AI in Mental Health Counseling

a woman using her phone indoors

The integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and counseling presents unprecedented opportunities. As mental illness continues to escalate worldwide, it's crucial to employ inventive methods to adequately address the increasing demands.1

Artificial intelligence within the realm of mental health possesses the capability for data analysis, identifying patterns and offering personalized insights. These characteristics may permanently alter mental healthcare delivery by enhancing the ability to diagnose accurately and timely, optimizing individualized treatment plans and increasing support services.  

In This Article:

How Does AI in Mental Health Work?

AI in psychology uses machine learning algorithms to detect patterns that may elude human observation, enabling earlier intervention and prevention of worsening symptoms. Machine learning occurs when a machine (like an operating system) learns from its own experiences and, as a result, possesses skills and abilities that its human designers do not possess.2,3 There are many potential ways AI can help within the healthcare industry. We will further discuss the different ways that AI can aid in roles for the betterment of people’s mental health.

Research Supporting AI in the Treatment of Mental Health Issues

There is a plethora of information and scholarly research on the integration of AI and psychology (and its interventions). I found this meta-analysis to be highly informative:4

This meta-analysis found that out of 35 studies, AI-based conversational agents (chatbots) tended to significantly reduce symptoms of distress and depression. However, they did not show significant improvement in overall psychological well-being and that the experience users had with AI-based conversational agents was largely shaped by the quality of several factors including “the human-AI therapeutic relationships.”4 

Diagnosis, Treatment Planning and Interventions

Diagnosing clients promptly and adequately is essential in counseling and psychology. AI-powered tools can quickly analyze large amounts of data, such as electronic health records, behavioral patterns, genetic information and even social media activity to identify subtle indicators of mental health issues. 

Every individual requires their own unique treatment plan. AI algorithms can analyze client data to develop tailored treatment plans based on factors such as genetic predispositions, medical history, lifestyle and prior treatment outcomes. This personalized approach may increase the efficacy of interventions, minimize or mitigate harm and enhance treatment outcomes.

Remote Monitoring and Support

AI-powered mobile apps and wearable devices offer opportunities for remote monitoring and support. These technologies track vital signs, sleep patterns, activity levels and speech patterns to provide real-time insights into an individual's mental health status. Furthermore, AI-driven chatbots and virtual assistants can offer continuous support, delivering psychoeducation, coping strategies and crisis intervention whenever needed. 

Bridging Gaps in Access to Care

In many parts of the world, access to mental health care services is limited due to factors such as geographical barriers, stigma and resource constraints. AI-based telehealth platforms can bridge these gaps by providing remote consultations, counseling sessions, support groups, homework assignments and on-demand assistance. 

A quick internet search for examples of AI counseling tools will provide a myriad of examples of programs currently being used by counselors around the world. You may see Wysa and Joyable as results of your search and the cost for these types of AI-powered apps may well be worth the money for many individuals.5,6

Virtual Reality (VR) in Counseling

Virtual reality (VR) counseling, powered by AI algorithms, offers immersive and interactive interventions for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, anxiety disorders and other mental health issues. VR uses computer-simulated environments as a platform for counseling and is expanding access to evidence-based treatments.  

Imagine an individual who suffers from significant fears or is physically homebound and unable to attend face-to-face treatment sessions. Instead of in-person services, they may opt to put on their VR headset and attend a session with a live counselor or an AI-powered entity.

Ethical Considerations and Challenges

While the potential of AI in mental healthcare is immense, it is imperative that we address ethical considerations and challenges. Privacy concerns surrounding the collection and analysis of sensitive personal information must be managed to ensure client confidentiality and trust. 

Additionally, the biases which are inherent in AI algorithms can lead to disparities in diagnosis and treatment, particularly among underserved clientele. Continued research, transparency and accountability are critical to use AI effectively and safely in mental health counseling.

An Overview of Uses

Now that we’ve explored what AI and mental health might look like in practical scenarios with clients, let’s look at some other ways AI-powered tools might assist clinicians in providing mental healthcare. AI might be beneficial to:

  • Guide psychiatrists’ decisions regarding prescription medications and dosing7
  • Discover new treatment approaches8
  • Enable much earlier diagnostic detection (even at the prodromal stage) when interventions are more effective
  • Assist with administrative tasks
  • Document clinical notes
  • Structure sessions
  • Alert clinicians to themes and risks
  • Analyze assessments10

Decide if AI in Mental Health Is Right for You

AI’s increasing presence in mental health is undeniable, even if it faces resistance from some. While certain individuals staunchly oppose the idea of a computer guiding their actions, there exist both advantages and drawbacks. These discussions touch upon moral norms and the impact on human connections when utilizing AI-based solutions.

Those AI services might be more flexible for the client allowing them to choose when and/or how often they use the service. Try conducting a simple internet search for the best AI apps for mental health for a quick glimpse into what is already being used. Tess, for example, is a for-fee app that individuals can use on demand for issues such as depression and anxiety.4,11

AI and mental health may just go together like peanut butter and jelly! However, it really depends on your particular taste. Would you prefer your counseling services rendered by a bot or by a human? Or a multimodal approach, perhaps? 

Learn More About AI in Mental Health

Grand Canyon University offers a variety of programs that are geared toward counseling. As a student in one of GCU’s counseling programs, you will be taught how to help clients address their mental health needs and, inevitably, AI will be addressed. AI in counseling is still new and evolving, so it may not be the focus of your courses, but you will likely begin to see it permeating into the curriculum even more as the years progress.

GCU offers the following master’s-level programs for those interested in pursuing a career in mental health counseling: 

Besides improving diagnosis, treatment and support services, enhancing data-driven insights and remote monitoring, AI has the capacity to revolutionize mental healthcare delivery by making it more accessible, effective and equitable for all individuals globally. To fully realize the potentiality of AI in mental health, collaboration between researchers, policymakers, clinicians and the AI developers is essential.2 It will be interesting to see what the future holds in regard to AI for mental health.  

Get started on your educational journey in mental health counseling at GCU. Click on any of the programs above or learn more about other counseling degree programs offered in mental health and wellness through the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Complete the form on this page to connect with a university counselor and get started today.

1 Insel, T. (2023, Dec. 8). America’s mental health crisis. Retrieved May 24, 2024. 

2 Fulmer, R. (2019). Artificial intelligence and counseling: Four levels of implementation. Theory & Psychology, 29. Retrieved May 24, 2024.  

3 Vigliotti, A. (2023). AI in the mental health field. Psychology Today. Retrieved May 24, 2024.

4 Li, H., Zhang, R., Lee, Y. C., Kraut, R. E., & Mohr, D. C. (2023). Systematic review and meta-analysis of AI-based conversational agents for promoting mental health and well-being. NPJ digital medicine, 6(1), 236. Retrieved May 24, 2024. 

5 Joyable. (2024). See how Joyable can help you stop using safety behaviors. Retrieved May 24, 2024. 

6 WYSA. (2024). Mental health that meets people where they are. Retrieved May 24, 2024.

7 Dickinson, H., Teltsch, D.Y., Feifel, J. et al. (2023, November 29). The Unseen Hand: AI-Based Prescribing Decision Support Tools and the Evaluation of Drug Safety and Effectiveness. Drug Saf 47, 117–123. Retrieved May 24, 2024. 

8 Ray, A., Bhardwaj, A., Malik, Y., Singh, S. & Gupta, R. (2022, Feb. 12). Artificial Intelligence and Psychiatry: An Overview. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved May 24, 2024.

9 Graham, S., Depp, C., Lee, E., Nebeker, C., Tu, X., Kim, H. & Jeste, D. (2019, Nov. 7). Artificial Intelligence for Mental Health and Mental Illness: An Overview. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved May 24, 2024. 

10 Vigliotti, A. (2023, Oct. 27). AI in the Mental Health Field. Psychology Today. Retrieved May 24, 2024. 

11 Fulmer, R., Joerin, A., Gentile, B., Lakerink, L., & Rauws, M. (2018). Using psychological artificial Intelligence (Tess) to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety: Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Mental Health, 5(4), e64. Retrieved May 24, 2024. 

Approved by the author on June 2, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.