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  1. A Second Life for E-Health: Prospects for the Use of Virtual On-Line Worlds in Clinical Psychology Alessandra Gorini Andrea Gaggioli, Giuseppe Riva Applied Technology for Neuro-Psychology Lab Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Milan, Italy

  2. OUTLINE • Origins, definition and limitations of e-health • Introduction to the WEB 2.0 and the on line virtual worlds • Is it possible to use the on line virtual worlds for therapeutical purposes? • Presentation of a case study • Conclusions

  3. At the beginning was e-health…

  4. WHAT IS E-HEALTH? • the use of technology (mobile phone, email, chat…) to provide access to medical assessment, diagnosis, intervention, and information across distance • key advantages (Glueckauf et al. 2003): • deliver health information and services across geographical distance for underserved population • enhance the quality of health information and services in particular areas or for specific populations • ensure continuous medical and psychological service

  5. MAIN LIMITATIONS • It does not take advantages of all the possibility offered by Internetbeing limited to e-mail, chat, and videoconferences • The sense of presence is limited • Conventional e-therapy tools (i.e. email) typically do not support multiple users


  7. WEB 2.0 • Web 2.0 is a read-write web • It allows users to rate, comment, annotate, edit, create, mix and share content from different locations • It is a “people-centric social Web”, that facilitates social networking and active collaboration between users

  8. WEB 2.0, VR AND E-HEALTH The combination of WEB 2.0 and Virtual Reality (VR) allows the creation of distributed on line VEs that enhance the communication between therapists and patients, increasing the sense of PRESENCE during the virtual interaction

  9. 3-D VIRTUAL WORLDS FOR E-HEALTH Hp: Virtual worlds may convey higher feelings of presenceand social presence than conventional e-therapy tools do • facilitating the clinical communication process • creating higher levels of interpersonal trust between therapist and patient

  10. ON LINE VIRTUAL WORLDS OFFER THEIR USERS THE POSSIBILITY TO: • Share common VE being in different physical places • Have digital characters representing themselves • Communicate in real-time using chat or voice in public or private way • Experience a great sense of presence

  11. ON LINE VIRTUAL WORLDS FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL INTERVENTIONS: AN EXPLORATIVE PROTOCOL • Single case study • AIM: evaluate the potential of the virtual support sessions when, for contingent causes, patient and therapist can have only one face-to-face encounter per month.

  12. WHAT’S NEW? • The use of on line virtual worlds (SECOND LIFE) for psychological support/therapy • The use of VR environments for a psychoanalitic-oriented approach

  13. THE PATIENT C.B. • Sex: female • Age: 47 • Education: academic degree in engineering • Status: married (since 1995) • Son: 1 (8 year old) • Diagnosis (2002): dependent personality disorder (DSM-IV) also characterized by obsessive-compulsive traits and severe physical somatizations that needed a pharmacological treatment. • Treatment: from 2002 to 2006 psychoanalytic treatment based on two sessions per week that produced a significant symptomatic remission and an increasing in self and work efficiency. • From 2006 to now: sporadic consultation sessions, with a recent request to start a second phase of analytic-oriented treatment, apparently uncompatible with her work engagement which often demanded her to travel in italy and abroad. • Technological abilities: basic knowledge of the main Windows applications; no familiarity with videogames and VR systems.

  14. THE THERAPIST • Sex: male • Age: 51 • Education: MD, both psychiatrist and psychoanalist, with a personal interest in studying the relationship between human mind-body and technological devices of prosthesis. • He has recently changed his homeplace and life-style, living for half a week in Milan, and the rest of the time in another Italian city, located about 300 Km far from Milan. • Technological abilities: basic knowledge of the main Windows applications; no familiarity with videogames and VR systems.

  15. The difficulty in combining their working commitments and the physical distance have been some of the reasons pushing C.B. and her therapist to try this innovative approach. • Privacy issues: all the chat transcriptions were countersigned by both the therapist and the patient.


  17. THE SL VIRTUAL OFFICE Eureka (152,184,44)

  18. TREATMENT SCHEDULES • 2 virtual sessions per week (45 min each) • 1 face to face session per month • The patient and the therapist agree on date and time of the virtual appointments with the same modalities they use for real ones.

  19. TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS • 2 laptops and an ADSL internet connection. • Way of interaction: text-based chat



  22. QUANTITATIVE DATA (2) • CB interrupted the spasmolytic therapy and restarted her regular job activity AS EXPECTED FROM A TRADITIONAL THERAPY

  23. QUALITATIVE OBSERVATIONS • First virtual appointment: slowness • Analysis of text chats: formal aspects and relation style were comparable to those observed during the face-to-face sessions (CB refers her emotional contents and reactions, makes free associations, reports dreams waiting for therapist’s interpretation. • No sign of inhibition

  24. THE 3 FOUNDAMENTAL RULES OF PSYCHOANALYSIS • The fundamental rule: it urges that patients say “whatever comes into their heads, even if they think it unimportant or irrelevant or nonsensensical…or embarrassing or distressing” • The rule of abstinence: it designates a number of technical recommendations that Freud stated regarding the general framework of the psychoanalytic treatment, including, for example, the prescription to have no physical or gaze contacts with the patient • The constancy of setting: virtual reality offers the therapist the possibility to create a therapeutic environment more stable than any other real physical setting, other than to maintain the avatar’s aspect unchanged over time

  25. THE PRIVACY PROBLEM • The only critical point emerged regards the privacy of the virtual setting. • The virtual office is complitely safe and only invited and authorizad people can have access.

  26. CONCLUSION • The presence of a medium between the patient and the therapist does not interfere with the therapeutical relationship • SL is intuitive: the scarce ability in the use of computer and technological devices does not significantly limit the virtual interaction between the patient and the therapist

  27. …BUT MOST IMPORTANT… • The possibility to share a common on-line virtual space, gives the patient and the therapist the opportunity to “meet” each others twice a week even if they are physically distant.

  28. NEXT STEPS • Collect more data • Make a controlled study (virtual world vs simple chat) • Test the virtual setting in different situations (patients with severe physical disabilities, underserved population, prisoners, etc)

  29. CRITICAL REMARKS • The proposal sounds very innovative, but we would like to underline that in our view virtual therapy can be effective only if used as an adjunct to traditional therapy, or as part of an aftercare plan. • We advise against any kind of therapy being practiced exclusively on the web because of its supportive rather than exhaustive nature. This point must be made clear to online therapy providers and the general public.

  30. THANK YOU FOR YOUR ATTENTION! a.gorini@auxologico.it