During the pandemic, about four in 10 U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The growing need for mental health services has led to innovations like telehtherapy, Zoomology and even bot therapy.

LENOX — Need a therapist to cope with the mental and emotional fallout from COVID, but can’t find one?

You’re not alone. Many counselors are booked up, prompting Jessica Macnair, a licensed practitioner in Washington, D.C., to put out a “help needed” video: “We need more qualified clinicians in our field, we are absolutely drowning.”

During the pandemic, about four in 10 U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Co-founder and CEO Robert Krayn of Talkiatry, an online search source for qualified psychiatrists, points out that “the shortage really existed historically, it’s just coming to the forefront because the pandemic has had negative effects on mental health. Instead of creating the problem, it just made it more transparent.”

“If we can’t get people access to solid clinicians, we’re going to see problems in the workplace and in schools ... it’s just going to have such a ripple effect,” according to Macnair.

People who can’t get the care they need may confront worsening mental health symptoms, an increased risk of substance abuse, lower quality relationships and difficulty functioning in their day-to-day lives.

“Therapists end up working much longer hours; it feels very challenging to say no because we know how difficult a time people are having with getting an appointment,” Macnair says.

Teletherapy and virtual Zoomology help increase access, as local psychiatrist Dr. Jesse Goodman has pointed out. Goodman, who’s on the Berkshire Medical Center staff, maintains, an online directory that currently lists 16 psychiatrists countywide. Also, the online Berkshire Psychotherapy Network connects to psychologists, licensed social workers and other therapists.

But help is on the way if you still can’t link up to a professional, or if the price tag is too high.

As a public service, I’m duty-bound to call your attention to an out-of-the-box alternative: Woebot! It’s a therapeutic chatbot, with a smartphone screen replacing the psychiatrist’s couch.

As reported in The New York Times science section last Tuesday, the app is an automated therapist: Siri or Alexa with an M.D. credential.

Alison Darcy, a psychologist, founded Woebot Health, a company launched in 2017 and now claiming tens of thousands of daily “patients.” Her credentials include postdoctoral research at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., in clinical psychology, collaborating with computer scientist and technology entrepreneur Andrew Ng, focusing on machine learning and AI. Ng is board chairman of Woebot.

It was eye-opening news that digital mental help is a multibillion-dollar industry with at least 10,000 apps, according to the American Psychiatric Association, ranging from meditation (Headspace) and mood tracking (MoodKit) to text therapy by licensed counselors (Talkspace, BetterHelp).

Briefly, Woebot is unique as it uses artificial intelligence to conduct cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety and depression. The technique involves natural language processing and learned responses to mimic conversation, recall previous sessions and offer advice around sleep, worry and stress.

“If we can deliver some of the things that the human can deliver,” Darcy said, “then we actually can create something that has the capability to reduce suffering in the population.”

Some psychologists and academics say bot therapy can work under the right conditions, while others consider the idea paradoxical and ineffective.

Hannah Zeavin, author of “The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy,” contends the health care system is so broken that “it makes sense that there’s space for disruption.” But she considers automated therapy a “fantasy” that is more focused on accessibility and fun than actually helping people get better over the long term.

“We are an extraordinarily confessing animal; we will confess to a bot,” she said. “But is confession the equivalent of mental health care?”

Whether Woebot can be involved in medical diagnosis or treatment is up to the FDA, which is supposed to make sure the app can back up its claims and not cause harm, an agency spokesperson stated.

I’m curious enough to try it for a followup column. Apparently, it’s free to download and use as it’s funded by investors. But the website cautions that the company may need to charge a fee in the future to achieve a sustainable business model.

Don finds peace. For more Mad Men videos:

Find out where to watch Mad Men:


AMC on Facebook :

AMC on Twitter :

Sign Up for the AMC Newsletter :

Subscribe to the AMC Channel :

Mad Men:

So, anyone out there game to also try it and report back to me? I’ll be grateful if, after a few sessions, I end up like Don Draper in the series conclusion of “Mad Men,” meditating on a hilltop as the final scene cuts to the 1971 Coca-Cola TV ad, leaving viewers to wonder whether Don created the memorable tune — “I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love …”

“It’s the real thing,” or is it? Only Woebot knows.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.