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Virtual reality applications for the treatment and risk assessment of child abusers: old wine in new skins?

Peter Fromberger

 

Despite the successful application of virtual reality (VR) in a wide variety of mental disorders and the obvious potentials that VR provides, the use of VR in the context of criminology and forensic psychology is sparse. For forensic mental health professionals, VR provides some advantages that outrun general advantages of VR, e.g., ecological validity and controllability of social situations. Most important seems to be the unique possibility to expose offenders and to train coping skills in virtual situations, which are able to elicit disorder‐relevant behavior—without endangering others. VR has already been used for the assessment of deviant sexual interests (Fromberger et al., 2015; Renaud et al., 2012), for testing the ability to transfer learned coping skills communicated during treatment to behavior, and for risk assessment of child abusers (Fromberger et al., 2018). The keynote reviews and discusses these innovative research projects with regard to their impact on current clinical practice regarding risk assessment and treatment as well as other implementations of VR applications in forensic mental health.

 

Peter Fromberger, Ph.D. is Postdoctoral Researcher at the Human Medical Center Göttingen, Clinic-for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy – Forensic Psychiatry, Germany. Peter’s doctoral thesis examined the possibilities to detect deviant pedosexual interests based on eye-movements. Peter received the Eberhard-Schorsch-Award of the German Association for Sexual Research (DGfS) and the award for Empirical  Research in Forensic Psychiatry of the German Association for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (DGPPN) for his thesis. His post-doc research comprises the usability of digital techniques (Virtual Reality, web-based interventions) in the context of sexual deviancy.