BLOG POST – Winter 2018/19

ROBOT COUNSELLORS ARE ALREADY HERE

There has been a lot of debate recently about the ways in which advanced technology is increasingly replacing people in all sorts of ways. Many practitioners in the talking therapies mistakenly believe that this won’t happen to them. Therapy is all about building relationships they say, and that can’t be done by machines. Wrong – it’s already happening.

If, like me, you regularly provide on-line therapy via audio-visual software then your clients are already accustomed to relating to an on-screen therapist. It won’t be long before super-computers can produce life-like artificial ‘therapists to front algorithm-driven therapy websites. I doubt that most clients will even notice that their therapists have been replaced by computer-powered images. After all, machines can just as easily go, ‘mmmm’, ‘uh-huh’, or ‘OK’ as  we can. However, what clients certainly will notice is that on-line therapists are much cheaper than real ones and always instantly available, night and day.

Lots of tasks that were assumed to need face-to-face, human interactions have already been given over to machines. More and more occupations, including the higher professions too, are under threat. Most futurologists predict the demise of accountants, lawyers, actuaries, and many other high-level jobs. Take medical services for example. GPs are increasingly offering their patients on-line consultations, much of which doesn’t necessitate any human intervention. It is even expected that a lot of routine surgery will eventually be carried out via intelligent automation, (and probably be the better for it). Clearly, no workers at any level, and that certainly includes psychotherapists and counsellors, have any guarantee of job security.

So, that’s the bad news. What can we do about it? Can we compete with the machines? Well yes, but only by offering something that the machines can’t. Look around you. Lots of people increasingly value the authentic. Such people favour real ale, real bread, and real books. They prefer live music, fresh food, vinyl records, and, above all, personal service. In other words, people are prepared to pay for quality. Future therapists too will need to deliver a quality service if our profession is to survive as a human enterprise. At present, the quality of our profession is in a sorry state. Its status is diminished by having far too many poorly qualified and inadequately trained practitioners. We need to up our game. Our profession’s future, if it has one, will probably lie in the hands of a new breed of highly-qualified, highly-skilled, properly regulated, practitioners. They will need to be well-educated professionally, (Masters level and beyond), and extremely competent practically, (structured post-graduate ‘hands-on’ training to nationally approved standards). Only practitioners who can deliver high quality, innovative therapy to a discerning public will survive. But of course, shouldn’t that already be the case?