Therapy, AI, and Music: The Benefits and Challenges

Researchers have been looking into the rising AI technology and how it could possibly aid in therapy

Photo courtesy of Brett Jordan

The news that AI technology is booming has been shown in mainstream media over the past few years but has resurfaced again. Many spectators have agreed that AI technology has become seemingly perfect and that it can imitate voices, art, and analytical responses just as a human could. ChatGPT, a general chatbot prototype, has been in the spotlight recently which has highlighted just how powerful AI technology can be. The Lensa AI application has also been taking its turn in the spotlight with ChatGPT, which is an app that creates digital and AI-created art. 

While many speculate the validity of these types of technologies, there are also many benefits to them. Recently, researchers and scientists have been studying and testing how AI technology can aid in music therapy and whether or not it could be a potential avenue to explore. Before diving into the world of AI-generated music therapy, the reader must have a grasp of music therapy and its benefits. 

What is music therapy?

According to Cleveland Clinic, “Music therapy is an evidence-based treatment that helps with a variety of disorders including cardiac conditions, depression, autism, substance abuse, and Alzheimer’s disease. It can help with memory, lower blood pressure, improve coping, reduce stress, improve self-esteem, and more.” Within the music therapy community, there are different practices that involve listening to music, singing, writing songs, dancing, or discussing music. Many therapists have been adopting multiple ways within their practice. 

Although this idea has relatively gone under the radar in mass media, there are countless amazing recovery stories from stroke victims, people with depression, people with anxiety, and so on. AI technology has been toying around with the idea that with the aid of AI-generated music therapy, the practice can become more accessible to the public. 

Accessing AI technology is one Google search away.Photo courtesy of Pricilla Du Preez

What is AI Music Therapy? 

Most of the technology that has been available so far regarding music therapy has been generated by chatbots, but what exactly is special about AI music therapy? Essentially, all of the practices listed above are offered by chatbots, who are there at any time of the day if needed. There are many companies like that offer free and paid services that focus on music therapy. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done to completely understand the ins and outs and the future of AI music therapy, but so far have seen a positive impact on those who use it. 

Potential Downsides and Reservations of AI therapy

AI music therapy falls under the general category of AI therapy which is usually generated by chatbots. Chatbots are automated responses to your comments and concerns. Although there are many success stories, this type of therapy is met with a lot of skepticism and criticism. The questions people ask revolve around the chatbot's ability to echo the human connection one receives when going to therapy. 

Companies like Koko decided to test the AI-generated responses with some of their users and they faced a lot of backlash for it on social media. The backlash was mainly due to the research being leaked on Twitter, and many Twitter users were unhappy with the company’s decision. Although Koko has stated that their research was transparent to their users and called it “Koko Bot.” Many of the users experienced positive interactions, but after a few days, the responses felt sterile and shared no human connection. Some users expressed that while the chatbot’s responses were well written, there were lots of signs on how the formula for these responses worked. Many of the responses were predictable and in the end, didn’t help. 

Serfie Tekin a philosophy professor and researcher at the University of Texas San Antonio voices her concern about the teenage demographic many of these chatbots are generated towards. There is a wide availability of these chatbots and Tekin’s concern is that teenagers or young adults will turn to these chatbots rather than seek actual medical attention. "The hype and promise are way ahead of the research that shows its effectiveness," says Tekin alluding to the idea that ultimately this type of technology will create even more issues. There are of course many people who understand this criticism but say that this is the only affordable and realistic option, where you can get answers right at that moment. 

Potential Benefits and Advantages of AI Therapy 

Many people who see the benefits of this type of technology say that this should be considered a “guided self-help ally.” The title of a self-help ally may be more appropriate than labeling it as an alternative to actual therapy. Many users of AI-generated self-help chatbots reported that while they understood there wasn’t a person behind the screen, the chatbot offered helpful tools to self-soothe

Many companies that are more aligned with music therapy have suggestions like listening to your favorite song, writing a song, singing, or dancing. These quick responses can become the difference between choosing a healthy or unhealthy coping mechanism. Quick access can provide comfort to those who may need it in a time of difficulty. There are also options for those who may not be comfortable calling a hotline and prefer to write out their feelings. The main potential advantage of this type of therapy is the quick and easy access the public has. While this is still being studied by many researchers, music therapy has been gaining traction in the AI therapy-generated world. 

Companies like MediMusic produce individualized playlists according to the user’s needs. Their AI technology is trained to look at the user’s patterns and then generate a playlist that can help alter moods and create a safer and more tailored experience for the user. Many of these companies work with licensed psychologists and neuroscientists to provide evidence-based solutions for their users. 

There are endless options if you’re looking to try out an AI-generated therapy bot. Photo courtesy of Melanie Pongratz

Cross-cultural research on effectiveness is still being explored 

It’s important for many companies to let their users know that there is no guarantee that this service will help them with their mental issues. In fact, many critics want this message to be echoed by these companies because the research on this type of therapy is still very sparse. This type of technology isn’t bound to only one country, but many of these companies have created a space in which different types of people are able to use the platform. When studying this topic, it’s important to cross-culturally reference your findings because they could vary from culture to culture. 

It could also create a chance for revision and fine-tuning which is ultimately what the company and user are always looking for. While there isn’t a definitive answer on whether or not this might be a good experience for you, there is ongoing research about this that you can access at the palm of your hand. What is your opinion on AI-generated therapy?

Brandee Robles
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