Sep 03, 2012
Therapy in Virtual Environments - Clinical and Ethical Issues
Telemed J E Health. 2012 Jul 23;
Authors: Yellowlees PM, Holloway KM, Parish MB
Abstract. Background: As virtual reality and computer-assisted therapy strategies are increasingly implemented for the treatment of psychological disorders, ethical standards and guidelines must be considered. This study determined a set of ethical and legal guidelines for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)/traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a virtual environment incorporating the rights of an individual who is represented by an avatar. Materials and Methods: A comprehensive literature review was undertaken. An example of a case study of therapy in Second Life (a popular online virtual world developed by Linden Labs) was described. Results: Ethical and legal considerations regarding psychiatric treatment of PTSD/TBI in a virtual environment were examined. The following issues were described and discussed: authentication of providers and patients, informed consent, patient confidentiality, patient well-being, clinician competence (licensing and credentialing), training of providers, insurance for providers, the therapeutic environment, and emergencies. Ethical and legal guidelines relevant to these issues in a virtual environment were proposed. Conclusions: Ethical and legal issues in virtual environments are similar to those that occur in the in-person world. Individuals represented by an avatar have the rights equivalent to the individual and should be treated as such.