Virtual Reality Meets Health2.0 For Kids Wellness & Therapy

vr-kidsOct. 9, 2009 Once upon a time in my former life as a creative director and copywriter, I was asked to create a compelling headline for a learning simulation  where young Stanford law students could practice on an interactive CD leading them down different paths of evidence and ‘what ifs’ rather than risk oopsie moments with humans.

This was long before the days of snazzy virtual reality worlds, and I came up with the headline, “Eliminate the process of trial and error, because there’s no room for error in a trial.”

Today, the same theory applies to kids in sophisticated sims used for Health2.0 therapy, whether for traumatized kids or socio-emotional role play in childrens’ virtual worlds.

Awhile back I wrote about the therapeutic impact of virtual worlds, ranging from pediatric escapism for chronic patients, to healing post traumatic stress disorders in many forms, whether it’s teen violence, rape crisis, or young returnees rehab using Virtual Iraq. (coming soon: Virtual Afghanistan, according to Dr. Belinda Lange from USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies who spoke on the Health2.0 gaming panel)

vr therapyTruth is, interactive  simulations and Q&A is solid training for workers in teen rape crisis centers, peer to peer counselors and anyone interacting with young kids about how to field questions properly and respond calmly and competently via interactive conduits.

Faltering by blurting out the wrong empathetic statement could end up with a child in ‘shutdown’ versus ‘healing’ mode, so these uses of simulations and virtual worlds are amazing in their helpful innovation.

Hearing about all this virtual reality technology, psychology, neuroscience and augmented reality used for things like language learning, cognitive training on how to ‘think better’ and even using video reality technology (VRT) for pain distraction with kids, is all new to me, since I’m usually deep diving in the ‘commercial’ zone of what these platforms are doing with  youth engagement…

Still, I’ve had my own sample of how ‘pain distraction’ VRT works, since my gadget guy dentist began this long ago using headset goggles during multiple root canals long ago… so there’s plenty of untapped potential here; pretty cool.

ptsd Dr. Lange had me transfixed describing new advancements in this field, from SCENT machines to recreate trauma scenarios in safe settings for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and even VIBRATION simulations to make it all more real as part of the complex psychoanalysis involved with PTSD rehabilitation.

I definitely have some questions there, as they evidently can ‘dial down’ the anxiety level in response to the trauma of war torn teens, car accident victims, or other shock victims.

It all seems kinda creepy to me, but evidently the reports show the VR therapy ‘works,’ in speeding up the healing process, however some researchers feel ‘speed’ is not the end goal for recovery, so there’s plenty of debate and controversy swirling around the academic spheres…I’ll be interviewing the USC team more about this soon.

She also touched upon the uses of  ‘train the trainer’ VR technologies for e-therapy with ‘virtual patients’ to fill the holes in some of the educational realms where cutbacks have impeded useful content creation that could help kids in a preventive, healthful capacity rather than way until an ‘intervention’ phase…

This makes sense to me, especially when more studies are showing kids are getting many of their ‘health advice’ nuggets of info online versus face to face, so new media needs to stay ‘au courant’ in imparting the latest updates and care..whether it’s in virtual worlds, social media or the ever-popular SMS mobile texting world.


Youth researchers at Ypulse reported over 50% between 13-24 are accessing health and wellness information on the Internet.

Kids are also “using confessional sites and posting anonymously on message boards to get personal advice more often than traditional support services such as phone hotlines…”

So clearly, there’s a need to explore the ways to use media in POSITIVE, useful ways to leverage the anonymity to keep kids healthy rather than microfocusing on the negative anonymity of ‘cyberbullying’ elements alone. (The ISIS SexTech Conference is slated for Feb 26/27 2010 so save the date!)

The need for youth-relevant health resources is critical, especially when it comes to the way kids are interfacing with social media to solve relational issues and mental health stresses as well as physical issues like sex ed or STD testing masked via mobile for timely access to critical data like SexInfo.

Up next? How the Nintendo Wii is being used in more than exergaming and fitness circles…Would you believe, Parkinson’s Disease? Kids with autism? ADHD? Stay tuned…

New On How ‘Exposure Therapy’ Is Used 4:28

Recent Health2.0 Coverage on Shaping Youth

Hunting Cryptic Cryptids in Cryptozoo

Therapeutic Impact of Virtual Worlds

Virtual Healing: War Torn Teens Face Reality Post-Iraq

Kids Health 2.0: Get Your Head in the Game

In Bed w/Branding: Virtual Worlds Pair W/Childrens Hospitals

Consider This: Virtual Worlds in Institutional Settings

Wii Are Family: A French Look At A Global Gaming Phenom

Social Media/Health 2.0: Blame Drew’s Cancer

BlameAThon: Tweet Your Troubles to Fight Cancer

Mindless Eating Goes Mobile: Health Gamers Unite

Related Resources on VRT/PTSD Therapy

Virtual Iraq Helps Treat Military Veterans (NYDailyNews)

Virtual Healing: War Torn Teens Face Reality Post-Iraq

AMA News: Research Underway On Using Video Games for PTSD

Crispy Gamer on Virtual Iraq Treating PTSD

A Traumatized Soldier’s Virtual Therapist (Gawker)

Invisible Wounds of War (Rand Corp)

PTSD Defined: (From New Yorker article)

“What is PTSD? It’s been called battle fatigue, shell shock, and been recognized as an official medical condition since 1980, when it entered the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as “post traumatic stress disorder” precipitated by any terrifying event or situation–war, a car accident, rape, planes crashing into the World Trade Center–characterized by nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive and uncontrollable thoughts, as well as by emotional detachment, numbness, jumpiness, anger, and avoidance.”

More Resources:

Virtual Reality Treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Cornell University: Program for Anxiety & Trauma Stress Studies

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy: WTC Report (7 pp. pdf)

Interactive Media Institute, San Diego, Virtual Healing, Designing Reality Paper

Center for Really Neat Research (seriously! check out this article on medicine meets VR for kids with disabilities)

RezEd: The Hub for Learning & Virtual Worlds (fabulous comunity of educators and innovators, highly recommend! -AJ)



  1. Although it may sound a bit corny, I actually like looking after my hearing and whilst I do agree with the above poster and I really hope I do not get shot down for expression this, but I guess it is important to take all things in moderation.

  2. Dr. Dawn says

    Do you have any advice for parents with kids that have ADHD? Thanks for the article post.

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