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AI "Therapy" Can't Be Actual Therapy

...And it shouldn't be.

In a world where some people would be happy to see everything operated by a computer, it is a reality that not everything can, or even should be.

I've seen a number of stories in the past couple of years about the attempts to create AI therapists. There was even a story discussing an unethical situation that involved a company pairing people with AI therapists, without their knowledge, in order to test their model. The result of this was that, within a few months, everyone paired with an AI therapist ended up leaving their "therapy", purely sensing that something was off about the interactions they were having with, as it turns out, a computer program and not a person.

While there are a whole host of problems with the idea of AI providing therapy, one that will not be able to be overcome is the issue of empathy.

Why is empathy such a deal-breaker?

Empathy arguably plays one of the most important (if not, the most important) role in how people connect. And when I say empathy, I'm not simply referring to empathic comments, such as, "It sounds like you've had a stressful day." One can make empathic comments without them actually coming from a place of empathy. And one can also relay empathy without having to make empathic-sounding comments.

Actual empathy comes from a deeper, often unconscious place within ourselves that can only be experienced between two people, whether or not words are even spoken. This is an important piece -- words are not needed to relay empathy.

Words, without the underlying empathic sentiment, are generally experienced by the other as empty, or void of emotion, and usually will not be able to be taken in or land appropriately, if at all. Imagine a moment in your life where someone has made an empathic sounding comment, but that you felt within yourself was not actually connected to the real emotion, or felt misaligned. In these moments, it can feel uncomfortable, dissonant, or even like you're being manipulated. The feeling is off, it's not a good feeling, it makes people squirm and want to turn away.

While words are, of course, important to some degree, it is the underlying empathy that lays the foundation for the words to land. Empathic communication is often unconscious and unspoken, not only in therapy but also between people in life. Underlying (unspoken) empathy is instrumental in how we hear, how we take in, how we sit with, and how we form a genuine connection with another person.

With this in mind, it is just not possible for a computer program to relay empathy. Empathy is a phenomenon that is created between two humans interacting in a shared space together. This happens whether in-person or virtually. As long as there are two people interacting in real time, empathy has room to exist. (However, it does not work the same with text or email, which is why people often misinterpret the tone of written communication. The other isn't there to detect the underlying emotion and they end up projecting their own experiences in these moments.).

If you are interacting with another person, some sort of underlying empathy or regard is at play, even if you don't always consciously acknowledge or tune into it. Even if there are no spoken words. If you are attempting to interact with AI and no words are spoken, there is nothing.

Even if AI were to speak to you and use empathic-sounding recordings of human voices, it still cannot create and relay empathy. Why? Because even an empathic human voice recording wouldn't be connecting with you in your subjective space. It cannot create a deeper, unspoken connection with where you are emotionally, mentally, or physiologically. The responses of a recording would be coming from a disconnected place (or it would be coming from a moment of connection with someone else when the recording was created), and that disconnect would be felt, even unconsciously. Even if it were possible to be "fooled" at first, this would erode as the inconsistencies in connectivity and lack of true emotion were to be experienced.

(I should also point out that it's utterly impossible for AI to provide therapy. A great deal of therapy is based on the experience of the shared space between the client and the therapist. AI can't truly have this experience).

Is AI "therapy" more harmful than good?

There is also a greater danger with AI "therapy" which one should consider. If you're attempting to create a connection to a computer program for an emotionally-based experience, there are potentially drastic consequences to your mental health being set up. Empathy is the cornerstone of how one develops emotionally, from infancy and childhood and even through adulthood. This involves not only how your parents (or others) talk to you, but how they feel towards you. When there is little underlying empathy or attunement from parents or caretakers growing up, this opens up a range of potential mental health issues, from anxiety or depression to even more severe issues such as antisocial personality disorder (sociopathy), and others.

If you're engaging in a pseudo-therapy with an AI computer program, the result is more likely to distort (or even mute) your own empathy and your ability to connect with others, as well as to potentially disconnect you internally from yourself. Even with a therapist who speaks less often, there is always an underlying feeling, empathy, regard for you. This silent, yet still highly empathic communication is crucial to not only the developing child in the world from their parents, but also to any human experience, which includes the therapy experience. So even a less talkative therapist can still relay a great deal of empathy.

In the end, an AI "therapy" program can make pre-determined comments. It can sound supportive on the surface. It may offer a coping skill. But these are merely algorithmic responses to words, or even possibly a tone or other "markers" that sets off a pre-programmed response. But it cannot truly know or feel you, or understand or "get" you, or be able to have the vast experience of a seasoned therapist who can discern between what someone else may need in a moment, versus what you personally may need that differs in a very similar situation. While empathy is not the only piece to consider in why AI "therapy" should never happen, without the ability to truly have empathy the entire rug is pulled out from under a therapy -- or any relationship for that matter.

#Therapy #AItherapy #MentalHealth #Empathy

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Autism and Empathy

There is a misconception that people with Autism have no empathy. The reality is most of us are very empathic. What is perceived as a lack of empathy in an autistic person is more than likely a protective measure. Just as most of us suffer from visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, palette sensory overload, we tend to suffer overload of our 6th sense as well.

The ability to feel what others are feeling can be more overwhelming to an Autistic empathic person than a neuro-typical empathetic person for several reasons:

1. We are already dealing with sensory overload of the 5 senses.

2. It is difficult to explain to others the overload of a sense that may be underdeveloped in these others...they have no point of reference.

3. It is already difficult for some of us to find the words to express our experience with the 5 senses that have evidence we can point to without having to try to express our experience with something that's invisible.

4. We already have difficulty understanding what others want from us and how most people communicate; so, we have trouble knowing what to do with our empathy.

5. Even when we try to express our empathy, we are often met with the reaction from others that we've said or done the wrong thing.

It easier and less overwhelming to just shut empathy down or mask the fact that we strongly feel what others feel. We think that will keep us out of trouble. Sadly, all it results in is others thinking we have no empathy at all.

#Autism #Empathy

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My PTSD is triggered by yesterday’s blatant episode of discrimination at Walmart. Any typical day I experience micro aggressions, from being a woman, of having mixed ethnicities, practicing paganism, wearing alternate jewelry and clothing and being part of the LGBTQ+ community. As well as micro aggressions towards being on the autism spectrum, mental illness and disability. Yesterday was overt discrimination at the pharmacy by a clerk who said a very derogatory statement and intentionally insinuated I was evil (I am assuming based on his beliefs). This happened as soon as I told him my name and date of birth, he examined my meds and made a personal judgement about it. I was shocked, and I was so offended that I found it in myself to call him out on it. I am so very proud of myself! He was really inappropriate. We left and I called the pharmacy and spoke with the pharmacist, the pharmacist was shocked, he said he would take care of it, and I trust he will. I just asked him to talk to the perpetrator, after all he looked like he hadn’t had much world experience. I know everyone has experienced some form of micro aggression at some point and it is painful. If you have privilege in these areas do not feel ashamed, but use your privilege to protect those who don’t. #Relationships
#Empathy #humanrights #Stigma

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What is a boundary or need that’s important for you to share with others?

The more I reflect on my personal limits and emotional bandwidth as an HSP, the more I realize how important it is to share my needs and boundaries with others — especially to those I’m closest with.

Although it was uncomfortable at first, I’m continuously learning that being open, honest, and direct with what I can manage and handle is important to my mental and physical health. One of the biggest needs I share with my family in particular is that I get really exhausted while in crowded areas and have to rest when I get back home. Also, that change in environment can be overstimulating for me, so communication about a change in plans is important for me to know ahead of time so I can mentally prepare as much as possible.

As an HSP, what's a need or a boundary you have to share with others?

#HSP #CheerMeOn #MentalHealth #Anxiety #Depression #Empathy

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Pleurisy and Animal Empathy

I know I keep making posts about my Loki, but you guys have no idea how much this kitten is helping me.

I’ve been diagnosed with Pleurisy again - the last time I had it was March 2021 and it was so severe I was hospitalised multiple times and the lower part of my right lung had collapsed. The pain was so bad, I was praying for something to kill me. It was truly agony. I couldn’t speak, because I was gasping for breath even when I was sat doing nothing. When the doctors asked me to tell them what had happened during that day, I could barely get more than two words out without sobbing and gasping for breath like I was slowly drowning. It was hell.

Thankfully, during the middle of last week I started to notice the early signs and was able to see my GP immediately, and get started on antibiotics and my inhalers. Which has helped massively but I’m still struggling to breathe and getting quite out of breath when I do basically nothing but rest.

Since I’m basically on bed rest and I’m in pain (more than usual), my mental health has been a bit rocky and been going downhill a bit. But Loki has been with me the whole time. He’s been curled up with me, or sitting/lying on my belly (and sometimes shoulder) and watching TV with me. And at night? He crawls under the covers and either curls up against my belly, or falls asleep on my pillow, at the back of my head with his head resting on mine.

He melts my heart and I’m so lucky to have him. Don’t ever tell me that cats don’t know or understand how we feel, or that they don’t care.

#chronicillnesswarrior #ChronicPain #PosturalOrthostaticTachycardiaSyndrome #Dysautonomia #EhlersDanlosSyndrome #NAFLD #LiverDisease #Diabetes #Migraines #InterstitialCystitis #Depression #BPD #BorderlinePersonalityDisorder #Pleurisy #Asthma #ChestInfection #inhalers #TherapyPet #Empathy #Cats #Kittens #animaltherapy

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Standing by my teacher's side during her cancer journey

Cancer. What an awful word. Never in a thousand years I thought that I would lose one of my dearest people in the world in such a short period of time.

Back in 2018 I decided to start taking pottery classes. I needed something to keep my creativity going. Even though I loved writing and painting, I always felt as if I needed something that would be more of a challenge. Near my place there was an art institute and I decided to give it a go.

And there I met her: Laura. She irradiated such a positive and calming energy that it made me feel at ease from minute one. She was a ray of sunshine. I immediately saw her as a motherly figure, not a teacher. She taught me the basics and by the end of the lesson, I knew I had gained a friend, a confidant.

At the end of March I had a cholecystectomy and she kept sending me messages asking how I was doing. FYI, we had only known each other and the rest of the girls for less than a month. I couldn't wait to go back and share my Friday afternoons with them. We would drink yerba mate, listen to music and have some biscuits while we created amazing things with our hands.

We loved the same kind of music, we made the same stupid jokes and we could talk about anything, no strings attached.

Then the pandemic hit and our pottery lessons were put on hold. It felt empty but we kept in touch with spontaneous FaceTime sessions every now and then.

In the midst of it all I had started my fibromyalgia treatment, had lots of tests done and Lau was always asking how I was doing...like a mother would.

2021 began. I still remember the day. March 14th.

"Eri, gorgeous. How is your treatment going? I waited a while before asking you because I didn't know if it was working. Things for me healthwise are not looking good. I'm afraid I won't be able to teach this year. Whatever's wrong with me needs to be treated by an oncologist. I can't believe that I'm still living my life as I normally would. Anyway, it is what it is, I have to give the best of me."

This time it was my turn to stand by her. I was in total shock. All I wanted was to take that pain away. I was angry. Why her? Why now that we couldn't be together? Why in the middle of a pandemic? At this point I still had hope. Treatment was available. My grandma had overcome it, my auntie too...twice. Laura was strong, she was going to be okay.

August arrived in a blink of an eye. Somehow I had managed to avoid getting covid, Laura too.

"Eri, Danila told me that she is free on Saturdays in the afternoons for pottery classes. What do you think? Is 4pm to 6pm ok?"

In my head I felt that everything was slowly going back to normal. That first class at her place was like a reunion of best friends that hadn't seen each other in ages. She had two dogs who loved being held, the music was back, this time we drank tea but the biscuits were always the main protagonists on the dining table. We couldn't hug, we still had our masks on. For those two hours we forgot about our health problems and just enjoyed each other's company.

The end of 2021 approached and her health had deteriorated quite a lot but she never canceled any of the lessons. Not once. Her hair had fallen out and she was sometimes wearing a wig, she was thinner than usual because she couldn't eat, her feet were swollen. She had told me that the cancer had spread. I knew what that meant but i refused to believe it. She looked just fine from the outside.

Our last lesson before Christmas was special for the saddest of reasons.

We would now hug when we got to her place and when we left. This time one of her daughters was helping a lot, I could see that Lau was too weak and a bit lost.

In my mind I knew...but I didn't want to acknowledge it.

Before we left that day she gave us a hug...the biggest of hugs. She reminded us to take care of each other, to listen to our bodies, to love unconditionally and she told us over and over again that she loved us and that we had helped her so much to feel good during her illness. Danila and I looked at each other and reciprocated the hug and the love words.

When the door closed and we reached the corner of the street, we cried our eyes out.

Lau got hospitalized just before Christmas and asked to be discharged for the New Year. She was that stubborn, still. She wanted to be with her husband, her daughters and grandchildren.

January was weird. Lau didn't respond to our messages as often and by the end of the month it was her daughter the one in charge of her phone. I prayed more than ever in order for her to feel the least possible pain. I thought about her day and night.

January 31st, 2022

I got the message that I dreaded the most.

"Hello girls. I'm Eduardo, Laura's husband.Laura is not physically with us anymore. She left us today at midday. We are not having a funeral. She didn't want her loved ones to see how she looked in her final days. She wanted for you to remember her like that bubbly and happy person she was. She loved you girls dearly. She even decided to teach you pottery even during her treatment because you were her medicine, what kept her happy. I thank you for the bottom of my heart for all those beautiful moments you gave her."

I felt my heart being broken in a million pieces. I had never felt such pain. I could feel my heart aching, I cried so loudly that even my mum got worried. Such was my heartbreak that I ended up with a fever for the rest of the week. What now? How to move on? What was I going to do?

I was going through a severe depression and this heartbreak wasn't helping much. I didn't think I was going to be able to go back to her place to get my things.

But I had to.

I can't explain what I felt when I went through that gate and through that wooden door. I needed to keep myself together: for Lau's family, for the girls, for my sanity. My hands were shaking, I still couldn't come across the fact that she was gone. My mind was in distress. I tried to keep a straight face. I put my things in my bag and then one of the girls said some comforting words...and that's when it hit me: I was ugly crying again, gasping for air. I needed to leave. Just like that last time of seeing Lau giving me a hug at the door before saying goodbye, I looked at her daughter and gave her the warmest of hugs. All of the ten blocks that separated her house from mine I cried. I cried like I had never cried before. What was the point of keeping my pottery stuff now?

But then I remembered. All of us four, her students, had helped her without even knowing it. We held her hand, we picked her up, we gave her comfort and the assurance that even in the darkest of days, the sun shines. I know she's not in pain anymore, and even if my heart is still breaking...I know she's here with me, singing along to our favorite Harry Styles song.

#Cancer #Grief #Friendship #heartbreak #Empathy #Love

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Mental Health Poem

You will never know how it feels to be me
Just breathing everyday feels like darkness is all I see
I’ve never felt normal with those around me
I just can’t help but to wish they would all accept me
Why can’t you understand my mental illness controls me
Stop saying I need to be happy like everyone should be
I wish I was absent sometimes so I can stop explaining myself
But leaving will make everyone think I gave up on life itself

❤️I love you and I’m proud of you❤️ #BorderlinePersonalityDisorder #ButYouDontLookSick #Depression #Community #normal #empty #Empathy

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I am so appreciative of your reactions and responses to my posts, you have no idea, but it’s not me speaking (or typing) the words. I can't take the credit. I am merely a mouthpiece, a vessel, for Christ. I could not do this without Him. It is He who is turning my trauma, wounds, scars, and pain into empathy for and desire to support, you. In order to fill myself with His love so that I can pour out His love onto you, I am praising and worshipping Him this morning to my favorite worship band, Hillsong. It is soothing to my spirit and healing to my soul. #IntercessionforIllness #hillsong #praise #worshp #christ #Soothing #Healing #Empathy #Support #MightyTogether #TheMighty

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