Behavioral Sciences & the Law

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Virtual reality applications for diagnosis, risk assessment and therapy of child abusers

Despite the successful application of virtual reality (VR) in a wide variety of mental disorders and the obvious potentials that VR provides, the use of VR in the context of criminology and forensic psychology is sparse. For forensic mental health professionals, VR provides some advantages that outrun general advantages of VR, e.g., ecological validity and controllability of social situations. Most important seems to be the unique possibility to expose offenders and to train coping skills in virtual situations, which are able to elicit disorder‐relevant behavior—without endangering others. VR has already been used for the assessment of deviant sexual interests, for testing the ability to transfer learned coping skills communicated during treatment to behavior, and for risk assessment of child abusers. This article reviews and discusses these innovative research projects with regard to their impact on current clinical practice regarding risk assessment and treatment as well as other implementations of VR applications in forensic mental health. Finally, ethical guidelines for VR research in forensic mental health are provided.

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