Agents of change: Understanding the therapeutic processes associated with the helpfulness of therapy for mental health problems with relational agent MYLO

Digit Health. 2020 Mar 16:6:2055207620911580. doi: 10.1177/2055207620911580. eCollection 2020 Jan-Dec.


Objective: To understand the therapeutic processes associated with the helpfulness of an online relational agent intervention, Manage Your Life Online (MYLO).

Methods: Fifteen participants experiencing a mental health related problem used Manage Your Life Online for 2 weeks. At follow-up, the participants each identified two helpful and two unhelpful questions posed by Manage Your Life Online within a single intervention session. Qualitative interviews were conducted and analyzed using thematic and content analysis to gain insight into the process of therapy with Manage Your Life Online.

Results: MYLO appeared acceptable to participants with a range of presenting problems. Questions enabling free expression, increased awareness, and new insights were key to a helpful intervention. The findings were consistent with the core processes of therapeutic change, according to Perceptual Control Theory, a unifying theory of psychological distress. Questions that elicited intense emotions, were repetitive, confusing, or inappropriate were identified as unhelpful and were associated with disengagement or loss of faith in Manage Your Life Online.

Conclusions: The findings provide insight into the likely core therapy processes experienced as helpful or hindering and outlines further ways to optimize acceptability of Manage Your Life Online.

Keywords: Mental health; artificial intelligence; computer-assisted; conversational agent; psychotherapeutic processes; psychotherapy; relational agent; therapy.