The Rise of the Robot Therapist

Over the past few decades, we've seen a rise in different interactive technologies and new ways  of using them to treat various mental problems.  Among other things, this includes online, computer-based, and even virtual reality approaches to cognitive-behavioural therapy. But what about using robots to provide treatment and/or emotional support?  

In recent years, the field of robotics has advanced to the point that social robots have become increasingly common.  Defined as an "artificially intelligent system that has a physical embodiment, is autonomous, and interacts and communicates with humans," social robots  such as Tico, Jibo, and iCub are already moving beyond the laboratory to interacting with people in real-life environments.   Some social robots such as Hitchbot have even become media stars and their potential to do far more is just beginning to be understood.

Some researchers have already coined a new term, robotherapy, to describe the different ways that social robots can be used to help people in need.  This includes specialized robots for helping children, adults, or the elderly with cognitive, social, or physical problems.  Not only can robots be available twenty-four hours a day, but they may also help with the growing shortage of trained support workers, especially for older adults with dementia.  Research has already shown that social robots can help improve the quality of life for many people who might otherwise "fall between the cracks" due to not having the help they need.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today post.


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