Call me old-fashioned. I just think that someone’s best friend should be another human being (closely followed by a dog; sorry cat lovers). So you can imagine my reaction to an article in the SF Chronicle focusing on an app designed to be someone’s best friend. While many of my clients use apps for meditation, journaling, recording sleep, somehow I’m not ready for an app who is someone’s best friend. Or therapist.
At the heart of the psychotherapeutic endeavor is the relationship that two human beings form. While that relationship is something different than a friendship, in fact is something quite unique, it is a relationship meant to provide comfort, deepen understanding, and promote positive change. That is what can happen when humans interact.
The article makes the point that people sometimes may feel “more open with a virtual human versus a real one…” And while technology can perhaps augment one’s life, this answer to the challenges that human relationships present seems some kind of short-cut. Most of my clients, like most human beings, struggle with relationships. A great deal of my work is helping people understand those issues and develop better ways of interacting to gain more enrichment from those interactions. It’s hard work sometimes, and we generally try to avoid short-cuts.
I’m sympathetic to the fact that the app’s creator developed this particular app after the loss of a close friend. Apparently, the app can simulate conversation from him; in this way he is not lost to her. Again, that is where therapy comes in. Much of this life involves loss. We lose to death or other circumstances people we love. And there are other losses, such as of dreams, opportunities. A fundamental aspect of psychotherapy is to experience loss – in the presence of and accompanied by another human being. That is how we humans go on through loss and tragedy to find new opportunities, relationships, and dreams. We grieve.
I suppose that technology will pass me by (or perhaps already has). The article says about the future, “We may have robot pets, we may have robot kids, we may have robot assistants.” Robot kids! Really? (I can imagine a lot of parents of teenagers might be considering this.) I’m very happy to be a psychotherapist. While I think the technology of therapy is quite innovative and at times works in mysterious ways, it is founded on the old-fashioned and enduring notion that a lot happens when two people talk with one another.