A therapist is often someone who is compassionate and understanding of their clients’ problems. It is a key trait in their profession, helping them develop deep and personal connections with people who are in need of psychological or emotional stability. This is called having empathy. But how does the client really know that the therapist is empathetic?
In response to this question, new software developed by researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Utah can help detect signs of “high-empathy” and “low-empathy” using speech recognition technology, natural language processing, and “machine learning.”
After using the new technology on over a 1,000 therapist-patient sessions that addressed drug and alcohol addiction problems, and publishing its findings in a December issue of PLoS ONE, the machine was able to indicate whether or not the therapist demonstrated high or low empathy.
In other words, the software was able to “listen” to sessions, and determine therapist levels of empathy through statements like “it sounds like,” or “what I’m hearing” for high empathy, and “you need to” or “next question,” for low empathy.
Never before could a machine be said to determine empathy, but it is now possible using simple universal techniques such as analyzing a person’s diction, tone of voice, person-to-person response quality, and even the musicality of one’s speech patterns known as prosody. Future projects will aim to use this new technology to also train new therapist, as well as provide real-time feedback in order to evaluate therapy sessions on the spot.
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