What can VR do for psychology training…a lot it seems! #EDUC90970

Photo by Hammer & Tusk on Unsplash

To be honest VR is something I have been fearful of, not in the sense that it causes me great anxiety but to the extent that it has seemed something too overwhelming to understand, let alone teach with.

I can thankfully say I no longer view mixed reality tools in this way, largely due to reading about the experience with clinical simulations for paramedicine (Cochrane et al., 2020). Since watching Stephen Aiello’s YouTube video and hearing from him in class this week I have been looking into applications of VR in the teaching of psychology. My research for the most part resulted in information about how VR can be used in the therapeutic context to treat clients but much less in relation to how we can use it to train novice psychologists and counsellors.

A few researchers who I would call ‘cutting edge’ (given that they conducted this research over 10 years ago) have explored use of virtual reality technologies in the training of psychologists. Wilkinson and Bazile (2019) used augmented and immersive reality to create virtual role plays. The VR headset allowed students to watch the role-play from the first-person perspective and experience what it would be like sitting in a room with a client. Students highlighted the authenticity of the simulated experience; researchers reported that whilst observing the students during simulation they frequently made use of non-verbal gestures such as nodding their head which is indicative of a real-life response. As a practicing clinician I can certainly see how this experience would exceed the traditional role-play as a more authentic learning opportunity.

Parsons et al. (2008) reported on the use of Virtual Human Agent (VHA) technology to create a role play with a Virtual Patient (VP). They found that as the VP could interact with the novice clinicians this enabled them to behave as they might normally during a clinical encounter.  What I found interesting as I explored VHA further was that the technology is now so advanced that virtual agents are being used to deliver health care information and support! The caveat here is that such VHA are not being used in place of an actual human but in situations where supply outweighs demand. Still, the mind boggles.

Creating my own immersive reality tools to use in my teaching still feels a little beyond me at this point, unless it was tackled as part of a team, but use of virtual reality technology such as SeekBeak may be an initial step I could take. I for one really enjoyed exploring this technology and can see many potential uses in creating authentic learning experiences for psychology trainees. For now, immersive reality can be a vision for the future, especially since we are all also still in lockdown and video creation in public places feels like a dream…..


Cochrane, T., Aiello, S., Cook, S., Aguayo, C., & Wilkinson, N. (2020). MESH360: a framework for designing MMR-enhanced clinical simulations. Research in Learning Technology28. https://doi.org/10.25304/rlt.v28.2357

Parsons, T. D., Kenny, P., Ntuen, C. A., Pataki, C. S., Pato, M. T., Rizzo, A. A., St-George, C., & Sugar, J. (2008). Objective structured clinical interview training using a virtual human patient. Studies in health technology and informatics, 132, 357–362.

Wilkinson, T., & Bazile, K. (2019). Counseling students’ experiences viewing virtual reality case studies. Teaching and Supervision in Counseling ,1 (2), 85-97. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7290/tsc010206   

Published by Chelsea Hyde

Lecturer in Educational Psychology Senior School Psychologist

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