casa 20(22): e4

Research Article

Towards an Online Empathy Assisted Counselling Web Application

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  • @ARTICLE{10.4108/eai.23-12-2020.167792,
        author={Aarif Mawani and Lawrence Nderu},
        title={Towards an Online Empathy Assisted Counselling Web Application},
        journal={EAI Endorsed Transactions on Context-aware Systems and Applications},
        keywords={Natural language Processing, Word Analysis, F1 Score, Empathy, Counselling},
  • Aarif Mawani
    Lawrence Nderu
    Year: 2020
    Towards an Online Empathy Assisted Counselling Web Application
    DOI: 10.4108/eai.23-12-2020.167792
Aarif Mawani1,*, Lawrence Nderu2
  • 1: Faculty of Architecture, Computing and Humanities; University of Greenwich, P.O. Box 38052- 00623, Nairobi, Kenya
  • 2: Department of Computing; Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, P.O. Box 62000-00200, Nairobi, Kenya
*Contact email:


INTRODUCTION: In today's society mental health is becoming increasingly important. As a result, more and more individuals need guidance and counselling. This care giving becomes even more important in a person’s life during times of hardship, for instance during pandemics like COVID-19 where social isolation makes it even more difficult to cope with mental anguish. Whereas there exist various interventions, guidance and counselling activities are not easily accessible for resource stricken communities and where it exists, then its efficacy is hard to measure. With appropriate guidance voluntary counsellors could assist fill the void for such societies and provide counselling to them for various mental anguishes thereby providing relief for such conditions some of which are quite debilitating.

OBJECTIVES: The main objective of this paper is to encourage the uptake of counselling services to resource stricken communities in particular, by leveraging technology resulting in an increased ‘counselling culture’ that has empathy at its core.

METHODS: Incorporating National Language processing (NLP) into online unstructured chat discourses during a counselling session with an end goal of achieving positive efficacies driven by empathetic approaches. These approaches were adopted after rigorous consultations with a Counselling psychologist and also via views derived from an online questionnaire sent anonymously.

RESULTS: An online web-based application that provides a counsellor the platform to provide ‘counselling services’ to persons in distress by way of chat discourses. These Chat discourses are then filtered through the IBM Watson platform providing NLP and Artificial Intelligence capabilities to undertake lexical analysis in order to derive the emotional measure of the empathy level adopted in a chat discourse. As a result of the analysis, important statistical components like Precision and Recall are adopted in measuring the performance of the solution in terms of measuring, for instance, empathy inclusivity. Once Precision and Recall values are derived, the F1 score is calculated.

CONCLUSION: This study highlighted the critical need for counselling services especially in resource-stricken areas. In addition, socio-cultural norms sometimes are an impediment to effective counselling service delivery. The approach adopted in this paper resulted in an online web-based application that not only provides chat functionalities which are put through lexical analysis from where an ‘Empathy quotient’ is derived but also leverages the Natural Language Processing and Artificial Intelligence technologies. In this way, technology can provide an effective outreach methodology that provides in the very least a first-level counselling support structure. With purposive testing undertaken, it is evident that this study needs to be taken further to cover more areas of counselling and to strengthen the adoption of artificial intelligence in order to, for instance, leverage volunteers’ efforts vis-à-vis providing counselling services.