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Time to test Virtual Reality psychotherapy to improve accessibility to mental health services

A new virtual therapy project from Latvia helps young people to develop important skills in emotion control.

15 June 2021

The development of a Virtual Therapy Laboratory in cooperation with the Adolescent and Youth Psychotherapy Center in Latvia is a thanks to a couple of lucky coincidences and our common mission of supporting young people.

In April TietoEVRY country manager for Latvia, Valērija Vārna met well-known psychologist Nils Sakss Konstantinovs during a radio interview about online bullying and The Polite Type initiative. The pair realised that together they could do a lot to help young people through these difficult times, so the idea for a virtual psychotherapy laboratory was born.

Just a couple of weeks later, TietoEVRY and Latvia’s Adolescent and Youth Psychotherapy Center signed a memorandum on the establishment of a virtual therapy laboratory. The aim is to provide highly-qualified and evidence-based mental-health support for children and adolescents in Latvia.

Combining expertise for a good cause

“We brought together expertise from several different countries and various technical and psychological backgrounds,” says Valērija. “The virtual therapy laboratory is currently being developed in close cooperation between experts from our Latvian office and the Enhanced Reality team in the Nordics, with input from the Adolescent and Youth Psychotherapy Center too.”

The Virtual Therapy Laboratory is designed to support the mental health of adolescents and young people with the help of next-generation technologies. As physical distance, national restrictions and the risk of infections must be taken into consideration during the pandemic, the pilot project will focus on providing remote support for developing important emotion-control skills.

“We brought together expertise from several different countries and various technical and psychological backgrounds,” says Valērija.

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“At TietoEVRY, we believe technologies should bring value to society. This successful collaboration between mental health professionals and information technology experts from both Latvia and Finland will greatly benefit children, adolescents and their families. The virtual therapy laboratory is the first step to making such innovations and services more accessible to people, and our future ambition is to make this therapy method accessible in other regions as well,” says Valērija.

According to a study by the Center for Adolescent and Youth Psychotherapy, mental health has deteriorated during the Covid-19. Some 74% of young people surveyed report that they experience difficulties in the areas of learning, depression, intrusive thoughts and irritability, as well as excessive use of computers and social media.

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Nils points out the benefits of using virtual therapy: “This is an understandable and interesting method for children. It is increasingly used around the world to help reduce the risks of computer and mobile-phone addiction, concentration problems, signs of stress and aggression, as well as other common mental health disorders in children and young people.”

Technologically mediated wellness is gaining momentum

During recent years, TietoEVRY’s Enhanced Reality (XR) team has been involved in an innovation ecosystem project funded by Finland’s national funding agency, Business Finland. The project has focused on the mental wellbeing of people engaged in expert work, with the aim of identifying the benefits of using digital technology in measuring stress levels and lowering or preventing stress. Our team developed a range of solutions in virtual and augmented reality to explore the effect of immersive experiences on employee productivity.

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“Immersive technology is the ultimate tool for empowering people and enhancing their wellbeing and performance. By training in virtual reality, we aim to retain a focused and calm state without using any technology, making the users more resilient in any situation,” says Ksenia Avetisova, Head of XR at TietoEVRY.

The experience gained during the Finnish project laid the foundation for creating a strong concept for the multi-user virtual therapy lab in Latvia. The technology is relatively new, and requires careful consideration of pros and cons. In June, under the close supervision of mental-health professionals, TietoEVRY is launching a clinical study specifically designed to assess the psychotherapy use cases of the lab.

“Immersive technology is the ultimate tool for empowering people and enhancing their wellbeing and performance", says Ksenia.

The pandemic has enormously increased the need for therapy

The past year has brought evidence of accelerated digital advancement in many areas of life and business. Not surprisingly, we have turned our attention to the cases that require human connection and presence the most – such as mental health and wellbeing.

“With the top professionals in this area, we are working on creating a virtual therapy environment that is comfortable, safe and easily accessible from different geographical locations. Virtual-reality technology provides an unparalleled opportunity to reach out to the exact target audience of young adults and deliver the experience with a positive impact. Our diverse team of experts approaches the initiative with a wide range of skills, an open mindset, and from the users’ point of view,” says Ksenia.

The aim is to gather evidence on the desired features and build a tool that is flexible enough to address the changing needs of professionals and patients.

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Ksenia Avetisova

Head of Enhanced Reality Lab, Strategic Innovation Lead, Data-Driven Businesses

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