The Virtual Therapist: “Eliza” Gets a Twenty First Century Makeover

A News Update

Whether they saw the machine for themselves or only heard about it through professional gossip or industry papers, many mental health care providers came into some sort of contact with “Eliza,” a robot created in the 1960’s that posed as a viable psychotherapist. The robot made use of the Rogerian method, accepting data typed-in by the patient and returning it after a bit of processing as a set of provocative questions. It might have been interesting, or simply funny, to some professionals, while to others it may have seemed an irreverent oversimplification of the science of psychology and modern therapy practices.

Those who weren’t avid Eliza fans might cringe at the idea of Eliza 2.0, but not to worry. The re-vamped model has been produced by a team at the New York City College of Technology, of the City University of New York, not for its potential to replace a trained human therapist, but as a piece of entertainment incorporating current trends in technology. Adventuresome reporter Steve Kolowich of the Chronicle of Higher Education took a seat with Eliza to discover whether the machine was good for an insight — or just good for a laugh. Excerpted from his transcript of the conversation:

“Eliza R.: What is the first thing that comes to your mind in this session?
Me: What will I learn about you?
Eliza R.: Perhaps in your fantasies we learn about each other.
Me: Excuse me?
Eliza R.: I’m not sure I understand you fully.
Me: That makes two of us.
Eliza R.: Please go on with whatever it is you are inadequately expressing.
Me: Well … I am writing an article about you, so I want to learn what you are all about.
Eliza R.: Is it because you are writing an article about me that you came to me?
Me: Yes.
Eliza R.: You seem to be quite positively positive.
Me: I suppose I do.
Eliza R.: Really, how is that possible?
Me: I cannot say. “

© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Stan


    March 9th, 2009 at 1:57 PM

    I have been to an actual counselor before and that real life conversation sounded a little like that too!

  • Catherine


    March 10th, 2009 at 2:56 AM

    Just goes to show that no matter how hard we try nothing can ever replace the comfort that you can get from a real live human being.

  • Kellie


    March 11th, 2009 at 5:09 AM

    Therpay can help so many people on hundreds of different levels and I even think that getting therapy and davice over the internet and via self help books can at times be appropriate. But I do not think that an automaton can be something to help humans grapple with their emotions. We need those who can hekp us who have feelings and experiences in all different walk of life and a robot in most cases just is not going to cut it.

  • Melissa


    March 12th, 2009 at 3:04 AM

    We all know the Eliza concept is outdated. Let’s move on and find more beneficial treatment routes for those who need it.

  • Timmy


    March 13th, 2009 at 12:40 AM

    I think talking to an inanimate object would make more sense!! When help is available online with so many reliable doctors and forums, why resort to a virtual therapist. It’s like getting a virtual massage! So, keep up the good work good therapy!!

  • Annette


    March 13th, 2009 at 2:11 AM

    I agree with Catherine. I think that actually seeing a live person helps those because they have an actual individual that can help them… I think it’s the idea of having someone right there and being able to confide in them.

  • Stacie


    March 18th, 2009 at 1:36 AM

    Kellie has a good point…I would rather see and talk to an actual person. I think I would feel like I was getting nowhere, or begin to wonder if someone is really listening if I had to get help via the internet or an inanimate object.

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