Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Web Secret #63: Avatar Therapy

Avatar Therapy is the concept behind delivering therapy via an avatar in an online virtual world like Second Life

Definitions please:
An avatar is commonly a two dimensional representation of a person. It usually looks like a cartoon representation of what the person looks like in real life.

Second Life is a free virtual world that launched in 2003 and is accessible via the Internet. In Second Life, users, called Residents, interact with each other through avatars. Residents can explore, meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another, or travel throughout the world, which residents refer to as the grid.

Second Life, now hosts private practitioners and mental health agencies offering psycho-education, consumer information and psychotherapy. Proponents of avatar therapy at the Online Therapy Institute believe that
"the virtual world setting offers another level of sensory experience that could enhance the therapeutic process. People can create an avatar that is a literal or metaphorical representation of self...With advances in technology and artificial intelligence, the ability to simulate various scenarios with therapy clients is not far off. Artificial intelligent avatars can be used in the therapeutic process to help a client heal from trauma, create a new ending to a dilemma, or work out unfinished business with a deceased loved one. These are but a few examples of how avatar therapy...can benefit people".
I can think of other benefits to avatar psychotherapy:
  • A safe place to obtain treatment during a pandemic
  • A convenient method of obtaining therapy for the home bound or those living in locations where quality services are not available
  • To save energy and reduce our carbon footprint by eliminating the need to travel to obtain therapy
  • A lowered entry barrier to therapy for those reluctant to get help.
The experts at the Online Therapy Institute Blog caution that in the ideal world:
  • Properly trained avatar therapists would have a clear understanding of more traditional approaches to therapy online and understand the ethical issues related to online therapy and the delivery of mental health services through technological means.

  • Avatar therapists would have adequate knowledge of the online disinhibition effect as well as trauma related theories so that clients could be adequately prepared for avatar work.

  • Avatar therapists would need to understand the importance of titrating emotions and properly grounding the client using containment techniques. Keeping the client emotionally safe would be paramount in a virtual environment because issues that would typically surface over several months or years could potentially surface much quicker in virtual world setting.
I am both fascinated and slightly frightened by the potential of avatar therapy. I firmly believe that avatar therapy is here to stay, and that in the very near future it will become an increasingly "real" and compelling means of service delivery. But much like everything happening on the Internet, Avatar Therapy practice will grow much faster than our ability to craft and mandate ethical considerations, protocols for use, as well as educational and licensing requirements.

What do YOU think?

No comments:

Post a Comment