Behavioural Science Blog

The Science of Human Behaviour

Posts Tagged ‘Virtual Reality

Three Recent Applications of Virtual Reality in Psychotherapy Training

with 3 comments (which turned up as #1 in Google) is an organization that is called Virtual Reality Medical Center. They treat all kinds of anxiety related disorders, but seem to focus mainly on specific phobias. After the intake session the client is taught skills to suppress automatic fear reactions. In the following sessions the client is gradually exposed to the feared stimulus. In other words: VR desensitisation.

Obesity and addiction have some common properties. This research seeks to integrate some findings of addiction research into eating disorder therapy. In that light they make use of VR for distinct goals: Help the client to experience the own body in situations that are normally avoided. This experience is supposed to have influence on body perception and also empower the client. In the VR patients came “face to screen” with their personal risk situations (supermarket, gym, etc…) and could train emotion regulation and problem-solving skills in a save environment. The randomized clinical trial seems to indicate that the ECT group did indeed better than standard CBT.

As shows also psycho-dynamic therapists start to see the merits in using new technology. Erection dysfunction and premature ejaculation are treated in a virtual environment (the porn industry will love that application) together with standard psychotherapy. The possibility to enact the new strategies in a save and private environment is supposed to speed up the therapeutic process. First clinical trials seem to indicate that this might indeed work for some clients, also it is not clear for whom exactly. Sample size is not adequate in study 1, power is much stronger in study 2. Results are not telling a clear story (yet?).

By the way: is the most comprehensive and excellent source for material about VR in psychotherapy that I could find on the net. Especially have a look at the free books, like or The articles are downloadable as PDF (just scroll down). Especially look at book 3 session 2 that comprises some clinical controlled trials with cybertherapy (which seems to be the keyword I was desperately looking for).

Written by Martin Glanert

November 15, 2008 at 11:43 am

The Motivation for Designing a Computer-assisted Procedure for Training Therapists

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While research has found differences between novice and expert therapists those differences do not seem to be significant for treatment outcome. A crucial factor in this finding is that certain processes keep the psychotherapist from learning effectively. One of those processes is the lack of good feedback (on the macro and the micro level). If there is any feedback, it is probably biased (those who get better do not return for more therapy) and incomplete (patients are not routinely followed over a longer period of time). Due to client privacy it is also not possible for a supervisor to be part of a therapy session and intervene at critical moments. A virtual, interactive environment would not pose such limitations. Psychotherapists could train on quite realistic avatars how to intervene in a critical situation (for example suicide) without putting anyone at real risk. The “role-playing” skills of a digital avatar will be much better than a fellow colleague within a few years and the program can be stopped anytime to discuss the process and repeat parts of the intervention. A virtual training would also make sense economically. After the programming, the costs depend only on the running costs of the hardware and the supervisors. Speaking of which, master psychotherapists that now supervise the trainings would gain a lot of free time to do other important things. If the medium of the digital training is video / text-based (and thus does not require VR equipment) the internet would pose an ideal way to reach thousands of interested graduate students.

Written by Martin Glanert

November 10, 2008 at 8:40 pm