual and emotional content to occur over and over in the normal course of the session.
ConclusionHopefully, this will give you a good idea of how PaulsRobot works with a client in a straightforward Rogerian Therapy session when things are going well. And although only an example, it might encourage the idea that PaulsRobot counselling could possibly be a viable alternative to the real thing.
Comparing PaulsRobot to humansThere are many factors to be considered in evaluating how PaulsRobot measures up against a human counsellor. The page Software versus Wetware here looks at 17 of these, including cost, availability, effectiveness, social acceptability (i.e. others finding out you are seeking "therapy"), confidentiality and others.
Family and friendsThese are included in a separate column to professional counsellors, as people often turn to friends or family members first when they need someone to talk to. However, such people are rarely trained counsellors, even if they are more approachable, and have their own pros and cons to be considered.