What if a software program could detect emotions?

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly ten percent of Americans seek therapy. But how exactly can one measure the effectiveness of these treatments? According to a group of scientists at the University of Washington, the answer lies in a new software program that uses advanced technology to analyze therapy sessions and to provide detailed feedback to the practitioners.

TRANSCRIPT

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly 10% of Americans seek therapy.

But how exactly can one measure the effectiveness of these treatments?

According to a team of scientists at the University of Washington, the answer lies in a new software program that uses advanced technology to analyze therapy sessions and to provide detailed feedback to the practitioners.

Here's the story.

We've come a long way with artificial intelligence mimicking human emotions, but what if software programs could detect emotions?

Dr. David Atkins at the University of Washington is working on a system that can do just that.

The goal -- to train and rate therapists.

We're in the A.I. bucket, yeah.

Over 10% of Americans use psychotherapy or talk-based therapy to treat mental-health issues.

But what makes a good therapist?

Atkins and his team have developed software technology that records the audio from a therapy session, then analyzes that audio, looking for specific quality metrics, such as empathy.

Some of that is literally what are the words that are being said but also the way in which words are spoken.

The tone and the inflection in someone's voice can be important, in terms of understanding the interpersonal dynamic between a counselor and a patient.

Atkins says this dynamic can help measure how empathic a therapist is, which in turn rates the quality of care delivered to clients.

So, from your perspective, the drinking isn't really getting in the way of the application process, but from your parents' perspective, they're still a little concerned.

Right.

Exactly.

Today, Atkins is recording a mock therapy session with Grin Lord, a licensed clinical psychologist.

Hi!

Hello.

Less than an hour later, Atkins has the results from Lord's session.

As you can see here, these are two overall scores for the entire session.

So this is characterizing, overall, how well did the session go.

So we can see here that you were really empathic.

You're summarizing what the client said.

And we can see down here that Kristen is not just a party girl.

And that -- that's what you said at this time.

Oh, okay.

That was a complex reflection.

Mm-hmm.

That's so cool that you can zoom in on what I said.

How fascinating to be able to get a measurement that says, like, 'Yeah, you and this client were in tune, objectively.

Your voices were synching, your tone was synching, you were tracking each other in what you were saying and how you were saying it.'

Atkins is collecting feedback from mock sessions like Lord's before he heads into real clinical settings.

And he admits, it's not all positive.

Some of the initial feedback that therapists are giving us are highlighting some places where, honestly, we're making a mistake.

You know, the system is not perfect, and so the therapist said, 'Hey, look here,' you know?

'Your system said I'm giving information where I was really asking a question.'

Once the program is debugged and the trial phases are complete, Atkins believes this technology can be used to train therapists and help even rate their quality of care.

But are we ready to have a software program determine the quality of care therapists provide?

It's not for the computer to judge therapists.

That was my initial fear when I heard about it, and I really don't see that happening.

If anything, it's gonna eliminate long coding times and be able to have outreach to rural communities and places that couldn't have expert evaluators there.

This is clearly one piece of the puzzle.

We also want to know how well is the patient doing.

Are they improving?

And so any feedback that we would generate from our own system needs to be part of a package that would really help define quality care, in general, for counseling and psychotherapy.