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Orchestrating Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

Time: Mon 2022-06-13 13.15

Location: U1, Brinellvägen 26, Stockholm

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Language: English

Subject area: Education and Communication in the Technological Sciences

Doctoral student: Marius Koller , Medieteknik och interaktionsdesign, MID

Opponent: Dr. Oana Mitrut, University Politehnica of Bucharest

Supervisor: Cristian M Bogdan, Medieteknik och interaktionsdesign, MID; Gerrit Meixner, Heilbronn University; Anders Lundström, Medieteknik och interaktionsdesign, MID

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QC 20220524


Systems for Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) are shaping the future of therapy of anxiety disorders, especially at a time when we are seeing an increase in virtual meetings in almost every context in life. Exposure therapy is an established therapy method in the treatment of anxiety disorders. In the context of exposure therapy, a rich set of tools are available for helping therapists conduct therapy tailored to a patient’s needs. Typically, the therapist guides the patient through a feared experience in a real context and/or with an object.

In-virtuo exposure has several benefits compared to in-vivo exposures, for example, the possibility of controlling the stimuli and context of the exposure. To be able to conduct in-virtuo exposure, therapists need effective, versatile, and usable VRET systems.

My research aims to investigate the use of virtual reality in exposure therapy in order to explore, identify and propose how the design of VRET systems can be improved to better support in-virtuo exposure therapy in therapeutic practice outside of research. Many VRET systems are designed and built explicitly for research settings and purposes. Therefore, the systems do not fulfill needs for real therapeutic practice where most patients are being treated.

Four strands of research emerged in this thesis work. First, the understanding of the full therapy process beyond the exposure sessions, where VRET systems have the potential to be used beyond exposures. Second, I see therapists playing a critical role during the therapy process, which should be reflected in the design. Third, emerging from the central role of therapists, I studied VRET systems that empower therapists to prepare and orchestrate exposure sessions. Fourth, I examined the role of designers and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) in creating these systems, which I see as important and underrepresented. 

Unlike other research, my work is mainly therapist-oriented with emphasis on the potential needs in therapeutic practice, which led to conclusions regarding further possible applications and implications for the design of VRET systems. By investigating different aspects of exposure therapy, my work has resulted in a new view on VRET systems.