Norwegian municipalities are experiencing an increase in the number of people they are supposed to help who struggle with social exclusion and, in some cases, severe mental illness. Therapists and social workers in primary mental health services have many patients to treat, and social skills training demands much time.
Virtual reality technology (info link) has shown promising results in the area, and from a pre-project we conducted in 2018-2019 (link), we found that it had great potential in social training for this target group.
Through a long-term and mutual collaboration between the Mental Health and Substance Abuse service in Trondheim municipality, a psychologist specialist at Unicare Coperio and the SINTEF researchers developed an 8-step training program using virtual reality, see ref. 2).
Service users were involved in the development and pretesting phase to make the program as relevant and user-friendly as possible. Through systematic collaboration, more than 30 employees in the municipality are involved in the project, and we are currently in the process of completing the piloting of the developed program.
The project results are promising this far, and we emphasize the importance of a solid implementation strategy. The research group has extensive experience using virtual reality in both mental health service users and in working life projects.
Some of the equipment used are Oculus Quest headsets, Insta 360 cameras, cardboard headsets and mobile phones. The research group and the municipality have meetings in virtual worlds and continuously explore new ideas.
VR allows users to experience presence in an artificial reality, and the headset you wear closes out the real world so that you sort of "trick" the brain into thinking you are present. One of the advantages of this technology is the ability to practice situations many times and that you can increase the degree of difficulty over time. The VR technology also invites you to practice social skills through meetings with other real persons all over the world, something the project explores to a great extent.
Articles in scientific journals
- Exploring the Potential for Use of Virtual Reality Technology in the Treatment of Severe Mental Illness Among Adults in Mid-Norway: Collaborative Research Between Clinicians and Researchers, 2019
- Development of a social skills training programme to target social isolation using virtual reality technology in primary mental health care - Solveig Osborg Ose, Kristin Thaulow, Hilde Færevik, Per Lund Hoffmann, Hedvig Lestander, Tore Stiles, Martin Lindgren, 2023