Helping Those with Hoarding Disorder Through Virtual Reality

May 15, 2019


Clinical Psychology Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Hamilton: So one of the disorders that we focus on in the REBL lab is hoarding disorder, and we are interested in this idea of treatment motivation.

So people that struggle with hoarding typically are slow to seek treatment or really resist being in treatment, and so we have implemented this idea of using virtual reality to recreate their home environment in VR.

Associate Professor of Psychology Gregory Chasson: We decided to bring in adults with hoarding disorder, confirmed through diagnostic interviewing, and to sit down with them and design the first or second floor of their home in a virtual-rendering software that you can get freely available on most app stores to create or interior design their home, and to do so in a way where we can remove all of the clutter that exists.

We immerse them in this virtual environment using a typical Android phone. And we get a sense of what their experience is as they walk through a virtual rendering of their home without any of the clutter. What we found from the pilot study is that it did, in fact, encourage people to get treatment.

We don't have any data on whether or not they pursue treatment, that would be a next step in the research process, but what we found is that their motivation to seek treatment and their enthusiasm about treatment increased from pre- to post-immersion in this world.

And all of the ratings were that they really enjoyed and appreciated this experience, so overall the news is preliminary very good and we're excited about the next step, which is to combine this approach with existing treatments to see if it enhances their ability to do the treatment and to gain from it.