MindMentor: a computer program functioning as an online mental coach. First Results

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Auteur: Jaap Hollander

Beschrijving: 2010: CyberTherapy and Rehabilitation magazine. 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. The MindMentor computer program guides clients through a series of psychological steps. The program helps clients solve problems and achieve goals.




General definition

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. The MindMentor computer program guides clients through a series of psychological steps. The program helps clients solve problems and achieve goals. It does not present clients with standard answers based on problem-solution relationships from a database. It 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

In terms of content, the program has a generic structure and will work with any type of human problem or goal. It works best with issues like stress, family problems, relationship problems, motivation, life mission questions, sleepless nights, worrying, conflicts with friends or colleagues, et cetera. It usually cannot help much with severe disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, hard drug addiction, et cetera. It can be a resource for clients who suffer from these kinds of problems, but of course they will still need live support from a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Apart from these extreme problems, 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.

Element #1: Neuro linguistic programming

Neuro linguistic programming (NLP) is a model for personal development that emerged in California in the early eighties. NLP helps clients change the structure of their subjective experience. NLP is MindMentor’s main tenet. Even though NLP is still often not considered evidence based, recent scientific research has shown NLP to be quite effective (see ‘The effectiveness of NLP: Interrupted time series analysis of single subject data for one session of NLP coaching.’ at From the ‘80’s until the present day, NLP has been practiced and taught by a large number of people in various countries. A quantitative impression of the number of people actively involved in NLP can be gleaned from the number of references in Google for the search term ‘nlp’: 19.200.000 references, as compared with 7.470.000 references for ‘cognitive behavior therapy’ and 7.070.000 references for ‘psychotherapy’.

Analyzing the structure of subjective experience

Based on the NLP model, the MindMentor program asks the client for specific situations in which they have the problem. For these situations it will then analyze their inner experience:
– What do you do?
– What do you see in your mind’s eye?
– What do you say to yourself?
– How do you feel?
– What do you find most important?

Counterexample and role models

Once the client has defined their problem and MindMentor has analyzed their thinking and their emotional responses, the program looks for counterexamples. A counterexample is a moment when the circumstances are more or less the same, but the client does not experience the problem. A counterexample is an exception. Once the client has defined a counterexample, the program will analyze their subjective experience in that context. It will then 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
  • more effective values.

If the client cannot find a counterexample, MindMentor will ask for a role model: someone who the client feels could handle the problem situation well. And then the program will analyze the experience of that role model (as the client imagines the role model would respond).

Checking for possible negative side effects

Some solutions are worse than the problems they were designed to solve. The MindMentor 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.

Mental practice

To finish the process, the MindMentor program goes through a detailed mental practice with the client. Neurophysiologic research shows that mental practice is important for behavioral change. The mind mentor program helps clients to imagine both from within (first person associated position) and as an observer, how they will use the solutions in future situations.

Element #2: Projective testing

This is a series of techniques widely used by psychologists. The most well-known example is the Rorschach test (with the ink blots). Projective testing brings unconscious knowledge into consciousness. MindMentor utilizes this approach for verification of both the client defined problem and solutions. By using projective testing elements, MindMentor helps clients uncover information that they have on a unconscious level. Rather than evaluating clients responses based on a fixed interpretative system, as projective tests like the Rorschach (ink blot) and the TAT (Thematic Apperception Test) do, the MindMentor system uses a pattern detection approach. Clients are asked to associate pictures with for their problem and these pictures are then connected to verbal statements. In a follow-up step both these pictures and that connect to verbal statements are shown a second time and clients are stimulated to detect a recurring pattern. The same is done for solutions they generate.

Element #3: Provocative therapy

Provocative therapy is a quite innovative system of psychotherapy and mental coaching, originally developed by Frank Farrelly of Madison, Wisconsin. Provocative therapy helps clients by challenging them. In order to preserve a positive relationship with the main character the robot MindMentor, this function is represented by a separate robot, named ProvoBot. ProvoBot 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. Don’t you remember he’s an old man from Warshaw of all places! How could he ever achieve this? Did you burn a circuit or something? Why give him false hope? Why not be straight, and say: ‘Sorry, Marcin, you poor sod, but what you want to achieve, that’s for strong people not for…. eh… well for whatever you are”. As one lady journalist said in Wired Magazine: “I was amazed how hurt I was when ProvoBot said that I was a twenty something from Berkeley who could never stand up to her boyfriend…” The functionality of this provocative element in the MindMentor process is to enhance the client’s motivation.

Element #4: Client centered therapy

Client centered therapy is a very common type of psychotherapy, originally developed by Carl Rogers. Client centered therapy helps people gain clarity by approaching them with a very positive attitude (unconditional positive regard) and restating what they have said.

Element # 5: Pavlovian or ‘classical’ conditioning

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. In the MindMentor process classical conditioning is achieved mostly with 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. (Emeritus Professor of Psychology from Sonoma State University): “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, MindMentor may be an interesting adjunct but never a replacement of live treatment”. Dutch psychology professor Alfred Lange, interviewed by Dutch national television, stated that “There is no danger whatsoever in using MindMentor”.

Research results: 47% improvement

In 2006, 1600 clients did the MindMentor process. These people were from approximately 25 different countries. The process used at the time was a much simpler form of the MindMentor program than the one that’s on line 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 program sent them an e-mail with the following text (personal content is simulated in this example):

Hello John,
Here is a quick e-mail from MindMentor your old Robocoach.
We talked at some length twelve days ago. You remember, don’t you?
My advice was to change some of your thinking and some of your actions. So you could more often have a feeling of inspiration. I hope this all worked well for you!

And I am curious: to what extent would you say the problem has been solved now?
The problem is solved by (click the suitable percent):
100% (Totally solved)
90% (Almost completely solved)
50% (About half way solved)
10% (A tiny little bit solved)
0% (No change at all)

In case you encountered some obstacles, please feel free to come back to my office (, and we’ll talk some more.

So say hello to Buenos Aires from me!
With Friendly Greetings, also from RoboRorschach
Your Robocoach

The average percentage was 47% (Please note: this does not mean that 47% of the problems were solved, it means that the average problem discussed with MindMentor was solved for 47%).

On line radio interview
There is a radio interview available on line, where Shrink Rap Radio’s Dr. Dave van Nuys interviews Jaap Hollander about MindMentor. Click here to listen to the interview


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