By Jaap Hollander
In 2006 Dutch psychologists started developing MindMentor, an online computer program that acts as a mental coach. To state it in a more popular fashion: they developed a robot psychologist (pictured below). The MindMentor computer program guides clients through a series of psychological steps and helps clients solve problems and achieve goals. It does not present clients with standard answers based on problem-solution relationships from a database, but stimulates clients through a series of generic process steps to look inside, understand their inner mental processes and strategies, and then offers them algorithms to find their own solutions. The MindMentor process takes about an hour. You can find it – and actually try it for yourself – at http://www.mindmentor. com.
The program has a generic structure and will work with any type of human problem or goal including stress, family problems, relationship problems, motivation, life mission questions, sleepless nights, worrying, conflicts with friends or colleagues, etc. Apart from severe disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and drug addiction whose sufferers could use MindMentor as a resource but who need live support from a psychologist or a psychiatrist as well, research shows that MindMentor can help clients solve a wide range of problems and achieve a wide range of possible goals.
Tenets of the MindMentor Approach
The MindMentor approach is based on five psychological systems, most of which have a solid scientific background and may be considered evidence-based. Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) is Mind- Mentor’s main tenet and a model for personal development that emerged in California in the early ’80s. NLP helps clients change the structure of their subjective experience. Even though NLP is still often not considered evidence-based, recent scientific research has shown NLP to be quite effective. Based on the NLP model, the Mind- Mentor program asks the client for specific situations in which encouter the problem and analyze their inner experience with questions like, “What do you say to yourself?” or “What do you find most important?”
Once the client has defined their problem and MindMentor has analyzed their thinking and emotional responses, the program looks for counterexamples – a moment when the circumstances are more or less the same, but the client does not experience the problem – and analyze their subjective experience in that context and contrast this subjective experience with the problem thinking it has found before. In this way, it helps clients find a more effective way of mental processing, more effective self-talk, more productive mental imagery, and more effective values.
Some solutions are worse than the problems they were designed to solve. The Mind- Mentor program helps clients check their solutions for problematic consequences or unwanted side effects. Does the problem have advantages that they will lose when they solve it? If so, the program retraces its steps to find new solutions without these drawbacks.
To complete the process, the MindMentor program completes a detailed mental practice session with the client. Neurophysiologic research shows that mental practice is important for behavioral change. The mind mentor program helps clients imagine how they will use the solutions in future situations, both from within (first person associated position) and as an observer. Projective testing is a series of techniques widely used by psychologists including the ink-blot Rorschach test.
Projective testing brings unconscious knowledge into the consciousness. MindMentor utilizes this approach for verification of both the client defined problem and solutions. Rather than evaluating clients’ responses based on a fixed interpretative system like the Rorschach test, the MindMentor system uses a pattern detection approach. Clients are asked to associate pictures with for their problem, as well as solutions, and these pictures are then connected to verbal statements. The process is then repeated again clients are stimulated to detect a recurring pattern.
Provocative therapy is an innovative system of psychotherapy and mental coaching which helps clients by challenging them. In order to preserve a positive relationship with the main character the robot Mind- Mentor, this function is represented by a separate robot, ProvoBot. who will barge into MindMentor’s office and say thing like, “For heavens sake, MindMentor! You’re such a dumb pile of rust! Don’t your see who you are working with here? This is Marcin we’re talking about. How could he ever achieve this?”
Client centered therapy is a very common type of psychotherapy that helps people gain clarity by approaching them with a very positive attitude (unconditional positive regard) and restating what they have said.
Pavlovian conditioning connects certain mental and emotional responses to images. This is MindMentor’s way of helping people to easily connect or “anchor” inner resources to the situations where they need them. MindMentor mostly uses colors – problem states, general process states, creative or meditative states and solutions states are all associated with different colors.
Responses from the Field
Some psychologists have responded positively to their robot colleague, and some have reacted with great skepticism. Said David Van Nuys, Ph.D. of Sonoma State University said, “At the end of the hour-long session, I have to say my outlook and spirits were lifted considerably. It was smart, supportive, fun, and funny, and helped me to focus in on the central issue. I find the blend of artificial intelligence, NLP, and other goal-directed therapeutic techniques effective.” But some of Hollander’s colleagues have responded with deep skepticism, especially being concerned that MindMentor will not be able to handle severe psychological disorders. Said Hollander in an interview in Dutch national newspaper ‘Trouw’: “People with severe psychological problems, like bipolar disorders … hard drug addictions or disabling phobia’s … still need help from live professionals. For them, Mind- Mentor may be an interesting adjunct but never a replacement of live treatment.”
Encouraging Research Results
In 2006, 1,600 clients from roughly 25 countries participated in the MindMentor process. The process used at the time was a much simpler form of the MindMentor program than the version online today, but the process was roughly the same. Clients who finished the process were asked how many days they needed to try out the solutions they had found. After the designated number of days, are MindMentor contacted participants with a survey an average solution percentage of 47%.
Plans for MindMentor in the short term are to restructure the process, which can now take up to 90 minutes, into a series of 5-7 shorter sessions of approximately 10 minutes each. Each step will end with a tested milestone and be connected to the users real life social environment involving friends, family, coworkers, etc. Hollander hopes this will lead to more widespread use in today’s fast-paced culture, give the client more time to think about their responses, and counterbalance the justified concern of some colleagues that using MindMentor might result in less real, live social interaction. Longer term plans include having MindMentor users with similar problems connect anonymously and give each other advice, as well as creating specific MindMentor procedures for specific problem areas like cigarette smoking, allergies, and relational discord, among others.
Jaap Hollander, Ph.D. Institute for Eclectic Psychology The Netherlands firstname.lastname@example.org
President of Virtual Reality Medical Institute (VRMI) in Brussels, Belgium. Executive VP Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC), based in San Diego and Los Angeles, California. CEO of Interactive Media Institute a 501c3 non-profit Clinical Instructor in Department of Psychiatry at UCSD Founder of CyberPsychology, CyberTherapy, & Social Networking Conference Visiting Professor at Catholic University Milan.