Avatar Therapy is not new. The term has been discussed theoretically for nearly twenty years. Now that virtual worlds have reached the mainstream and with the advent of gaming, many people understand the provocative power that exists with an avatar identity. People now live part of their lives virtually. Innovative uses of time both online and off mean that many of us live our lives in a mixed reality.
Three-dimensional virtual world settings offer a level of sensory experience that enhances the therapeutic process. People now live innovatively by possessing both a physical life and a virtual life. Avatars allow for people to innovatively express identities as literal or metaphorical representations of self, such as the inner child or the shadow. With innovative advances in technology and artificial intelligence, we now have the ability to simulate cenarios, manipulating outcomes and reframing experiences. Artificially intelligent avatars used in new and innovative forms of psychotherapy help a client heal from trauma, create a new ending to a dilemma, or work out unfinished business with a deceased loved one. These are but a few examples of how avatar therapy can enhance healing and promote good mental health.
Properly trained practitioners using avatar therapy have a clear understanding of more traditional approaches to distance therapy delivery methods. In addition, avatar therapists have adequate knowledge of the online disinhibition effect as well as trauma-related theories so that clients can be adequately prepared for avatar work. Avatar therapists understand the importance of titrating emotions and properly grounding the client using containment techniques. Keeping the client emotionally safe is paramount in a virtual environment because issues that would typically surface over several months or years often surface much quicker in a virtual world setting.
Avatar therapy moves far beyond the therapist and client’s avatar representations engaging in online traditional talk or text-based therapy. This innovation in psychotherapy combines artificial intelligence and distance technology with elements of traditional psychotherapeutic techniques. Training practitioners for this futuristic work brings innovation to the fields of psychotherapy and counselling education as we prepare practitioners to incorporate avatars and artificial intelligence across time zones thus bringing the art of psychotherapy to the global community.
Introducing avatar therapy to practitioners across all continents allows for many collaborative initiatives in counsellor education and mental health promotion providing for borderless interventions. People experience change with immediacy when virtual worlds, avatars and artificial intelligence are introduced into the psyche. The change is incorporated into their being, making the change permanent and not something to only be imagined.
This essay originally published online:
Nagel, D.M. (2009). The Future Of Innovation: The Use Of Avatars In Psychotherapy. In von Stamm, B. & Trifilova, A. (Eds.). The Future of Innovation [“Wikipedia of Innovation”].
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