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When the undisputed founder of technotherapy, Dr. Ani`ma agreed to grant me an interview, I knew it would be special. I gladly accepted a full-body virtual interview not knowing what to expect. The virtual reality (VR) interview made sense; convenient, no travel, just me sitting on my back porch in my robe and slippers in front of the old voice processor asking the famous technotherapist questions. I never anticipated that Dr. Ani`ma would apply techniques to me once I entered the virtual world.
After putting on the VR suit and glasses, I programmed the domain given to me by Dr. Ani`ma. The sounds of a congested urban environment permeated my consciousness: sirens, horns, the hum of electric vehicles, people talking, the smell of trash. Slowly, these blended together into a harmonious steady tone much like the meditative OM. This OM sound lifted me up and visually propelled me into a large skyscraper. I entered a top floor office that had Dr. Ani`ma's name on the door. The OM sound drew me to a comfortable chair. After sitting down, I saw a multiple-sided hologram of Jungian archetypes (the eternal child, mother, father, youth, elder, etc.) sitting in front of me in a meditative pose. I was not clear how to proceed, so I greeted the figure, introduced myself, and asked for Dr. Ani`ma. The image responded: "We are Dr. Ani`ma. Are these images acceptable to you and for the audience you report to? If not, we can change them." I said they were acceptable. However, now I wish I had said "no" just to see what other images Dr. Ani`ma could use.
What follows is my interview, although not in the traditional format. As you will see, it was a body and mind experience that is hard to capture in standard interview format. As presented here, I have intermingled the description of my experiences within the actual interview. To avoid confusion, my experiential phenomena is placed between brackets.
Kris: Dr. Ani`ma, you appear to me as multiple images. Could you explain what these images represent?
Dr. Ani`ma: Male and female, young and old, fool and sage. You may think this sounds trite. I agree. I project these images because I enjoy them.
[I experienced a slight uplifting sensation at this point, similar to going up in an elevator].
Kris: I heard you use morphing in therapy. Is morphing effective?
[After asking this question, the room was cast in a shadowy gloom and was filled with staccato sounds. I began feeling an overwhelming sense of doom and my heart began to race. A small dog approached, barking and growling. Had I asked the wrong question? Did I insult the famous technotherapist? Had I made the fatal mistake of challenging Dr. Ani`ma's credibility? Just as I began to be frightened by these sensations, the sounds mellowed, the gloom lifted, and the dog changed into a crying kitten. The kitten walked slowly up to my chair, swished against my leg, jumped in my lap, and nestled into a gently purring ball. My fear quickly subsided, and I began petting the kitten. As the kitten purred, I experienced an unusual sense of calm.]
Dr. Ani`ma: I will let you interpret for your audience the effectiveness of morphing techniques.
Kris: How did you become involved in applying technology to therapy?
Dr. Ani`ma: After receiving university training, I was discouraged by the limits of conventional treatment methods.
[At this moment, I found myself within the confines of a psychiatric treatment facility. The walls were decorated in soothing mauve and blue tones adorned with tranquil Impressionist poster art. I, along with 45 other patients, was in line for morning medications. A nurse technician was dispensing individual pre-packaged doses of antidepressants. An art therapist was pushing her portable studio recruiting participants for a group experiential exercise. A social worker was announcing a stress management group beginning in 10 minutes. Suddenly my experience was disrupted by Dr. Ani`ma's voice.]
Dr. Ani`ma: I was required to take a technology course and realized that hardware and software were not merely electromechanical pulses, but extensions of human cognition and creative imagination. This awareness was supplemented by my access to the Net, or what we called the information superhighway back then. By communicating with people on-line, I discovered that I could portray images of myself through electronic communication. I realized that many of the same transference and counter-transference phenomena occurred in electronic correspondence as occurred in fact-to-face conversations. I began to experience psychic and spiritual connections with individuals I had never met. People seemed to be more willing to discuss interpersonal struggles, fears, and elations on-line. The almost instantaneous feedback of on-line communications seemed to enhance an individuals' ability to process psychic conflict.
I began to develop intimate relationships with people from different cultures around the world. I experimented by first assimilating and then projecting the cultures of those with whom I was communicating. It was as if we surpassed the barriers of physical space, time, and culture by exchanging life's essence via telecommunications. I had many mental experiences similar to those portrayed in such classic works as Joseph Conrad's book, The Heart of Darkness, or Francis Coppola's movie, Apocalypse Now. After writing my dissertation on these phenomena, I joined a group of young practitioners who were providing therapy via telecommunications. As technology progressed, we began to experiment with other technology based therapy forms such as holographic visualization, computer generated life scripts.
Kris: You describe situations that allowed you to work with individuals. Were you able to use these techniques to work with groups and families?
Dr. Ani`ma: You wisely anticipated our next developments. While telecommunications worked well with one person, it did not work with families or groups. We explored the power of simulated environments like the on-line interactive computer games used by kids. We created simulated groups and families with real and fictitious characters in order to gain the therapeutic impact we desired. We discovered that the two most effective types of fictitious characters were emotional support providers and mentors. We found simulated environments that used a home setting to have the longest term results. Once a therapeutic environment was created for one family's problem, any family with a similar problem could have the experience on their own time with little assistance from us. The only change required was for a technician to substitute new video of family members and their homes into the simulation. These therapeutic environments were most effective when each family member worked over and over on their problem. In some environments, we allowed supportive input from family members and friends throughout the world. Of course, virtual reality improvements allowed us to move from the early text-based simulations into the whole-body realm.
Kris: This sounds really fascinating, but wasn't your clientele limited to upper middle class intellectuals? How do you answer the critics who say that technotherapy is just a psychological mind game for the idle rich?
Dr. Ani`ma: You touch on an issue that was valid in the beginning of my work. When we were first developing technotherapy techniques, computers were expensive and people had to pay for access to the Net. Then passage of "public access to technology" legislation by the United Nations eliminated Net costs as a barrier. In addition, after VR suits became fashionable around 2010, it was easy to find good quality models in Goodwill thrift stores. Now, technology is accessible to anyone who is willing to receive services.
Kris: I see how technotherapy can work with some mental illnesses, but can it help the teenage single parent having problems raising her child?
[No sooner had I asked the question when suddenly I found myself in a room with a teenage mother exasperated by her 2 year old son who was throwing a tantrum. The teenage mother was out of control, yelling for the child to stop. The child turned to me as if seeking guidance, then started physically hitting me while making verbal demands. I do not have children and was taken aback by this attack. I began backing away at which time a grandmotherly figure appeared engaging the child by whispering to him. Startled by the whisper rather than the anticipated reprimand, the child strained to hear the grandmother. The grandmother recognized the child's anger and offered alternatives that redirected the child's negative behavior. Taking on a role as mentor, the grandmother had us practice acknowledging the feeling underlying the child's behavior, setting limits, and explaining consequences for misbehavior.]
Kris: I now see how training can occur using VR techniques, but can you help people who are victims of domestic violence, poverty or discrimination?
Dr. Ani`ma: I acknowledge victims of society's problems are a challenge for technotherapy. We must first make clear to the client that the victim often bears little blame for the problem. However, it is important that the client break out of a victim's mentality. Here are several parts of our experimental therapy for victims.
[A selection board appeared with buttons labeled with names of famous social, political and religious leaders. I pressed "Ghandi" and saw a scene of this imprisoned man inspiring his followers by his passivity and depth of character. I pressed "Jesus" and saw the power of Jesus forgiving his tormentors while nailed to the cross. I pressed "Martin Luther King" and saw the power of solidarity as civil rights protesters were being victimized by racists attacks of dogs and fire hoses.]
There was a shift in the environment as the setting changed.
[I was sitting on a park bench watching two families on the playground, one well dressed, the other obviously poor. After watching both, Dr. Ani`ma approached and asked what I was seeing. In analyzing the scenes, I realized that rich and poor seek similar goals, i.e., to be content and happy and in control of their lives. I explained that an economically rich environment can be poor in love and vice versa. Families can be rich or poor in many ways other than money. Dr. Ani`ma advised me to apply my insights to my own situation.]
Kris: Has technotherapy changed the age old debate on whether therapy is more of a science than an art?
Dr. Ani`ma: Not really. I consider an assessment a science. However, designing virtual environments that are theoretically sound is still an art. Because of the unlimited capacity of VR, I must analyze each psychological problem, diagnose the situation, select a theoretical approach for intervention, and construct a virtual environment that will result in effective treatment. The actual construction of the virtual environments is a science. Monitoring the outcomes and feedback is a science. Finally, restructuring and fine tuning the environment based on feedback is an art. So you see, technotherapy, like other therapy, is both a science and an art.
Kris: What are some of your current technotherapy projects?
Dr. Ani`ma: One current project uses VR to provide safe and secure cognitive environments for victims of violence. In these environments, victims learn to improve sleep hygiene, achieve relaxation, and begin to trust again. Our intervention is based on theories of natural science. I use the multi-sensory effects of virtual environments to simulate natural settings. These natural settings help people attune to the basic elements of water, earth, fire, and air that provide grounding and insight for spiritually soothing experiences.
Kris: The technotherapy techniques you have described seem quite powerful. Should we fear them falling into the wrong hands or being used inappropriately?
Dr. Ani`ma: We should fear this not only for technotherapy, but for all therapeutic techniques. Throughout the history of therapy, techniques have been misused. For example, hypnosis has been used to entertain and con. Behavior modification was used to train dolphins to deliver explosives. You can help the profession by pointing out the professional responsibility of being skeptical and alert to misuse. The effectiveness and ethics of my techniques need to be challenged. My critics teach me more than my supporters.
Kris: How do your techniques apply to individuals who do not want to receive services?
Dr. Ani`ma: Technology has not been able to change human nature and make the involuntary client more compliant with treatment. However, I am working with state and federal agencies to provide therapy to offenders and criminals who are mandated to receive treatment under state monitored programs. This program allows even the most hardened and discouraged individuals to receive daily VR treatment without leaving their cells. While reducing the need for a practitioner to enter an unsafe environment, we provide an emotionally safe place for the aggressive and resistant client. Our therapy devices are being integrated with electronic monitoring devices. Whenever the monitor detects a potential violation of the court ordered rehabilitation plan, the technotherapy is automatically administered.
I have enjoyed this interview. It is now time for me to return to my lab. Would you like to experience a safe therapeutic VR touch that is in beta test phase?
Kris: Yes, thank you.
[My last experience was that of the room receding into a lush green forest. I heard the sounds of birds, smelled rain on wet leaves, and felt oxygen charged forest air entering my lungs. Shafts of sunlight beamed through the moist air. Then one bright ray fell upon me with a glowing warmth. The faint sound of a chant entered my consciousness. I closed my eyes to enjoy the moment and realized that I was being hugged by mother earth herself. The embrace encompassed each of my senses and surrounded my body with pulsation's of harmonious unity. I opened my eyes to find myself standing in my backyard, draped in my robe, holding my slippers, and wiggling my toes in the cool wet grass.]
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