Doctoral student in psychology at the Social Psychology Laboratory of the University of Aix-Marseille, I work with Dr Del-Monte, Mrs Fauvarque, and Pr Graziani on virtual reality in the therapeutic context. In this context, I have the pleasure to work for 3 years with C2Care. The plurality and customization of the environments allowed me to have the freedom to direct my research in the desired direction without technological barriers. Virtual reality no longer has to prove its effectiveness in the therapeutic field. Whether it is in the treatment of phobias of all kinds, the Cognitive rehabilitation or even relaxation, this constantly evolving tool is a real asset for professionals and researchers. Moreover, the therapy is not always very engaging, but the playfulness and novelty of virtual reality is a significant argument that attracts and motivates patients and participants alike, for the research field.

Generally presented as great supports for exposure therapy, we wanted to divert the environments from their primary purpose by focusing on a less exploited part of psychotherapy: social skills training. And yet … in many psychiatric pathologies, from social anxiety to personality disorders to schizophrenia or autism, the acquisition of social skills is often lacking. These disorders in interpersonal relations generate difficulties in the spheres of private, social and professional life which are added to the other symptoms with which the patient must cope. The intervention on these spheres is mostly done through role playing in the context of therapeutic groups or simulated situations in the therapist’s office. Although these modalities remain interesting, they have the drawback of being too far removed from the situations that patients experience in their daily lives. Unfortunately, it is often complicated, if not impossible, to mobilize external individuals willing to play the role of social interlocutors in role-playing games. This is where virtual reality can be used to its full potential. The plurality of environments, but also their controllability, and their customization are all elements that make it a relevant basis for these role plays. The software offers a variety of relevant situations: school situations, or situations requiring to speak in front of a varied public. This personalization allows us to scale the difficulty (such as the attitude of the interlocutors, the number of people present in an audience) which is extremely interesting for research and for therapeutic practice. We were able to propose exactly the same situation to all our participants and ensure the validity of our results. In a real situation, the uncontrollable variables would have been too numerous to allow us to validate our hypotheses without fearing that they would be more responsible for the results than the variables we chose to implement.

Based on the environments provided for the exposure of patients affected by glossophobia and school phobia, we worked on how to stimulate social behavior in these environments. In other words, we worked on increasing social behaviors towards virtual characters (like the audience) present in the virtual environment. Without revealing too much for the moment, the results are encouraging and offer us interesting perspectives. Being able to stimulate these behaviors in virtual reality would allow patients to feel more confident to implement these behaviors in their daily life, which will improve their social sphere and therefore their social support, and in fact, their quality of life..

Written by Lisa Cerdà – Doctoral student in Psychology – Social Psychology Laboratory of the University of Aix-Marseille

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