Swanswell showcases progress on new virtual therapy project

10 November 2011

Swanswell’s unveiled the latest progress of its research in to how computer game technology could be used in the treatment of substance misuse.

Swanswell - a national charity which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug use – was invited to the Interactive Technologies and Games: Education, Health and Disability conference at Nottingham Trent University to showcase its work.

Swanswell’s currently working with the University of Reading as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to explore the use of virtual reality-based games to help in the development of coping skills and to reduce the craving for illicit drugs and alcohol.

Using the outcomes of various studies and its own research with people affected by alcohol and drug misuse, the team’s developing interactive software that can be used in existing services to provide even more innovative ways of delivering treatment.

The idea involves a client using a virtual reality headset to access a number of computer-generated scenes that allow them to make decisions. Each decision they make will lead to more events as the scene unfolds.

People using the technology can then ‘move’ between the scenes, which include a domestic scene with drug and alcohol-related cues, a street scene featuring phone boxes, discarded drink cans and drug paraphernalia and a bar scene.   

They also have the opportunity to interact with characters and onscreen prompts, where the individual’s responses can alter the game later on.

Liam North, KTP Associate at Swanswell, is leading work on the project and said: ‘There’s lots of promising evidence out there for the use of computer game-based therapy, so we’re really excited about where this project is going.

We’ve involved clients from the start because ultimately it will be those accessing treatment who will be using this software, so it has to be realistic.

Using their own experiences and feedback, we’ve developed a number of typical situations they may find themselves in. The game helps them identify the best way to deal with those situations, providing them with the skills they can then use in real life.

‘We believe that virtual therapies such as this can play a big part in the treatment and recovery of people affected by substance misuse in the future.’

Dr Faustina Hwang, one of the Academic Supervisors for this project, added: ‘This is an exciting partnership for the whole team, enabling the development and application of the University’s expertise in this exciting area.

‘Our research so far suggests that there is real potential for this work to change the way drug and alcohol support services are delivered, in a way that will significantly benefit clients.’

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