The promise and perils of virtual reality in forensic mental health: Charting a path towards ethical guidelines


VIRTUETHIC is funded by ERA-NET NEURON and the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF).

Grant number: 01GP2424A

Duration: 2024-2027

Project description

Virtual Reality (VR) applications can be used in psychological or psychiatric treatment. In virtual computer-generated worlds, people can make new experiences. Although people know that they are in a simulation, they nevertheless have the feeling that they are present in that environment. Our environment influences our thinking, feeling, and behavior. This effect can be used in therapy: VR enables therapists to influence people and elicit reactions from them. The possibilities of using VR in psychiatry are currently being tested in research. One subfield is forensic psychiatry, which treats and rehabilitates people with a mental health condition who committed a crime. It seems probable that the first VR treatments to prevent aggression will soon be ripe for introduction into forensic practice.

This raises numerous ethical and legal questions that need to be addressed. What are the risks of VR-assisted treatment in forensic psychiatry? How does such treatment affect the therapeutic relationship? Do the fundamental and human rights of people in forensic settings limit the use of VR-supported forensic assessments?

The interdisciplinary consortium will provide answers to these questions in close collaboration with people detained in forensic settings, forensic clinicians from around the globe, and software developers. Combining these findings with the findings from conceptual, ethical, and legal analyses, we will develop ethical guidelines for the use of VR in forensic mental health.