AI in Psychology: What impact are AI tools having on the industry?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an increasing presence in all of our lives. From virtual assistants on our smartphones to customer service chatbots, we’re getting used to AI’s role in our everyday interactions.

AI is also making its way into psychological practice, bringing with it a range of opportunities and obstacles, all of which the industry has to consider.

In the pro column, providers like BetterHelp are adopting chatbots to make therapy more accessible and affordable, while administrative tools can enhance efficiency in clinical practice. However, there are concerns that using these kinds of tools might lead to ethical dilemmas and biased assessments and treatment plans.

To explore the tangible impact of AI on psychology today, we surveyed practitioners across the US to find out their views. We asked about their concerns surrounding the use of AI, as well as what tools they were currently using and any benefits they can see from including AI in their practice.

1 in 2 psychologists are concerned about the use of AI in their practice

To establish current attitudes towards artificial intelligence, we asked qualified psychologists about their worries around using AI as part of their practice. In response, over half of them (55%) said they are highly concerned about AI’s role in psychology with just 16% being untroubled by its expansion into their sector.

Exploring what’s driving these opinions, we asked psychologists what their most pressing concerns were. Surprisingly, they are least worried about losing their jobs to AI, with just 6% of respondents voicing this fear. Instead, key areas of anxiety were around AI’s ability to interpret data, with 2 out of 3 psychologists calling this out as their main concern. Ethical considerations were also a tension point, with over a third of psychologists believing that incorporating AI in psychological practice misaligns with ethical standards and moral principles.

Research psychologists pulled out bias as a top concern, a reoccurring theme in wider conversations about AI, with limited data sets becoming a worry as businesses across multiple sectors begin to utilize AI tools more and more. But what does this mean for the field of psychology?

The problem about AI’s bias

Potential bias is an undeniable issue for the psychology industry, impacting everything from diagnosis to treatment plans.

When asked, 1 in 3 psychologists stated that automatic biases were their biggest concern when it came to using AI. The fact that a third of practitioners chose this as the most pressing issue alongside problems like the privacy of individuals and the misinterpretation of data shows how much of a concern AI bias is.

In fact, only 6% of psychologists are confident that AI wouldn’t make unfair judgments about people based on their background or characteristics.

To delve into this issue further, we asked AI image-maker, Midjourney, a list of prompts to analyze what biases AI hosts in regard to psychologists and their roles.

When asked to generate images of psychologists at work, each prompt produced an image of a man working alone at a busy desk in a dark room, perhaps demonstrating a biased belief that most psychologists are men, despite the fact in 2022, 65% of psychologists in the US were female.


/imagine a cognitive psychologist at work


/imagine a health psychologist at work


/imagine a school psychologist in photorealism

We also asked Midjourney to create images of a couple going through therapy and counselling. All images depicted white, cis couples with a ‘struggling’ man and a ‘supportive’ female partner. Even when the prompt mentioned an LGBTQ+ couple, the AI still produced a heterosexual-presenting pair.


/imagine a couple at a therapy/counselling session


/imagine a couple who needs couples counselling due to addiction


/imagine an LGBTQ+ couple at a counselling session

Throughout these prompts, not a single person of color was showcased, once again highlighting the bias behind AI and the root of our respondents’ concerns.

But there are two sides to every story.

Bias in psychology is not a problem exclusive to AI, with the topic of human bias coming up again and again in the industry.

We asked practicing clinical psychologist, Dr. Charlynn Ruan, her views on the topic:

I agree that there needs to be work done to make sure that AI biases are monitored and corrected when needed. But, this also needs to be done for psychologists and researchers as well because human beings usually hold biases that impact their work and it is an ongoing process to ensure that this does not negatively impact the people we are working with or skew our research results.
Dr. Charlynn Ruan

So, should the fear of biases stop psychologists using AI? And, perhaps more importantly, is it currently stopping them?

Using AI in practice

While anxieties over the implications of AI are clear, these have not prevented practitioners from reaping the rewards of artificial intelligence tools.

According to our survey, a quarter of psychologists are currently using AI in their practice, with a further 20% considering it for the future.

Currently, AI is mainly used for data analytics for research and trend analysis, with natural language processing for text analysis and automated diagnostic tools for advanced treatment coming in as the second and third most popular types of AI support.

The group that seems to be using AI the most is researchers in psychologywith half incorporating AI, and an additional 17% considering it for the future.

For researchers in psychology, the highlighted AI applications are:

  • Natural language processing for text analysis (50%)
  • Data analytics for research and trend analysis (67%)

Additionally, almost a third (32%) of respondents in social psychology are also currently incorporating AI tools or technologies. The most commonly mentioned AI applications in social psychology include:

  • AI-driven chatbots for client interactions (21%)
  • Automated diagnostic tools for advanced treatment (16%)
  • Natural language processing for text analysis (16%)

Dr. Ruan also uses AI tools in a similar way:

We don’t use it directly for therapy, but for the purposes of administrative work, creating templates for blog posts and marketing, and for creating templates for clinical consent paperwork that patients complete, such as consent to treatment, release of information, and other documentation required for providing clinical care. We use AI as more of a starting place than a finished product and still review and edit any AI created documents.
Dr. Charlynn Ruan

Despite these patterns, over 50% of our group is not currently using AI tools.

Alongside clear concerns about ethics and bias, we also asked psychologists what factors are influencing their decision not to adopt AI technologies in their psychological practice.

Half said a lack of awareness/understanding about the technologies available is the main reason why they don’t currently use AI tools, rather than the concerns discussed above. Over a third of respondents also cited limited access to relevant tools as the reason why they don’t use AI (as opposed to privacy concerns or skepticism).

These figures show that while the majority may not be using these tools now, the main barriers against using AI in psychology seem to be knowledge gaps and gaining access to tools rather than more personal factors.

The future of AI in psychology

AI isn’t going anywhere.

As we look towards the future and how AI will continue to have an impact on the psychology industry, we asked our respondents about the benefits of incorporating AI tools in their practice.

Despite two thirds of psychologists stating they are most concerned about AI misinterpreting data, many also believe AI is best used for automating data analysis (70%) and is quicker at noticing correlations among datasets (63%). In fact, 7 in 10 psychologists state that increasing the efficiency and speed of tasks is the biggest benefit of AI.

 

When it comes to using AI as a diagnostic tool, one third of respondents (33%) believe that AI’s capacity to provide a range of treatment recommendations contributes to improved accuracy in the field of psychology. This could also help patients get the right treatment faster as AI could be used to provide another lens, helping practitioners see all the options available instantly, minimizing delays or mismatched treatment plans.

Additionally, 2 in 5 psychologists state AI is making mental health support more accessible. This is evident in the way more and more practitioners are choosing features like AI chatbots that can offer 24/7 support to patients between appointments or those waiting to be paired with a professional.

 

Conclusion

Whether practitioners are for or against using AI in psychology, its influence and role in the industry is likely to grow over time.

While fears surrounding ethics, patient privacy and biases are definitely founded, there are also a number of undeniable benefits to using AI for certain tasks.

If AI can make administration and paperwork faster, then psychologists will be able to dedicate more time to tasks like diagnosis and treatment, which can have a more tangible impact on their patients’ lives.

Artificial intelligence isn’t going to replace real human therapists any time soon. But, it could become an invaluable companion for psychologists in the future.

If you’re looking for your next job in psychology, head to our careers page and find your perfect match.

 

Methodology

PsychologyJobs.com surveyed 100 qualified psychologists based in the US between 18 December 2023 and 15 January 2024 to gather data about their experiences and attitudes towards the use of AI in their practice.

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A career in psychology can involve a wide range of job titles and work settings as well as a number of different educational and career paths.