It may sound like a scene out of a science fiction movie, but what if you could play the role of a virtual therapist in the body of Sigmund Freud, giving yourself advice?
While this may blow your mind, and maybe even creep you out a little, it’s an idea researchers at the University of Barcelona are studying. They found that 80% of people studied looked and dealt with a problem differently after going through the virtual body-swapping with Freud and giving themselves advice.
How Can Virtual Reality Help with Therapy?
In this type of virtual reality (VR) therapy, participants sit in a virtual therapist’s office across from Freud. You begin talking about your problems, and just as you think Freud is about to give you the sound advice you’ve been waiting for, the experience does a 180.
You suddenly find yourself in Freud’s body, staring back at an avatar that’s supposed to be you. You’re giving your avatar self the advice you may have always thought, but never really said aloud. At the end of your therapy session, you’re back in your avatar, staring back at Freud who’s now saying the words you just told yourself when you were “in his body.”
Mel Slater, Ph.D., professor at the University of Barcelona who led the group of researchers, recently told Inverse.com, “What the body-swapping enables is that you become ‘the friend’ — you see and hear yourself from the outside as if you were someone else.”
Slater says this type of virtual reality therapy works because many of us are better at giving our friends advice than ourselves.
“The critical difference with the body-swapping is you can think about it as if you’re another person listening to someone else’s problem,” Slater told Fast Company.
Why Freud? Slater sent out a survey to see who people would most like to talk to about their problems and get advice from and Freud came out on top, followed by Angelina Jolie.
This type of therapy is just at the beginning of its research as Slater is working on conducting a clinical study with people battling depression. It would use virtual reality to help them speak to themselves using the same body-swapping idea, minus Freud. No word just yet as to who would be in the hot seat. Right now, this type of virtual therapy is only designed for people dealing with the average troubles of daily life, not for those with mental health problems.