Virtual reality (VR) has captured the attention of professionals in the filed of psychology as a highly promising method/tool in the assessment and management of various psychological problems (e.g., anxiety, pain, ADHD). The International Institute for the Advanced Studies of Psychotherapy and Applied Mental Health at the Babes- Bolyai University has recently developed a complex Virtual Reality Platform with multiple applications in the field of applied psychology (e.g., psychological assessment, psychotherapy, education, motor rehabilitation) (www.clinicalpsychology.ro). To explore the cuttingedge developments in the field, I spoke to two leading experts in VR applications in psychology about the potential and benefits of this technology: Dr. Albert "Skip" Rizzo and Ken Graap. The current state, future developments and challenges are discussed.
Keywords: virtual reality, psychotherapy, assessment, technology
1. Interview with Albert "Skip" Rizzo, Ph.D
Daniel David (DD): Could you make a brief presentation of VR and of what you are doing right now in this area?
Albert Rizzo (AR): I am a clinical psychologist/neuropsychologist and an Associate Director of the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, and a research professor at the USC School of Gerontology and Department of Psychiatry. I direct the VRPSYCH lab, which focuses on the design, development and evaluation of virtual reality applications across a broad spectrum of clinical disorders. We develop applications that target probably what I would call the three points of the human life triangle: psychological functioning, motor functioning and cognitive functioning. In the area of cognitive functioning, we address issues of memory enhancement, memory measurement, assessment of attention, assessment of visuo-spatial abilities. In this research we are studying the use of VR applications with children with attention deficit disorder on one end of the life span continuum and Alzheimer's Disease at the other end of the life span. In the motor rehab area we focus on working with physical and occupational therapists to develop a wide range of motor assessment and rehabilitation tools for people following a stroke or other brain injuries, and also motor coordination tools in children with autism, which seems to be a relevant issue. On a psychological level, we create and test applications for exposure therapy, so we are addressing post-traumatic stress disorder using VR to deliver graduated exposure for people returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, Virtual Iraq being one of the best known applications that we've done. We've also done some other things using panoramic video exposure stimuli for anger in the workplace and social phobia, although we haven't really tested the social phobia applications yet. Umm let's see, we've also done work in another area, pain management, where we put children in game-like virtual environments and use the engaging features of the game to distract the child from painful medical procedures. We focus on very common procedures like IV insertions, needle sticks, lumbar puncture and now we are about to do a study with chemotherapy. Finally, one of the areas we are now moving into is the development of virtual human patients that have artificial intelligence that can be used as a tool for training clinicians in how to conduct clinical interviews and hopefully make better diagnostic decisions. That's the general overview.
DD: What would be a simple working definition for virtual reality therapy? A working definition, not necessarily a comprehensive one...
AR: For me, the best metaphor is to think about VR is to think about how an aircraft simulator serves to test and train piloting ability. Well, we can do the same thing in the clinician's office with virtual reality environments that put the person in a context relevant environment and test, train or treat whatever the psychological, cognitive or motor condition that is being addressed. …