AI and Couples Therapy: How good of a therapist can AI become?

I have been a couples therapist for many years, however, the post-covid era created a few new noticeable trends. The first one is the transition to the online therapy format. Many psychologists, myself included, see their clients virtually via video sessions, and I have noticed two distinct groups of clients emerging.

One group of clients is excited about the online therapy format. Online therapy eliminates commute, makes their schedule more manageable, and allows them to rip the benefits of marriage counseling from the comfort of their home. Another group of clients, however, shows a clear preference for in-person psychotherapy. They often point out the importance of having the opportunity to meet me and work in my office as a dedicated and separate space for their couples therapy process. Both of these preferences are valid, of course, and bring up the question of the role of technology in couples therapy.

The second trend is the rise of AI as a growing presence in our daily experience. My friend recently joked that soon AI will conduct psychotherapy and will eliminate the need of psychotherapists. I replied that it is unlikely to happen before my retirement, however… she was not wrong. I decided to run a small experiment and opened a Chat GPT app on my phone. As a prompt, I typed:

Write a brief, informal, and warm apology to my husband for being late for dinner

In response, I got: “

“I'm really sorry about last night—I know I kept you waiting for dinner, and that's on me. I got caught up with something and lost track of time. I promise I'll be more mindful in the future. Thanks for being so patient with me. Let's make up for it with a special dinner tonight, just you and me.”

You have to admit – this is pretty good! When I coach my clients to express their feelings and communicate effectively with their partners, we discuss both the content and the structure of the communication. Some of the skills we master are assertive and connected communication, de-escalation and conflict resolution, deepening of intimacy between the partners, and more. Communication has both structure and process. AI did very well with the specific situation I presented, so I decided to ask a more abstract question regarding the structure of an apology.  

What is the best structure of an apology to an intimate partner?

Here is the answer that I got:

When apologizing to an intimate partner, it's essential to be sincere, acknowledge the impact of your actions, take responsibility, express remorse, offer to make amends, and reassure them of your commitment to improvement. Here's a suggested structure:

1. **Greeting**: Address your partner affectionately, using their name or a term of endearment.

2. **Acknowledgment**: Begin by acknowledging the specific behavior or action for which you're apologizing. Be clear and direct about what you're apologizing for.

3. **Impact**: Express understanding of how your actions affected your partner. Validate their feelings and show empathy.

4. **Responsibility**: Take full responsibility for your behavior without making excuses or shifting blame.

5. **Remorse**: Express genuine remorse for your actions. Let your partner know that you understand the gravity of the situation and how it has affected them.

6. **Amends**: Offer to make amends or rectify the situation in any way possible. This could involve concrete actions or gestures to demonstrate your commitment to making things right.

7. **Commitment**: Reassure your partner of your commitment to improving and avoiding similar mistakes in the future. Let them know that you value your relationship and will strive to do better.

8. **Closing**: End with a reaffirmation of your love and appreciation for your partner.

Remember to tailor the apology to your specific situation and relationship dynamics, and always speak from the heart.”

This brief experiment showed AI’s proficiency in providing specific tools and communication skills useful to partners interested in learning the necessary communication strategies to improve their relationships. At this time AI would not be able to analyze the dynamic in the relationship, delineate patterns of communication between the partners, address unresolved trauma, or process the baggage of resentment, however, teaching communication skills is a good start.

Although in the future couples therapy is likely to be conducted by an AI with similar or better outcomes, currently available AI apps are already able to offer additional support, tools, and skills to psychotherapists and clients alike. It is an exciting time to have the future at our fingertips.

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