1. Virtual Reality in the treatment of mental disorders
Virtual Reality, where users can immerse themselves into reactive artificial environments, have been employed in the treatment of specific phobias for more than two decades, but treatment programs targeting several other mental disorders are only now coming within reach. A key benefit of employing this technology is to allow patients to repeatedly experience problematic situations along the treatment process, relying on well-established therapeutical principles while expanding the possibilities for corrective experiences.
A key source of psychological suffering in various mental disorders (such as social anxiety disorder, eating disorders or borderline personality disorder) are difficulties in adequately managing interactions with others. Incorporating opportunities to train social functioning in VR is still in its infancy as it requires to carefully implement cutting-edge artificial intelligence approaches into the behavior of virtual conspecifics, but this technique will likely constitute a central component in several VR treatment programs in the future.
2. Digital psychotherapy: Internet platforms providing evidence-based self-help cognitive behavioral approaches to adults and youth
Internet-based guided self-help (GSH) treatments contribute to a higher accessibility and utilization of treatments as the offer more anonymity, decrease feelings of shame and waiting time. Besides such advantages, there is still considerable research needed on the role of guidance through adequately trained psychologists or psychotherapists. In addition, there is still only little knowledge on the question of who benefits most from internet-based offers as well as on their long-term effect. We developed an internet-based GSH program for adults with binge eating disorder (BES-Online, https://bes-online.unifr.ch/de/page.registration). In a current project of our Digital Psychotherapy Lab Fribourg we adapt BES-Online to the needs of adolescents and young adults and further examine the efficacy of an emotion regulation approach.
3. Digital daily-life assessment of mental health and digital support in overcoming mental problems and disorders: mobile application surveys and Chatbots
For decades researchers aimed to overcome the retrospective recall usually associated with self-report questionnaires, where participants are asked to recall how they felt during the last few days. The validity and reliability of self-report measures in psychopathology have been substantially improved by the development of ecological momentary assessments, EMA. Such EMA approaches are typically provided via a smartphone of the research unit, where the participant receives reminders to fill in questionnaires about mental well-being on a regularly basis and if problems occur. As a next step, our Digital Psychotherapy Lab Fribourg aims to improve the application of such daily-life assessment in developing Apps which may be installed on the participant’s own smartphone. In addition, our Lab is developing and testing prototypes of intelligent messenger systems, so-called Chatbots. These messenger systems are installed via an App on the smartphone and feed the participants with suggestions on how to cope with reoccurring problems. Chatbots may be of high value in order to improve the transfer of strategies built during therapy sessions to daily life situations. In addition, Chatbots include a cutting-edge potential to support long-term changes of behavior, cognitive and impulse/ emotion regulation style of a person during after-care.