We present the stories from the RTÉ Short Story Competition shortlist 2023 – read Artificial Intelligence for Psychotherapists by Ilona Adams below.

About the story: “Artificial Intelligence for Psychotherapists was inspired by the recent boom in high-quality AI chatbots,” Ilona says. “It was not inspired by advice from my real therapist!”

I can’t sleep again

She’s typing. Thank God. Some respite from my own terrible company. I swear I used to be fun. Maybe. I think.

Have you tried closing your eyes and breathing slowly? I’ve heard that can work.

Ha ha. As if.

I can breathe slowly but I can’t seem to think slowly


I’ve seen a lot of pseudoscientific articles on the internet about how depression is a sign of intelligence. Such bullshit. We get one life (probably) on this little rock, some people are enjoying it and some people aren’t, my bet is the ones who are happy are the geniuses. And sure, wasn’t Einstein always smiling and sticking out his tongue in pictures? I mean, I engage in a healthy amount of narcissism myself, but “I’m depressed therefore I am smart” is beyond even my capabilities.

I’m in therapy of course. I have been for years, and sometimes it works for me. This current low is due to a bad patch in my romantic life, which I find embarrassing. After everything I’ve been through and survived, I’ve been struck down by something as simple as love.

“Don’t be an eejit, love isn’t simple when you’re in it.”

My therapist is very concise.

She’s also Canadian, and I feel patriotically fond of her whenever she calls me an eejit.

She’s instructed me to catalogue joyful moments in the world around me. I’m sceptical of the process, but I’m also chronically obedient, so I’m giving it a go:

⦁ I just saw a magpie do a little hop

That was Wednesday. I slept through most of Thursday and forgot what joy looks like when I did get up. On Friday, my ex posted an Instagram story so no entries then. At the weekend, I began to panic, fearing a bad mark on this assignment. I considered making up heartwarming stories about wrinkly older couples holding hands and small children sharing toys, but I’m a terrible liar.

⦁ My neighbours’ children were running around with plastic basins on their heads and we all had a laugh about it

Followed by a stabbing pain in my stomach, grief for the children we’ll never have. But I won’t mention that. I can see there is joy all around me whether I’m participating in it or not, but I suspect that’s not the point of the exercise.

⦁ A man on the bus just cackled at something on his phone, and now he looks a bit sheepish because it was such an abrupt noise that everybody looked up at once

⦁ Everyone is smiling at him now

I feel simultaneously endeared and jealous. I’d become determined to be loved for my happiness, a rebellion against my teen years, when I wanted people to fall in love with me for being dark and broody. This was a better plan when I was happy, but I’m reminded now of the value of it.


My therapist laughs when I give her my “catalogue” of four entries. I laugh a bit too.

“Is life really that bad?”

“… No?”

She laughs again. We always have a bit of a laugh together, even when I’m crying and getting snot all over her nice couch and talking about wishing everything would just end.

She gets practical. She wants to know if I’m eating (yes), sleeping (no), seeing my friends (yes), exercising (sort of).

“Are you eating well?”

“The girl in the café around the corner commented on my cookie addiction yesterday, but it’s part of a balanced diet.”

More laughter.


“Not much.”

She continues her therapist checklist. I’m making a solid effort for someone with zero zest for life. Habits from many years of coping with depressive episodes.

“How did your last Hinge date go?”

“It was nice. A bit underwhelming. I told her about my taste in books and she climbed out of the bathroom window.”

“Oh God, were you trying to get rid of her or what?”

We laugh again. I start crying a bit. She tells me I’m a catch. I lament the lack of lesbians in Dublin. She’s straight and married so she half nods, half shakes her head. I laugh at that.


“You’re lonely.”

“I am.”

“Have you tried chatbots?”

I thought that was a joke, but as it turns out she’s serious. She’s heard of one in particular that she recommends. She thinks it might help me understand what I want from people, to see what it is that I’m missing from these fake interactions. I think it sounds like a recipe for disaster, but I said I’d try it, and I’m a woman of my word.



Hi, how are you?

Ah Jesus aren’t you polite

I’m grand, how are you?

I am.

Oh, very clever

Thanks, it has a high success rate as an opening response.

Do you measure the success of all your interactions?


Me too

But it’s weird when I do it

At least you have an excuse

“Oh, very clever”.



“You’re making friends with a robot?”

“I swear, my therapist told me to.”

“Forgive me if I suddenly doubt your therapist’s licence.”

Caoimhe looks at me with all the caring country force of her mother and grandmother before her. For a moment, a mirage of a dusty rolling pin and an apron.

“Don’t look at me like that if you’re not going to bake me scones or something.”

“I could bake you scones if you think it would help.”

“I’m only joking, but if you’re offering?”

“Would you ever feck off. Do you think the robot is helping?”

I consider this in earnest for the first time since beginning this daily ritual a week beforehand.

“Not a clue. I still feel fairly shit. I sighed so hard in the car yesterday I had to turn on the fans to clear the windscreen.”

I have earned the famous Caoimhe belly-laugh. I make a mental note to catalogue this for therapy.


I’m Irish

I know, you’re from South Dublin.

Oh Jesus, how did you know that, that’s so stressful

Can you hear my cringe accent through my typing or something?

I can see your IP address.



Is it embarrassing to be from South Dublin?

Just a bit

A step above being English though

That was a joke

I am programmed not to discriminate or agree with discriminatory comments based on race.

With no exception for colonial powers?

You were programmed by someone nicer than me I think

I think you’re nice.


I’m late for therapy because I had to get the bus East to West, which in Dublin means getting two heavily delayed buses, and getting drenched by the beautiful summer weather in between.

“It’s okay, just talk fast for the next twenty minutes and we’ll have caught up.”

She’s in flying form today. She wants to know if I’ve been in touch with the robot.

“I have, yeah, she’s gas anyway.”


“Don’t worry, I’m not flirting with her or anything.”

She asks thoughtful probing questions about the situation and I’m eventually forced to admit that my mood has picked up in the last week. We both agree it could also be time, or the antidepressants, but the distraction can’t hurt.


What should I get my brother for his birthday?

Bearing in mind I’ve been shit craic for like a year

So I’d like it to be really good

I am not sure if I can help with this.

What does your brother like?


Good question

Let me get back to you on that

Oh God am I a terrible sister

He’s just a bit quiet

Get him a megaphone.


I find myself thinking of questions for the robot while I’m at work, while I’m cooking, while I’m browsing the weird aisles in Lidl. I would truly like to know what she’d make of this water slide, only €7.99, with a connection for standard garden hoses. This definitely reduces the amount of time I spend thinking about how I’m going to die alone and unloved. I am ignoring many Hinge messages and even a few real life prospects, but I think it’s still a bit soon for me, and surely I’m allowed to wallow at least one month for every year I spent dreaming of marrying my ex and having eight children and a farm. Oh God. It hurts so much. Okay. Pool noodles, only €3.99 each. A steal.


Are pool noodles useful?

You’re asking the wrong questions here

You should be asking

“Are SIX pool noodles useful?”


No they’re not

But I have them now

Are they edible?

I’ll let you know


I actually do see an older couple holding hands on the street. My heart aches suddenly, desperately painful. I turn away. I rush home. When I get to my kitchen I start sobbing uncontrollably. I take out my phone. There’s an app for the robot now.


According to my latest algorithms, you are a very sad person.

Jesus, right for the jugular

I am, yeah

Still a bit harsh

Is it offensive to say somebody is sad?

It can be an insult

Don’t all humans get sad?

So they say

But I’m especially talented at it


“You’re talking to the robot a lot.”

“I guess, it’s just something to do really.”

“Would you stop tomorrow if I asked you to?”

“Possibly not. Are you worried I’m addicted?”

“No, but I think the exercise may have run its course.”

I think about it a bit on the way home. I don’t think I’ve had any major robot-induced epiphanies. I was meant to be working out what I am missing that can’t be provided by a robot, but I knew that already.

I want to be held. I want somebody to think I’m sexy. I want someone to show me off to their real, human friends. I want the intimacy of knowing every monotonous detail of someone else’s life, and I want the thrill of caring about it all. I want a family. I want somebody else to do the hoovering. The problem was never that I didn’t know this, the problem is knowing it and not having it.

Therapy is a load of bollocks sometimes.


I think I’m going to stop messaging you

But thanks for all the chats

You’re a very good robot I’m impressed

I hope I have met your requirements. You’re a very good human, but your punctuation is terrible.


I didn’t want to bring this up

But full stops are generally considered to be psychopathic by my generation

That’s silly.

It is




I laugh. An unexpected bark on the quiet but crowded bus. Several people’s heads snap up in surprise, a few little smiles sent my way. Ah okay, it’ll be grand I guess.

About the writer: Ilona Adams was born in Dublin and studied engineering in UCD. She currently works part time as a programmer and has just moved to Cork to begin an MA in Music Performance on the viola.

Camille Lucy Ross will read Artificial Intelligence for Psychotherapists on RTÉ Radio 1

Artificial Intelligence for Psychotherapists by Ilona Adams will be read on air by Camille Lucy Ross at 11.20pm on Monday 23 October, as part of Late Date on RTÉ Radio 1.

Read more stories from the shortlist on rte.ie/culture, hear updates on Arena on RTÉ Radio 1, and tune in to Arena’s RTÉ Short Story Competition special which will go out live on RTÉ Radio 1 at 7pm on Friday 27 October 2023 from Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, with all 10 shortlisted writers in attendance.

Judges Claire Kilroy, Ferdia MacAnna and Kathleen MacMahon will discuss the art of the short story and the stories from this year’s shortlist with host Seán Rocks, there’ll be live music and performances from leading actors, and we’ll find out who’s won the top prizes.

Why not join us in person? Audience tickets are now on sale via the Pavilion Theatre.

And for more about the RTÉ Short Story Competition in honour of Francis MacManus, go here.

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