ChatGPT is – and isn’t – a good psychotherapist

First, a caveat. I know that ‘psychotherapy’ and ‘doctors treating depression’ aren’t the same thing, so this isn’t a direct comparison. However, it’s worth noting that few people are going to make the distinction. They’re going to see conflicting articles about ChatGPT being good – and bad – for ‘mental health related stuff’, and find it confusing.

ChatGPT is good for ‘mental health stuff’

Schreiner, M. (2023). ChatGPT outperforms human doctors in unbiased depression treatment recommendations. THE DECODER.

“…for mild depression, ChatGPT recommended psychotherapy without medication by the majority, in line with clinical guidelines. In contrast, only 4.3% of primary care physicians recommended psychotherapy and were more likely to prescribe medication. For major depression, ChatGPT recommended a combined approach of psychotherapy and medication, which was also consistent with expert guidelines…ChatGPT also showed no bias in treatment recommendations based on patient gender or socioeconomic status. Previous studies have shown that physicians are more likely to diagnose depression in women and people of lower socioeconomic status.”

Link to original study.

ChatGPT is bad for ‘mental health stuff’

Schreiner, M. (2023). ChatGPT is not a good psychotherapist, researchers warn. THE DECODER.

…a group of researchers, in a paper titled “Using large language models in psychology,” now cautions against using these models in psychology, and especially in psychotherapy. Their ability to generate psychologically useful information is fundamentally limited, says co-author Dora Demszky, a professor of data science in education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. “They are not capable of showing empathy or human understanding,” Demszky said.

Again, I know I’m not comparing apples with apples, and that we shouldn’t lump all of these things together. But the media will, in an attempt to simplify complicated information, and the public will, because few people have the time to do the work that’s necessary to have an informed opinion.

It is the role of health professions educators to understand what’s being presented, and to help people make sense of what is going on here.