Could psychotherapy software detect the sound of empathy?
People rightfully have high confidence that one pill taken from a medicine bottle will have the same
composition and effect as any other pill in the bottle. In choosing a psychotherapist, though, such
confidence would be misplaced, said David Atkins, a University of Washington research
professor of psychiatry and behavioral science.
As is the case with other professions, licenses and certifications proclaim practitioners’ competence,
but skill sets vary greatly, he said.
“Being able to assess the quality of psychotherapy is critical to ensuring that patients receive quality
treatment, “but right now we’re limited in this regard because we rely on human judgment for assessment.”
Atkins and a small team of scientists in California and
Utah have developed software that recognizes words
and vocal qualities. The vocal data is run through algorithms
to infer, for instance, whether a counseling
session was empathic.
The first findings of automated evaluation of psychotherapy
were published today in PLOS ONE.
What does empathy sound like? It’s way beyond what Siri
could tell you on the iPhone. Think Hal 9000 from
“2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“Technology can provide a faster, less expensive feedback
mechanism to help counselors learn and retain their skills,”
The current approach to evaluating budding psychiatrists and psychologists is decades-old: Counseling sessions
are recorded on audio or video. People (called “coders” or “raters”) who have been trained to interpret these
sessions listen to them afterward and, as objectively as they can, analyze the therapist’s effectiveness.
then they also have to watch or listen to a session and
and Coder No. 2, if they watch the exact same session,
lots of evidence that’s not always the case.”
The prospective solution (see model in PDF) capitalizes
on speech signal-processing models from the Signal
Zac Imel, assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University of Utah, noted: “We have effective treatments,
in the real world. This technology offers one way to give
providers immediate feedback on what they are doing.”
generates real-time feedback during a therapy session.
is getting confrontational, or a blue light, tracking well
with the client.
“We’re trying to get at what’s happening in the session.
If we could tease out that information, we should be able
counselors do that are effective.”
The research is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse
Media contact for David Atkins: Brian Donohue - 206.543.7856; firstname.lastname@example.org
Media contact for Shri Narayanan: Amy Blumenthal - 917.710.1897; email@example.com
Media contact for Zac Imel: Jana Cunningham - 801.581.3862; firstname.lastname@example.org