For the first time, German statutory health insurance companies are reimbursing the costs of a chatbot. It is part of the Pocketcoach app, which guides you through simple exercises to strengthen your mental health. This includes, for example, help with panic attacks, difficulty falling asleep, or coping with stress. While some offers are free of charge, an eight-week stress course costs 100 euros. The Central Testing Center for Prevention and Health Promotion has certified this course.
Therefore, since this week, the statutory health insurances have been taking over the costs for the course, which is not led by a person, but a simple chatbot – a novelty in Germany. The bot guides users daily through short conversations developed by the Viennese psychotherapist Simone Engländer. Two clinical studies are currently investigating the effectiveness of the Pocketcoach chatbot on the health of the participants.
The chats are very structured. Participants cannot just start chatting, but have to choose from given answer options. The aim is to deal with sources of stress and patterns. Exercises on mindfulness, gratitude or emotions should help establish healthier ways of thinking and behaving. The techniques include diaphragmatic breathing, targeted relaxation of body and mind, labeling your own thoughts and more.
Expressly no substitute for real psychotherapy
Pocketcoach expressly does not want to be a substitute for real psychotherapists. Rather, it should be a tool for self-help that is used early to prevent more serious problems and to bridge the long waiting times for psychotherapy. The operators also hope to reach people who are still reluctant to seek real, individual therapy.
heise online asked the Viennese psychologist Marion Kern for her assessment of the idea of a psychological chatbot. She considers the concept to be suitable for self-help in less severe cases and as a bridge to therapy. “In any case, there will be good inputs that will get the participants active,” said Kern. “Of course, you shouldn’t expect individual treatment. In the end, personal conversations are irreplaceable. But the bot can be a constructive addition.”
Even before it was reimbursed by health insurers, Pocketcoach said it had gained over 100,000 users, many of them in North America and Great Britain. Manuel Kraus and Philipp Omenitsch founded the startup in Vienna in 2019. In Leipzig they get support from the startup accelerator Spinlab. After completing the eight-week course, participants will have full access to all other chargeable functions of the Pocketcoach app for one year.