From “The Ultimate Display” to “The Ultimate Skinner Box”

Virtual Reality and the Future of Psychotherapy

Marisa Brandt


Though most virtual reality (VR) enthusiasts of the 1980s and 1990s now concede that the technology was overhyped, a new group of advocates believes it has found a practical use for it: as a tool for conducting psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems. Marisa Brandt argues that the use of VR as a therapeutic tool is premised on a way of thinking about how to intervene in disordered subjectivity using media – what she calls cybertherapeutic reason. In this chapter, Brandt gives a brief history of how early innovators discovered the therapeutic potential of VR and implemented cybertherapeutic reason by designing controllable virtual experiences. She then compares three proposed systems for treating combat-related PTSD to show how the design of VR therapy systems can reflect diverse understandings of how the technology could intervene in subjectivity. Finally, she suggests some of the ways that widespread adoption of VR may affect the practice of psychotherapy.

Albert “Skip” Rizzo: Whereas in the mid-90's VR was generally seen as “a hammer looking for a nail,” it soon became apparent to some scientists in both the engineering and clinical communities that VR could bring something to clinical care that wasn't possible before its advent. [. . .] The capacity of VR technology to create controllable, multisensory, ...

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