An Empathetic AI Coach for Self-Attachment Therapy

Lisa Alazraki, Ali Ghachem, Neophytos Polydorou, Foaad Khosmood, Abbas Edalat

In this work, we present a new dataset and a computational strategy for a digital coach that aims to guide users in practicing the protocols of self-attachment therapy. Our framework augments a rule-based conversational agent with a deep-learning classifier for identifying the underlying emotion in a user's text response, as well as a deep-learning assisted retrieval method for producing novel, fluent and empathetic utterances. We also craft a set of human-like personas that users can choose to interact with. Our goal is to achieve a high level of engagement during virtual therapy sessions. We evaluate the effectiveness of our framework in a non-clinical trial with N=16 participants, all of whom have had at least four interactions with the agent over the course of five days. We find that our platform is consistently rated higher for empathy, user engagement and usefulness than the simple rule-based framework. Finally, we provide guidelines to further improve the design and performance of the application, in accordance with the feedback received.

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