Clinical Virtual Reality for Mental Disorders and Rehabilitation

Albert "Skip" Rizzo (, Creative Technologies, Dept. of Psychiatry and School of Gerontology, University of Southern California

After an early period of inflated expectations and limited delivery, Virtual Reality (VR) technology has emerged as a viable tool for assessment, therapy and rehabilitation applications. VR integrates real time computer graphics, body tracking devices, visual displays, and other sensory input devices to immerse a participant in a computer generated virtual environment (VE) that changes in a natural way with head and body motion. The capacity of VR technology to create controllable, dynamic, interactive three-dimensional stimulus environments, within which behavioral responding can be motivated, recorded and measured, offers clinical assessment and intervention options that are not available using traditional methods. Much like an aircraft simulator serves to test and train piloting ability under a variety of controlled conditions, VR technology has been used to present simulations that target human cognitive, psychological and functional processes that are relevant for assessment, therapy and rehabilitative purposes. This emerging computer-driven simulation technology appears to be well matched to the assessment and treatment needs of persons with various forms of Central Nervous System dysfunction and mental disorders. As R&D in this field continues to grow, VR is expected to continue to advance the scientific study of normal cognitive, psychological and motor processes and to improve our capacity to understand, measure, and treat the symptoms and impairments typically found in clinical populations. This talk will briefly present an introduction to clinical Virtual Reality and highlight work where Artificial Intelligence and autonomous agents may enhance and expand applications in the treatment of mental disorders and physical disabilities. The work that will be concisely summarized includes: the development of Virtual Human Patients that can be used for clinical training purpose, the exposure therapy treatment of soldiers returning from Iraq with PTSD using a Virtual Iraq application, Game-Based VR Motor Rehabilitation approaches for physical therapy following stroke and TBI, and cognitive assessment using contextually relevant VR environments to measure cognitive performance in healthy and clinical populations.

Albert “Skip” Rizzo received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the State University of New York at Binghamton. He is a Research Scientist at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies and has Research Professor appointments with the USC Dept. of Psychiatry and the School of Gerontology. Dr. Rizzo conducts research on the design, development and evaluation of Virtual Reality systems targeting the areas of clinical assessment, treatment and rehabilitation. This work spans the domains of psychological, cognitive and motor functioning in both healthy and clinical populations. In the psychological domain, his latest project has focused on the translation of the graphic assets from the Xbox game, Full Spectrum Warrior, into an exposure therapy application for combat-related PTSD with Iraq War veterans. Additionally, he is conducting research on VR applications that use 360 Degree Panoramic video for exposure therapy (social phobia), role-playing applications (anger management, etc.), and recently has used this technology to capture news scenes for future multimedia journalism applications. He is also working with a team that is creating artificially intelligent virtual patients that clinicians can train and practice skills required for challenging clinical interviews and diagnostic assessments (sexual assault, resistant patients, suicide lethality, etc.). His cognitive work has addressed the use of VR applications to test and train attention, memory, visuospatial abilities and executive function. In the motor domain, he has developed VR Game systems to address physical rehabilitation post stroke, for prosthetic training and following Traumatic Brain Injury. He is also investigating the use of VR for pain distraction at LA Children’s Hospital and is currently designing game-based VR scenarios to address issues of concern with children having autistic spectrum disorder. His research also involves designing and evaluating 3D User Interface devices and interaction methods and he has created a graduate level Industrial and Systems Engineering course at USC entitled, “Human Factors and Integrated Media Systems”. In the area of Gerontology, Dr. Rizzo has served as the program director of the USC Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and is the creator of the Memory Enhancement Seminars for Seniors (MESS) program at the USC School of Gerontology. The MESS program is an 8-week series of seminars designed to assist older persons in learning the skills for memory maintenance and enhancement.
He is the associate editor of the journals, CyberPsychology and Behavior; and The International Journal of Virtual Reality, is Senior Editor of the MIT Press journal, Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, is on a number of editorial boards for journals in the areas of cognition and computer technology (Cognitive Technology; Journal of Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds; Media Psychology) and is the creator of the Virtual Reality Mental Health Email Listserve (VRPSYCH). He has recently guest-edited theme issues for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback on “VR and Psychophysiology”, two new journal issues on “Virtual Rehabilitation” (in CyberPsychology and Behavior and in the International Journal on Disability and Human Development) and one for the MIT journal Presence:Teleoperators and Virtual Environments on "Virtual Reality and Neuropsychology". Previously, he guest edited a theme issue in CyberPsychology and Behavior on “Aging and Information Technology”. He served as General Chair for the IEEE VR2003 conference in Los Angeles and co-chaired this conference in 2004. He was also the Conference Chair of the 4th Annual Workshop on Virtual Rehabilitation on Catalina Island, Los Angeles in Sept. of 2005. In his spare time, he plays rugby, listens to music and rides his motorcycle

Albert "Skip" Rizzo, Ph.D. Research Scientist and Research Professor Institute for Creative Technologies and Dept. of Psychiatry/School of Gerontology University of Southern California, 13274 Fiji Way, Marina del Rey, CA. 90292; email: Office: 310-301-5018 Cell: 213-610-4737 Fax: 310-574-5725