Therapy practice in virtual and online spaces.

8th December, 2017

Can virtual reality space be used for counselling and psychotherapy practice? What about newer technologies like VR/AR/MR and the implications for practice?

As counsellors and as a profession what is our current views around the uses of these technologies?

Can virtual reality space be used for counselling and psychotherapy practice? Over the course of the next few paragraphs I hope to show you that they can be. What does it feel like to a client to be present in a virtual space with their therapist and can it feel real enough to be therapeutic. From my experience of virtual spaces I would have to say yes, they are and can be used for therapy.

However, this has to be a qualified yes at the moment as there are technical difficulties with software as it currently stands. The need for encryption for inworld communication is an example of a barrier to the use of virtual worlds.

Virtual reality and the world of second life was altogether a different experience than any game I had previously played and life had little prepared me for. Finding the website was easy enough, what is the Second Life viewer and why do I need to download it to my PC. Hesitantly I clicked the download button, somewhere along the line I had signed up for an avatar account and installed the viewer to my PC. I entered the details for my avatar and the viewer seemed to be doing something, what I had no idea. The progress bar moved across the centre of the screen, muttering to itself … boom, I was in Second Life.

However, the initial feelings of disorientation and the endless horizon did little to help nor support my feeling of knowing where I was and what I was to do next. Looking around me for familiar place markers or geography proved fruitless and so I began to notice the houses and the plots and then a recognisable pattern of this must be residential and I must have a place around here somewhere. Why else would I have landed here with a faint recollection of a premium account like mine?

Slowly with time and immersion in virtual worlds I began to explore the geography and the people that occupied these virtual spaces, I began to change my avatar to my liking and I built offices, meeting and social spaces and began to participate in world with others, both shaping and being shaped by virtual world culture.

To say that I was hooked and intrigued of this new virtual environment would be an understatement and the last 2 years has been a journey of servers and holding my first virtual club night. The possibilities and potential of the virtual worlds of Second Life and OpenSim alike has captured my professional and personal selves and this course with the Online Therapy Institute and the Masters in Education at the UWE have made me a passionate advocate for the use of technology in counselling and the education of therapists to explore this brave new world.

It does take time and I recommend a course that provides immersive time as part of the learning process to begin to explore the transfer of offline counselling skills to this environment in a structured way, with others and be able to ask questions (as you will have many). If you have any comments about this post or you would like to comment on your own experiences of virtual worlds I invite you to comment below.

Future directions

Sansar, High Fidelity and Unity based platforms …

Web based VR and virtual worlds — [Web-Worldz]

© Leighton Marjoram MA

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