Avatar-Facilitated Therapy and Virtual Worlds: Next-Generation Tools for Physical Rehabilitation, Psychiatry, and Behavioral Medicine


May 19, 2011


Walter Greenleaf


Stanford University


Virtual environments have been used for more than two decades in research laboratories and university clinics to facilitate cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapeutic approaches in behavioral medicine. Research showing the value of virtual environments to physical rehabilitation also abounds; there is an impressive body of literature demonstrating efficacy and therapeutic value.

Until recently, the cost of virtual environments has been a barrier for acceptance outside of the university environment. Now, the reduced cost and increased voracity of virtual environments have made them practical for everyday use. A new generation of technology has evolved, based on multi-user social virtual worlds, aided by natural user interfaces such as the Kinect System.

This presentation will provide an overview of current virtual environment systems, and will explore their utility in clinical medicine, training, and supervision. Examples will be provided showing virtual environments that are being used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), provide social skills training to children with autism, provoke cue reactivity in substance abuse treatment, treat phobias and anxiety disorders, and other examples from clinical psychology and behavioral medicine. Additional examples will be presented from clinical rehabilitation; stroke and traumatic brain injury recovery, physical therapy and occupational therapy, and disability solutions.


Walter Greenleaf

Walter Greenleaf, Ph.D. is a research scientist, trained in Neuro and Bio-Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. His current research and product development efforts focuses on the use of simulation technology to improve neurological, cognitive and physical rehabilitation.
Walter Greenleaf is the founder of InWorld Solutions, (InWorldSolutions.com) a company specializing in the therapeutic use of Virtual Worlds for behavioral health care, and is the CEO for Virtually Better, (VirtuallyBetter.com) a company that develops virtual environments for the treatment of phobias, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and treatment of addictions.
Dr. Greenleaf is known internationally as an early pioneer in medical applications for virtual environments, and is attributed as a founder of the field. He has designed and developed numerous clinical products over the last twenty five years. He has created products in the fields of surgical simulation, 3D medical visualization, telerehabilitation , clinical informatics, clinical decision support, point-of-care clinical data collection, ergonomic evaluation technology, automatic sleep-staging, psychophysiological assessment, as well as simulation-assisted rehabilitation technologies.
Walter Greenleaf is scientific adviser and proposal reviewer for the U.S. Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Education. Dr. Greenleaf founded the California State University Center for Disabilities and has helped found two professional research associations; the International Society of Virtual Rehabilitation, and the International Association of CyberPsychology. He serves as an invited judge for the Annual Medical Device Design Excellence Awards.
Dr. Greenleaf has appeared on CNN, NextStep, Beyond 2000, and The Phil Donahue Show as an expert and promulgator regarding next generation technologies in medicine.