I conducted a number of interviews with individuals outside of the field of Virtual Reality research. Speaking with psychologists and individuals who have dealt with clinical depression, in order to get their input on my proposal...


To get an expert opinion I interviewed a Mr. Gary Klaucke of Caring Counseling Center of Pleasant Hill (East Bay city), and he seemed somewhat impressed with the idea, yet he held a few reservations...

Q: Considering Behavior Therapy, which is the application of the methods of experimental psychology to the problems of an individual who comes for treatment, could you see a use for VR?

A: Yes, because Eric Berne of transactional Analysis held the theory that a person, when interacting with others, functions as either parent, adult, or child. Role playing gives them an understanding of which role is appropriate and to act as an adult most of the time as possible. With VR, I suppose it wouldn't be too hard for patients to relive early experiences and such. There's a definite use for it, yet there's also, in my opinion, a few problems...

Q: Such as?

A: Feelings. Behavior can often be determined by feelings, instead of one's belief system and thinking. You see Steve, emotions are the most powerful factor leading to our actions, and our emotions are not always right. We may "feel" good about something that's bad for us. To focus only on behavior and the stress it causes could mean missing the real issues a patient has with themselves and life. I'm more interested in changing the way a patient thinks, to convince them of errors in their personal decisions. I believe that with the right choices, the right feelings will not be far behind. A person can modify their behavior, but they have to change the way they think also...

Q: Well, what would be the best benefit of VR then?

A: It would best be used as a tool to encourage patients to develop more social interest...

Q: It was pretty clear that one drawback to using VR would be too much attention focused on behavior, rather than how the patient feels about themself. With proper counseling, however, root issues could be identified, correct?

A: Yes. If the real issues are discovered and VR could be used as a tool to reeducate the patient, then the technology is not a waste of time in this field. Just remember though, it is not always easy to pinpoint a patients cause of distress, so I wouldn't always be in a hurry to use the technology...

For further opinions, I have interviewed from SFSU Counseling services Mr. Willie Mullings. Mr. Mullings was kind enough to allow me an interview with him despite an obvious demanding schedule and responsibility.

Q: Could you see in any way possible the use of virtual reality technology in the treatment of patients with clinical depression?

A: I'm not sure that I see a connection here...

Q: Excuse me, I mean for patients who do not have a chemical imbalance or do not require medications for their depression. Patients that undergo responsible forms of psychotherapy to root out negative thoughts or behavior patterns that cause or lead to clinical depression?

A: I suppose it's interesting, but I have never thought of it before in my experience.

Q: You understand of course that this doesn't call away from medications or from whatever has been helping patients previously?

A: Yes. And as a matter of fact VR is already being used for patients with personality disorders or phobias. That is people with a fear of flying or a fear of driving after experiencing a horrible accident. They're retrained and their fears are dealt with at first without taking them out on the real plane yet. I'm sorry I did not remember this at first because I didn't understand at first exactly what you were asking me.

Q: So if VR is already used in the case of phobias, then it should work for the case of depression as well?

A: Well you need to consider some issues first...Such as the fact that there are many debates sometimes as what exactly causes depression. For instance there are physical, or chemical causes as well as a lack of social interest or lack of positive relationships. The issue here is that we must first properply ascertain which the cause is before proceeding. And if you focus too much on a particular behavior and correcting that behavior you start getting into personality disorders. And that is altogether another new ball game...

Q: It is not going to be that simple then?

A: No. Because there's two major forms of depression, the first is marked by episodes of depression (break-up with lover, etc.) The other is characterized by alternating depressed and manic episodes (manic- depressive) where the patient's mood can be elevated, expansive, or irritable. Their behavior can be bizarre and sometimes obnoxious.

Q: However if one's behavior were to cause their depression through careless life decisions or negative lifestyles or negative attitudes. And the problem was clearly not rooted in a chemical or physical cause, then could you say that VR could be used as a tool to retain or help that person? That it is indeed possible?

A: Yes. However it would be wise to discover which of the several schools of psychotherapy would be best to use the technology. That is which approach to psychotherapy would have the most in common with your goals from treating the patients without getting in over your heads. For example, the Freudian approach, most likely would back off from this concept or method of treatment because of diiferent doctrines. But not everyone of course agreed with Freud and new branches grew in treatment.

Q: I have to agree that you've given me some important issues that must be considered. But overall you think it is a worthwhile concept despite the details needed to be ironed out?

A: Yes. And I'd imagine that those most receptive to your ideas would be those who are younger in this profession and in the field of personality disorders. You might get blown off by the old school of thought. So I would encourage you to look further into psychotherapy branches and find the best suited approach and consult professionals within personality disorders.

*Mr. Mullings has indeed pointed out that the exact set-up and definition of how this technology will be used is no simple matter. However he has confirmed with no doubt that the use of virtual reality is already and can continue further into treatment for patients with depressive disorders.

To investigate the claim of younger people being more receptive to these ideas I briefly interview a personal friend of mine. Michael Fister used to work for an organization called the Phoenix Project in the East Bay city of Concord. This is boarding home for the mentally ill. His responsibilities included personal care and counseling, and to administer their medications. The patients and their problems vary. But we narrowed our conversation of course to just clincal depression.

Q: Do you see in your daily routine and duties any hope of VR successfully treating people with depressive disorders?

A: Oh yeah! Anyway that will get them to be finally interested in their lives again...

Q: What do you mean?

A: I mean that typically when one is depressed they don't want to do anything to help themselves...

Q: So you feel that if contemporary treatment doesn't bring them to a better point, then VR would be a healthy way to encourage them to take some action or interest in their lives?

A: That's exactly the way I see it.

Q: If you yourself were in charge, would you push to see this concept implemented?

A: If we had the budget...sure.

Q: You really believe in your work as helping people live better lives?

A: Yeah, and I support anything that will accomplish that. I like the idea, I think it at least deserves a try.

*Here we see that Michael has more than a positive openness to the proposal, he seems already convinced that the VR is ideal for these patients. He never considered any of the details, he just envisioned the interaction of patients with technology for treatment.

I also considered speaking to one of my other friends Chistopher Leroy. Chris does not work in the field of therapy. As a matter of fact, he had a problem with depression years ago. He offered me some insight from a patient's point of view...

Q: Did the medications help in your case?

A: Yeah...They made me feel better but only when I was taking them. I don't know , maybe I didn't really have chemical imbalance or whatever. Sometimes I would think of them as happy pills that made somebody else a lot of money.

Q: Were you a little concerned about the side effects?

A: Shit yeah!

Q: Okay! After explaining to you about the VR option, would you ever have been interested in that alternative?

A:Yeah...it sounds like it would be a lot of fun to try something like that even if I had an imbalance or not. I mean actuaaly having something cool to do could have motivated me more. I guess I'd prefer it more than just spilling my guts out to a shrink.

Q: So if you're seeking help and you did not think that medications was your solution, you'd be open to this option of treatment?

A: Thumbs up!