Identifying the Added Value of Virtual Reality for Treatment in Forensic Mental Health: A Scenario-Based, Qualitative Approach

Hanneke Kip (Corresponding Author), Saskia M. Kelders, Kirby Weerink, Ankie Kuiper, Ines Brüninghoff, Yvonne Bouman, Dirk Dijkslag, Lisette J.E.W.C. van Gemert-Pijnen

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Background: Although literature and practice underline the potential of virtual reality (VR) for forensic mental healthcare, studies that explore why and in what way VR can be of added value for treatment of forensic psychiatric patients is lacking.

Goals: This study aimed to identify (1) points of improvements in existing forensic mental health treatment of in- and outpatients, (2) possible ways of using VR that can improve current treatment, and (3) positive and negative aspects of the use of VR for the current treatment according to patients and therapists.

Methods: Two scenario-based methods were used. First, semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight therapists and three patients to elicit scenarios from them. Based on these results, six scenarios about possibilities for using VR in treatment were created and presented to 89 therapists and 19 patients in an online questionnaire. The qualitative data from both methods were coded independently by two researchers, using the method of constant comparison.

Results: In the interviews, six main codes with accompanying sub codes emerged. Ideas for improvement of treatment were grouped around the unique characteristics of the forensic setting, characteristics of the complex patient population, and characteristics of the type of treatment. For possibilities of VR, main codes were skills training with interaction, observation of situations or stimuli without interaction, and creating insight for others into the patient. The questionnaire resulted in a broad range of insights into potential positive and negative aspects of VR related to the current treatment, the patient, the content of a VR application, and practical matters.

Conclusion: VR offers a broad range of possibilities for forensic mental health. Examples are offering training of behavioral and cognitive skills in a realistic context to bridge the gap between a therapy room and the real world, increasing treatment motivation, being able to adapt a VR application to individual patients, and providing therapists with new insights into a patient. These findings can be used to ground the development of new VR applications. Nevertheless, we should remain critical of when in the treatment process and for whom VR could be of added value.
Original languageEnglish
Article number00406
JournalFrontiers in psychology
Issue numberFEB
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2019


  • Contextual inquiry
  • Delinquent behavior
  • Forensic mental health
  • Psychological treatment
  • Virtual reality


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