The Intersection of AI, Well-being, and Coaching: Charting a New Path Forward

On a chilly afternoon in Reykjavik, Iceland as I sipped my coffee and watched the world go by, I found myself pondering life’s most profound questions. These moments of introspection, combined with my academic journey, have led me to a fascinating epiphany at the intersection of Artificial Intelligence (AI), well-being, and coaching psychology.

Decoding Artificial Intelligence

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) evolution offers inspiring, novel ways of leveraging the science of well-being and coaching psychology to help people increase their well-being and positive functioning. AI is a widely varied field encompassing many types of tools and technologies, but in essence, AI describes machines that have the ability to mimic human-like intelligence in domains like natural language processing, pattern recognition, problem-solving, and decision-making.

There are two types of AI widely recognized by experts. These are narrow and general AI. General AI has historically made relatively limited progress but is seen as being able to perform most human activities, whereas narrow AI, which is intended to perform specific tasks, has seen substantial progress in recent years. Narrow AI systems can be trained to perform specific tasks by processing vast amounts of data and recognizing patterns within them. Computer chess players and autonomous cars are examples of narrow AI.

Over time, AI systems can learn and adapt to new information or stimuli from their environment, much like how humans learn from experience. Imagine a system that can analyze your thoughts in speech or text just as well as your closest friends, while simultaneously drawing on all of the science of positive psychology and coaching psychology to recommend personalized activities that you can incorporate into your life to enhance your well-being. This is our vision for incorporating AI into the world of wellness coaching.

The Essence of Well-being

But what is well-being? While there are various definitions of well-being, the broad scientific consensus in positive psychology is that well-being is about feeling satisfied with one’s life and the presence of positive emotions and the absence of negative emotions (subjective well-being) and functioning well within it (psychological well-being). According to the World Health Organization, well-being is a state where an individual “realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to his or her community”.

Various models of well-being exist within positive psychology, such as the PERMA4 framework, an extension of Martin Seligman’s PERMA model, which was in turn based on the original theory of authentic happiness. PERMA4 contends that well-being can be broken down into the experience of positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishment, physical health, mindset, economic security, and environment. PERMA4 has demonstrated success at explaining well-being outcomes both cross-culturally and across the lifespan.

Coaching Psychology

Coaching psychology is an evidence-based way to enhance well-being and performance in both one’s personal and work life. Coaching Psychology is grounded in coaching models that are based on psychological approaches and adult learning. In essence, coaching psychology is the behavioral science that underpins coaching. Although coaching psychology and positive psychology are considered siblings due to their shared approaches and philosophies on human development, the key distinction between the two is that positive psychology focuses more on the science of well-being while coaching psychology focuses more on the practice of coaching and goal attainment.

AI: Amplifying the Power of Coaching and Well-being

Now, imagine combining the power of AI with the principles of coaching psychology and the science of well-being. I’m not talking about automatic reminders or chatbots, but rather a sophisticated system that can help you assess, track, and improve your well-being in a systematic, intuitive, and scientifically supported manner.

The Potential Benefits of AI in Coaching and Well-being

Here are just a few of the potential benefits of integrating AI into coaching psychology and well-being:

Scalability: Traditional coaches can only help a limited number of individuals at a time. AI can help break that barrier and make wellness coaching accessible to more people than ever before.

Affordability. Traditional coaching, while invaluable, can be expensive. AI-driven platforms can democratize access, offering cost-effective solutions for anyone seeking out a pathway to realizing their best life.

Consistent and objective feedback: AI gives real-time objective feedback without being subject to the biases and fatigue of human coaches.

Personalization: With well-trained models and sufficient high-quality data, AI can give personalized insights by identifying patterns that may be invisible to even the most veteran of human coaches.

The Potential Limitations of AI in Coaching and Well-being

As with all innovative technologies, there are several questions surrounding AI:

Can a machine truly replicate the essential elements of warmth, empathy, and understanding that human coaches bring to the table? Furthermore, can a machine really replace a coach?

As of now, I believe that the cutting edge in AI can replace beginner human coaches, who rely heavily on theoretical perspectives underlying various models, techniques, and frameworks behind coaching psychology. However, as a coach matures, they begin to draw from various personal experiences, intuition, and creativity to support clients and incorporate innovative solutions. While AI is not yet at that stage of nuance and effectiveness, I believe it will be in the near future. For the time being, I believe the true potential of AI lies in serving as a tool to supplement coaches, rather than as a threat to replacing them.

Will AI services diminish human connection? We are a social species and carry with us an inherent drive to belong, feel connected, and experience warmth and support from others. In serving as a tool to enhance the practice of human coaches, I view AI as a method of enhancing our ability to fulfill these needs rather than posing a threat to them. By helping human coaches identify avenues to better connect with their clients, I believe that AI may serve as an invaluable tool for helping enhance the human elements of coaching that can never be fully replaced.

Lastly, there are many ethical concerns associated with AI. In an age where data is gold, how do we ensure data privacy and security? Furthermore, how do we ensure that the AI doesn’t recommend goals to harm yourself or others?

These issues remain open, active areas of research, and in fact, these issues will be challenging to completely eliminate. Nevertheless, there is a suite of techniques available to minimize the risk of hallucinations, toxic generations, data leakage, prompt injections, and other data security issues related to the usage of Large Language Models (LLMs). For instance, carefully engineered prompts could reduce the likelihood of producing undesirable responses. This could be done by creating a custom knowledge base which the model is instructed to refer to when generating responses, a scientifically-backed description of the persona it is intended to mimic given a specific task, and a careful description of the desired output (with complementary descriptions of how it should not behave).

Looking Ahead: A Vision for the Future

All things considered, I’m optimistic about the future of AI in the space of wellness coaching. Although the future of AI is both scary and exciting, positioning ourselves at the forefront of the coming revolution will allow us to take the reins in driving the world in the direction of a positive future for all. As we stand at this exciting crossroads, I envision a world where the power of AI and the essence of coaching psychology come together to create a holistic wellness ecosystem. An ecosystem where everyone, irrespective of their background, has access to the tools and resources they need to lead a life that is worth living.

To learn more in leveraging AI to complement your own practice, be sure to join our Enrichment workshop on Leveraging AI for Wellbeing in Coaching on Thursday, November 2, 2023 from 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm ET / 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm GMT

Click here to claim your spot and register

Further reading:

PERMA+4: A Framework for Work-Related Wellbeing, Performance and Positive Organizational Psychology 2.0

Positive Organisational Psychology 2.0: Embracing The Technological Revolution

The PERMA + 4 Short Scale: A Cross-Cultural Empirical Validation Using Item Response Theory

Can Chatbots like GPT-4 replace human coaches: Issues and dilemmas for the coaching profession, coaching clients and for organisations