TBS staff learn how to deal with aggression thanks to VR training

Last Friday Stéphanie Klein Tuente and Wim Veling visited BNR’s studio for an interview. Here she told about the Vrapt research in which VR is used to prevent aggression. Listen to the broadcast here.

In a new treatment for tbs’ers (TBS-order, in Dutch: ter-beschikking-stelling: this translates as ‘detained under hospital order’) students from the University of Groningen, virtual reality offers a solution: ‘With tbs’ers you can’t say: go outside and practice and see if things are improving’.

Wim Veling, deputy professor of psychiatry at the University of Groningen, says that there are training courses for people to learn how to deal with aggression, but these are often role plays. It asks quite a bit of people’s imagination and motivation to do so. That’s often a problem with this type of treatment and certainly also with tbs who have often been stuck for a long time and have had to undergo a lot of treatments. They often don’t have much appetite to go again’.

Role-playing and measuring physical reactions

Stéphanie Klein Tuente, researcher at the University of Groningen, gives the trainings. We developed the training with researchers, experienced practitioners and programmers. I train the practitioners in the tbs clinic to use this training with patients’. The researchers also measure heart rate and skin conduction: ‘In order to be able to give feedback on the physical reaction’.

What do you do when someone crawls into the supermarket?

The practitioner has control over the virtual environment and can also control a character, an avatar. This allows you to play a role-playing game in the virtual environment. That can become very real. ‘We have a supermarket environment where someone crawls in front of us. The idea is that you address someone on their behavior. You can do that in all sorts of different ways.’ Tbs patients often react more violently than ‘normal’ people, says Klein Tuente. “So, they immediately become verbally aggressive.”

VR can be used in all possible situations

The results are not expected until the middle of next year, as the research is still in progress, but a number of people have already finished the treatment, Veling says. These people tell us that in their daily environment, which is now a tbs environment, they are better able to estimate what is happening and to better control their behavior. That, of course, is the intention.’

The researchers are looking into whether their treatment method can also be used in other situations. Virtual reality can be used for all possible social situations, for example for people who are afraid of groups.

More about the so-called VRAPT training, developed by UMCG and the University of Groningen in collaboration with Tilburg University, TU Delft and CleVR B.V.