Augmented Therapeutics: Designing an Augmented Reality Platform for Arachnophobia Treatment

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • We are at a pivotal turning point where technology can greatly contribute to global health. Technology is well-poised to transform how mental health treatment is delivered and accessed, but this transformation requires the combined support and involvement of developers, health care providers, and designers. The potential for immersive technologies, i.e., Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), to supplement the treatment of mental disorders—including specific phobias, improve the quality of and increase patient access to mental healthcare is promising. Yet, even in the context of the current global mental health crisis, the real-world uptake of AR/VR technologies by clinicians and patients remains low. One of the causes is the disconnect between the designers building AR/VR apps and the patients and care providers in the mental health field. To understand this disconnect, my research focuses on the challenges surrounding a patient’s engagement with mental health applications using arachnophobia as an example. The objective of this thesis is to investigate design practices that can improve patients’ and therapists’ experiences for Augmented Reality Exposure Therapy (ARET). Expert interviews were conducted from the fields of psychology and user experience design to 1) inform the needs and identify the gaps of AR applications, 2) identify the underlying design opportunities for AR, 3) discover the factors impacting the patient therapeutic experience and 4) address the gap between clinicians and designers. Additionally, data from expert interviews, qualitative analysis of existing AR/VR applications, and a literature review were used to develop a framework for examining current design practices in AR/VR applications for arachnophobia and to evaluate these applications from a user experience design perspective. The main outcome of this research takes the form of a prototype called Boo—an interactive AR platform to support exposure therapy for arachnophobia. In particular, it employs user experience design frameworks and fantasy-based serious gaming narratives to enhance the therapist’s and the patient’s experience. While AR technology is relatively new and is still being tested in clinical settings, it is important to consider optimal ways of integrating it within existing clinical models of care, with minimal risks, ethical safeguards and an emphasis on building relationships between patients and providers—and in so doing—empowering the mental health care delivery system.
    My thesis explores the scope of Augmented Reality for developing better healthcare products, services, and experiences.

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    Research Material
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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International