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Therapy and Support

Virtual Reality for AA Meetings

In yet another example about how our lives continue to be upended by COVID-19, a recent piece in the New York Times highlighted the particular challenges of Alcoholic Anonymous members who can no longer attend weekly, in-person meetings.

This is a major health issue given that meetings are central to recovery, and isolation, stress, and anxiety can all act as triggers to relapse. As the author notes:

“During a time ‘people who can drink normally’ — A.A. lingo for nonalcoholics — are stocking up on liquor, A.A. members, and there are some 2.1 million of us, are hellbent on keeping the meetings going,”

And to keep them going, many have turned to Zoom, attending meetings sometimes multiple times a day with as many as 50 other members in the room. While the author notes that the Zoom meetings can be “coherent and powerful” at times, she also highlights several shortcomings of video conferencing for these types of interactions.

The good news is that there is now an alternative to video conferencing. Support groups held in virtual reality (VR) address many of the shortcomings of video while providing additional benefits.

Below are excerpts from the article followed by observations of how virtual reality could improve the experience.

“In my experience, A.A. is about bodies in space — hugs, pats on backs, a tissue when you need it.”

One of the primary differentiators between video and VR is that VR is spatial. Unlike the ‘Brady Bunch’ grid of faces common in video chat, avatars sit in chairs in a life-like room. If I turn to the left, I see those sitting to my left. If I look up, I see the same ceiling as everyone else.

And though we are not quite at the point of replicating the feeling of a hug in VR, fist bumps, high fives, handshakes and other hand gestures provide haptic feedback. In other words, when I turn to my neighbor and we touch hands, I will feel a small vibration. And I can always pass a virtual tissue even if it is just a gesture of support.

“Of course, the applause was silent, since we were all streaming the meeting and we were all on mute.”

Unlike video chat, audio within VR is spatial. So if the person to my right is speaking, I will hear it first in my right ear and, when I naturally turn, the person’s voice will become a bit clearer and louder.

More importantly, voice in VR tends to be sharper than in video chats because audio levels and clarity channeled through a common device (the headset) versus being subject to the limitations of everyone’s unique microphones.

“In short order we have grown used to disclosing our intimate secrets into our laptop cameras, like a bunch of extremely earnest and fully dressed camgirls. It has been weird.”

One of the primary advantages of support groups held in VR is that all participants assume the identity of a personalized avatar. There is no need to stress about how you look on camera or whether the lighting is right or whether someone may walk into the room itself. Everyone in a VR support group is in a shared space with the same virtual views of one other and the environment.

“Still, knowing I’m on the internet discussing the most shameful part of my life, and changing my profile hastily to delete my last name, makes me freshly nervous about how candid I can be in this setting.”

With recent issues around video chat security (Zoom bombing) as well as the fact that anyone can take a screenshot at any time and reveal everyone who was in a meeting, it is understandable that privacy concerns exist when attending support groups remotely.

One of the primary advantages of virtual reality is that identity is fully protected through the use of avatars. Real world names and faces are not visible and hints about the real world location of the participant are not revealed through their camera.

“The memory of that gift, of how bad it once was and how, to my daily astonishment, good it is now, is what I get from the global network of rudimentary 3-D meeting spaces known as “the rooms.”

Virtual reality provides the closest experience to being in a physical room outside of actually being there. Whether the room is meant to be a realistic recreation of an actual meeting room or it is designed to instill calm and focus, the benefits that come with the familiarity and repetition of meeting in the same place each week can be replicated in VR.

“On Zoom, an icon appeared: another “hand” was raised, and the chair of the meeting unmuted someone, who displaced me in the center of the screen.”

Here, the author summarizes one of the biggest overall issues with video conferencing for support groups. The flow of conversation is disjointed and unnatural with the screen jumping from participant to participant based on them triggering their audio. This means everyone has to mute, then unmute and then re-mute every time they wish to speak.

In VR, participants are seated in a circle and anyone can raise their hand and speak at any time without displacing someone else on the ‘screen.’ This creates a much more life-like and free flowing space for interacting and sharing without distraction.

“I heard that alcoholics fear two things: Change. And the way things are right now. The trick is accepting both.”

Attending an AA meeting remotely is certainly a change but virtual reality can make that change feel less abrupt and unnatural. Even after this current situation has passed, here are plenty of people who can benefit from being able to join a remote support group in a realistic, familiar setting without fear of their privacy being compromised.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

Collaboration

VR is the Future of Remote Meetings

This piece by Glimpse CEO Lyron Bentovim highlights the benefits of VR over video conference calls. Among them are higher engagement, more meaningful connections, fewer distractions, and the ability to mimic realistic peer-to-peer interactions.

Read more about each of these benefits here:

https://ceoworld.biz/2020/04/10/stop-your-video-conferencing-headaches-virtual-reality-is-the-future-of-remote-meetings
Therapy and Support

More Press About Foretell Reality Support Groups

Here is another article highlighting Foretell Reality’s partnership with XRHealth to bring mediated, virtual reality support groups to those seeking human-like connection and comfort while remote.

Though timely with the outbreak of COVID-19, the goal of virtual reality support groups is to allow anyone with any condition to to meet in a group to share their experiences and treatments. This includes cancer patients at Yale School of Medicine who are also currently using Foretell.

Read more here: https://www.affinityvr.com/is-vr-a-solution-to-covid-19/

virtual reality (VR) support groups
Therapy and Support

Foretell Reality and XRHealth to Provide VR Support Groups

Foretell Reality, a Glimpse Group subsidiary, has partnered with XRHealth to provide Virtual Reality (VR) support groups to help patients with similar ailments, including people in isolation. The service will launch on April 1st, and is covered by Medicare and most major insurance providers in various states and cities across the US.

The experience replicates that of a real-world support group session. Participants will select a specific support group to attend, customize their virtual appearance as an avatar, and join a circle of up to 8 participants in a zen-like virtual room (see photo). A trained moderator will guide the session and participants will interact through gestures and voice in a life-like, three-dimensional environment.

“We’ve learned that one of the key benefits of virtual reality for support and therapy is the focus it brings to interactions between individuals and groups. The lack of distractions combined with a immersive and realistic environment that surrounds and shared by all participants, while they are physically located afar from each other, is conducive to a highly engaging discussion that is not replicable through other means of remote communications (e.g., video or chat). We also see that the self representation through an avatar helps patients to overcome the initial hesitation of sharing personal information and expose their emotions,” says Dror Goldberg, GM of Foretell Reality.

Noting the current situation many people find themselves in, Goldberg goes on to say that “the ability for a diverse group of people to share experiences and information in an immersive, focused environment will help provide a feeling of comfort in the face of fear and isolation.  Group empathy and understanding are instrumental to our well being and virtual reality provides a tangible feeling of group presence. This is even more acute when people are remote from each other and cannot gather in-person for various reasons – from physical limitations to forced isolation like we unfortunately experience now with this pandemic outburst.”

Anyone who is a patient of XRHealth Virtual Clinic can attend the offered virtual reality support groups. XRHealth Virtual clinic is listed in over 17 states already. The process of joining XRHealth clinic is described here https://www.xr.health/join and includes the following stages:

Step 1: Eligibility check and equipment signup. Step 2: Live video kickoff with a clinician. Step 3: 90 days treatment program consisting of personalized VR training, progress reports, and live video check-ups with a clinician. Once an XRHealth patient, user is able to select the application “Connect by Foretell Reality” from the VRHealth application installed on their VR device and join a support group room that they have been scheduled for.

vr ar classroom
Collaboration

It is time to adopt AR and VR into the classroom

It was not all that surprising that the most popular areas of my daughter’s elementary school science fair last week were tables where kids could build, design, and problem solve with each other.

While everyone appreciated the stationary displays, the real engagement came when kids got together to practice and learn both hard skills like paper robot building and soft skills like negotiation, teamwork, and empathy.

And then it struck me that there may be no school next week or even the week after. I know there will be online classes but that is not a substitute for what kids need to continue to stay competitive confident, and connected.

As Glimpse Group CEO Lyron Bentovim points out in his argument for modernizing classrooms with AR and VR capabilities, humans are social, collaborative, and spatial learners and AR and VR are the only technologies that fully support this type of learning.

We need to get AR and VR into schools now so our kids remain engaged when they cannot be together in person. The prices are no longer prohibitive but the cost will be high if we cannot keep our kids engaged in learning, especially in difficult times.

virtual reality (VR) remote work
Collaboration

Virtual Reality and Remote Work Isolation

Research indicates that remote work will equal, if not surpass, fixed office locations by the year 2025. Already, 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day a week and over 50% work remotely half the week.

And there are good reasons as highlighted in this recent article that lists 17 benefits remote working brings to both employers and employees. Among them are the fact that remote workers are 13% more productive – mainly due to taking fewer sick days, 83% of workers feel they would be happier working from home, and companies save $11k annually per remote worker.

But what is sometimes overlooked with all of the benefits of remote working is the feeling of isolation that can occur when teams are dispersed. Lost are shared lunches with colleagues, cross-functional events that bring different teams together, and after work happy hours.

And this can have real effects. According to a recent Gallup study, perceived workplace isolation can lead to a 21% performance drop while another study from Future Work found feelings of isolation having significant effects on employee engagement and retention.

While platforms like Slack and WebEx allow teams to communicate instantly through text or through scheduled video chat, they do not replicate the feeling of presence and connection that occurs with face-to-face interactions and meetings around the office.

Enter virtual reality, a technology that opens the door to providing a shared environment for people who are located remotely from each other. For similar reasons people who work remotely or independently look for physical co-working spaces, VR spaces provide the virtual version of WeWork and alike.

Unlike conference calls, screen shares, and chat streams, a shared work place in virtual reality offers a persistent location for workers, teams and even whole companies that feels more like a physical location than a specific productively tool.

Remote workers can have their own desks, connect with one another in separate conference rooms, share 2D and 3D content at any time, attend larger company events in virtual auditoriums, and even play games together like Ping Pong, Pool, or Beat Saber.

VR work spaces can also be personalized, engaging, and energizing, encouraging colleagues to come to the ‘office’ on a regular basis.

This will lead to more spontaneous meetings and interactions increasing engagement and innovation, especially for those who are feeling isolated. At the same time, with the click of a button, anyone can transfer to a virtual “quiet space” to focus with lack of interruption. And for employers, providing a center of gravity to a dispersed organization can help with retention and even recruitment.

Why does this matter? Remote working is not an anomaly anymore. It is the new normal. But it is also in direct conflict with the fact that humans are social animals. Working from home is good for the environment, work-life balance, and a company’s balance sheet, but we need new platforms to provide the human touch to support this new (virtual) reality.

Collaboration

What would you do with 163 billion more minutes a year?

A great article by Niclas Johansson highlighting the 7 benefits of VR for meetings.

He touches on a range of areas where VR is making a real impact on increasing engagement: feeling of presence, removal of distractions, limitless environments and interactions, saving the environment, and, perhaps most importantly, saving time and money.

I would add one more to the list:

8. Come back anytime, and stay as long as you like. Imagine a meeting room that is always available and does not require having to clean up after a collaborative session. No need to transcribe and erase the white boards, remove stickies, or unplug your laptop from the in-room display. A virtual meeting room can be accessed again at any time from anywhere to continue where the meeting left off or to reference the collaborative output that was created. And no one will be waiting at the door glaring at their watches if the meeting runs over time.

Also worth reading the comparison of platforms at the end of the article. While social VR will offer a new paradigm for group interactions, enterprise solutions will require a higher level of scalability, security, compliancy, and integration with existing systems. It will be exciting to see how those platforms evolve and gain traction.

To follow how Foretell Reality is approaching these challenges, visit our website and keep reading our blog posts.

Therapy and Support

Promising Results for VR Cancer Support Group

A joint study between Foretell Reality and Yale School of Medicine that compares VR support groups for cancer patients to traditional group therapy is starting to show some promising results according to a recent article published by MJH Life Sciences.

Ranging in age from 13-30 years old, patients have the ability to share their experiences in a safe and accessible setting without the need to travel back and forth to hospitals where they may be susceptible to infection, physical discomfort, and social unease.

Early indications are that the benefits above, as well as the option to remain anonymous, may reduce levels of anxiety and depression creating more open and meaningful interactions and communication between participants.

VR support groups also open the door to patients in underserved rural areas where travel is prohibitive and the lack of local groups can cause a feeling of isolation during a time when connection can be vital to the healing process.

Foretell Reality GM Dror Goldberg sees this study as the beginning of a paradigm shift in how VR is viewed. “There is plenty of news and case studies about VR and gaming and VR for the enterprise, but we are most interested in the ability for VR to facilitate real human connection by lowering physical and social barriers to one-to-one and group interactions. Seeing the early results of this study is exciting and a great motivator to continue to improve and add additional tools to the social experience in VR for support and therapy patients of all ages.”

As behavioral tele-health gains traction and the accessibility of VR continues to rise, studies like this one should propel large health organizations and insurers to offer VR solutions, like those from Foretell Reality, to patients who would benefit from an experience that is more lifelike and interactive than video or chat.

Soft Skills

Foretell & Fordham Partner to Teach Professional Skills

Soft skills are a critical part of job performance, but they can be hard to practice and learn.

Participating in role play exercises improves soft skills, but making role play convincing, effective, and accessible for those not comfortable with acting and improvisation can be difficult.

In response to this challenge, Fordham University turned to Foretell Reality to help their business students learn key professional skills by acting out real world scenarios in virtual environments. With new names, genders, appearances, and voices, students are immersed in simulations designed to improve skills like negotiation and networking.

“Your brain actually assumes you’ve experienced the simulated environment, and it brings educational concepts to life for students,” explains. “When they leave class, they don’t say, ‘We learned about negotiating today’; they say, ‘I negotiated today,’ or, ‘I led a business meeting today.’ explained Lyron Bentovim, CEO of Glimpse Group of which Foretell Reality is a subsidiary.

With more and more businesses seeing tangible ROI from VR training, higher education is now benefiting from the same virtual technologies to prepare their students for the ‘real world,’ in whatever format it appears.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

Collaboration

Three Ways VR Can Help A Remote Working World

Research indicates that remote work will equal, if not surpass, fixed office locations by the year 2025. Already, 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day a week and over 50% work remotely half the week.

Here are three ways VR helps increase collaborative productivity in an increasingly decentralized world:

Increases Focus and Attention

Currently, employees rely on some combination of phone calls, video conferencing, and group chat to communicate and collaborate remotely. Everyone is in their own world along with all the distractions that go along with it. With VR, remote participants meet in a singular, shared environment and interact through high quality audio, all encompassing visuals, and true-to-life movements and gestures. In short, the ‘real’ world does not distract focus from the work at hand.

Enables More Productive Collaboration

With VR, collaboration is not restricted to a meeting room or monitor. Collaborators in 3D environments can view content across multiple screens at the same time, manipulate and analyze objects from any angle, recreate real-world scenarios by embodying any persona, seamlessly break out into smaller sessions, and preserve the output of any collaborative session to revisit at a later point in the same space.

Creates a Feeling of Being There

As more people work from home, WeWorks, and local coffee shops for more days a week, employers will face the ongoing challenge of creating a work environment that feels tangible, connected, and real. Despite the name, virtual reality offers the closest thing to a real feeling of proximity, place, and community of any other communication technology that exists today.

With stand-alone VR headsets now less expensive than a typical mobile phone, there has never been a better time to introduce VR into the communication mix of any remote work force.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

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