Behavioural Intervention Technologies: Reality or Virtual Reality?

Virtual humans, social media, gaming. Does this sound like the future of mental health care? Well, it could be.

Behavioral intervention technologies (BITs) refer to behavioral and psychological interventions that use technology to address behavioral and mental health outcomes.


BITs have the potential to reach people who cannot otherwise access mental health care. And they include virtual reality, social networking and yes, gaming.

A 2010 evidence review of BITs, on which this blog post is based, revealed that, ‘in urban areas, 75%…of patients…can identify one or more…barriers that…interfere with access to behavioral treatment’ and that these rates are far higher in rural areas.

There is certainly a need for an alternative approach.

BITs can be broken down into six mediums of intervention. There are pros and cons to each.

  1. Videoconferencing, telephone and instant messaging
    Delivering telehealth psychology via videoconferencing, telephone and instant messaging is one way of overcoming barriers such as transport or absence of local services. While there are limitations, like the removal of immediate presence, visual cues or tone of voice, many studies have found that psychological care delivered by over the phone can be as effective as face-to-face treatment.
  1. Web-based intervention
    The efficacy of web-based therapies has been demonstrated for several mental health conditions. They may include interactive tools and ‘pull’ technologies, but despite this, one key limitation has been that patients don’t always stick to this form of intervention.
  1. Mobile technologies
    Like with many other things in our lives, if we can access something immediately, we are more likely to engage with it. So psychotherapy delivered via mobile technologies could provide real-time interaction between therapist and patient. While research is still developing, this, perhaps, has the greatest potential to be successfully woven into the reality of our day-to-day lives.
  1. Social media
    Support via social media is primarily in the form of internet support groups (ISGs). While these have been found to be useful as a source of information and support, some results have been less positive.
  1. Virtual reality and conversational agents
    It is possible that online therapy via simulation may be effective for some mental health disorders. However, the real limitation here, is cost. While virtual humans have the potential to provide support, the medium has not yet been widely implemented and requires further evaluation.
  1. Gaming
    Video games can be highly engaging and, when they are used appropriately, hold a host of possibilities in terms of successful behavior change. Early investigations suggest that the interactive element of gaming could teach behavior change principles as well as motivate uptake.

Overall, while further evaluation is needed, there is much evidence to support the worth of BITs. In a world where digitisation continues to grow, there is no doubt that BITs have the potential to uphold a place in mental health care, now and in the future.

Virtual reality could indeed become, reality.

Online Psychology offers consultations via telephone, live text chat and videoconferencing, a leading method of BIT.

For more information, please contact us on 1300 088 444.

This blog is based on the article, Behavioral Intervention Technologies: Evidence review and recommendations for future research’, David C. Mohr, Ph.D., Michelle Nicole Burns, Ph.D., Stephen M. Schueller, Ph.D., Gregory Clarke, Ph.D., and Michael Klinkman, MD, MS. Published in final edited form as: Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2010 July 1; 35(4): 332-338. Doi:10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2013.03.008.