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Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources (PBMHR) provides care for adults with serious mental illnesses, children with serious emotional disturbances, and individuals with an addiction or developmental disability. They were seeking a way to offer after-care for patients being treated for addiction and also wanted to be able to broaden their reach outside of Southeast Mississippi.
Several years ago, Designing Digitally created a 3D replica of the PBMHR campus called Virtual Clearview. It was hosted on a virtual world platform called Second Life. Patients would create a Second Life account in order to access the virtual island where they could meet with counselors and other patients. This worked well for PBMHR, although many of the patients had difficulty accessing and using the platform. There was also a lack of privacy as everyone on the island could see and interact with anyone.
PBMHR came back to Designing Digitally searching for a solution to these problems. This time, Designing Digitally created a web-based virtual world that is accessible directly through the PBMHR website so learners do not need to download an additional application. The private virtual world contains meeting spaces in the Campus area where counselors can schedule individual and group sessions. The scheduling system is designed so that a single room can accommodate multiple meetings at the same time. This feature maximizes space in the virtual world and goes unnoticed to users. For example, two counselors could be conducting group sessions in the same meeting room, but neither group would see the other.
Designing Digitally created 3D environments for meetings and presentations of all sizes including 1-on-1 meetings, groups of 3-5, groups of 10-20, and a large space that can hold around 50 participants. The lecture halls have a video board, slideshow presenter, and an interactive whiteboard for presentations.
In addition to the Campus area, Virtual Clearview has a Beach for relaxation and casual discussions. There is also a Forest area with a shelter for small break-out meetings and a campfire that can be used for formal or informal discussions. While a virtual space cannot provide the same experience as visiting a real beach or forest, these familiar, low-stress environments help patients feel relaxed and comfortable.
Other features include customizable avatars, text and voice chat, and social games and interactions.
PBMHR is currently piloting the virtual world with a small group of participants and plans to release it to a larger group in a few months. So far counselors have enjoyed using this additional resource to connect with patients. Patients like the ability to join sessions without having to travel to the facility. They have also reported feeling a bit more anonymous, which allows them to be more open. Millennials have grown up using computers and electronic devices as a major form of communication, so using text and voice chat comes naturally to them.
Counselors are conducting research into other effects of the virtual environment. The human element isn’t removed, although it is significantly reduced. There can be pro’s and con’s to this, but so far group sessions appear to be very successful in this space.