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A therapy system for post-traumatic stress disorder using a virtual agent and virtual storytelling to reconstruct traumatic memories

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Author: Tielman, M.L. · Neerincx, M.A. · Bidarra, R. · Kybartas, B. · Brinkman, W.P.
Publisher: Springer New York LLC
Source:Journal of Medical Systems, 8, 41, 1-10
Identifier: 777395
doi: doi:10.1007/s10916-017-0771-y
Article number: 125
Keywords: Conversational agent · E-health · Mental health · Ontology · Post-traumatic stress disorder · Question system · Relational agent · Therapy system · Virtual agent · Virtual reality · Defence Research · Defence, Safety and Security · 2015 Human & Operational Modelling · PCS - Perceptual and Cognitive Systems


Although post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is well treatable, many people do not get the desired treatment due to barriers to care (such as stigma and cost). This paper presents a system that bridges this gap by enabling patients to follow therapy at home. A therapist is only involved remotely, to monitor progress and serve as a safety net. With this system, patients can recollect their memories in a digital diary and recreate them in a 3D WorldBuilder. Throughout the therapy, a virtual agent is present to inform and guide patients through the sessions, employing an ontology-based question module for recollecting traumatic memories to further elicit a detailed memory recollection. In a usability study with former PTSD patients (n = 4), these questions were found useful for memory recollection. Moreover, the usability of the whole system was rated positively. This system has the potential to be a valuable addition to the spectrum of PTSD treatments, offering a novel type of home therapy assisted by a virtual agent. © 2017, The Author(s).