Can Cybertherapy Offer More Than Virtual Healing?

Can cybertherapy lead to real healing?
Can cybertherapy lead to real healing?

Imagine you’re wearing virtual reality goggles. You’re hooked up to a sensitive machine that runs your avatar through a complex social situation. Your therapist’s avatar gently guides you through it, helping you make the right choices and resolve blocks.

It sounds like science fiction, or a video game for fans of  HBO’s “In Treatment”. It’s not. It’s real life.

Cybertherapy is catching on among researchers and therapists at the intersection between technology and psychotherapy. As the New York Times puts it:

For more than a decade, a handful of therapists have been using virtual environments to help people to work through phobias, like a fear of heights or of public spaces. But now advances in artificial intelligence and computer modeling are allowing them to take on a wider array of complex social challenges and to gain insight into how people are affected by interactions with virtual humans — or by inhabiting avatars of themselves.

Can this possibly work?

Studies suggest it can. People internalize their experiences in the virtual worlds they encounter, and the results carry over into their real lives.

This seems like it might be especially promising for children with Asperger’s or other autism spectrum disorders, who often interact more easily with machines than they do with people.

And for a generation of kids growing up with video games and social media, sending your avatar to therapy might seem perfectly normal.

I don’t think I’ll be doing it anytime soon though. I’m simply too old school.

Photo: moggs oceanlane

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