Designing a chatbot for a brief motivational interview on stress management: Qualitative case study

Sohyun Park, Jeewon Choi, Sungwoo Lee, Changhoon Oh, Changdai Kim, Soohyun La, Joonhwan Lee, Bongwon Suh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In addition to addiction and substance abuse, motivational interviewing (MI) is increasingly being integrated in treating other clinical issues such as mental health problems. Most of the many technological adaptations of MI, however, have focused on delivering the action-oriented treatment, leaving its relational component unexplored or vaguely described. This study intended to design a conversational sequence that considers both technical and relational components of MI for a mental health concern. Objective: This case study aimed to design a conversational sequence for a brief motivational interview to be delivered by a Web-based text messaging application (chatbot) and to investigate its conversational experience with graduate students in their coping with stress. Methods: A brief conversational sequence was designed with varied combinations of MI skills to follow the 4 processes of MI. A Web-based text messaging application, Bonobot, was built as a research prototype to deliver the sequence in a conversation. A total of 30 full-time graduate students who self-reported stress with regard to their school life were recruited for a survey of demographic information and perceived stress and a semistructured interview. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed by Braun and Clarke's thematic method. The themes that reflect the process of, impact of, and needs for the conversational experience are reported. Results: Participants had a high level of perceived stress (mean 22.5 [SD 5.0]). Our findings included the following themes: Evocative Questions and Clichéd Feedback; Self-Reflection and Potential Consolation; and Need for Information and Contextualized Feedback. Participants particularly favored the relay of evocative questions but were less satisfied with the agent-generated reflective and affirming feedback that filled in-between. Discussing the idea of change was a good means of reflecting on themselves, and some of Bonobot's encouragements related to graduate school life were appreciated. Participants suggested the conversation provide informational support, as well as more contextualized feedback. Conclusions: A conversational sequence for a brief motivational interview was presented in this case study. Participant feedback suggests sequencing questions and MI-adherent statements can facilitate a conversation for stress management, which may encourage a chance of self-reflection. More diversified sequences, along with more contextualized feedback, should follow to offer a better conversational experience and to confirm any empirical effect.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12231
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Apr

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Journal of Medical Internet Research. All rights reserved.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health Informatics


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