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Experiments with VR coaching: Step into your inner worlds

9. December 2015 in
Header - experiments with VR coaching

The young woman with the VR headset is looking around eagerly. “A rock star”, she says. “He always wanted to be a rock star.”

A screen shows what she is seeing through the VR headset: four slightly translucent figures dressed in black. They are characters from the Inner Team of James Bond – and they are a part of a very special coaching session: Helping the secret agent, James Bond, with his professional reorientation.

Okay, legitimate question: Why should you put on an Oculus Rift to meet James Bond’s Inner Team in a virtual room?

We know that pretty much everyone has more urgent issues than solving the fictional career problems of a fictional person. We chose imaginary settings, nevertheless, for our first experiment with VR coaching at the push.conference in Munich. With famous fictional characters, everyone had a similar background, so people could dive into the scene straight away and experiment with this novel coaching format.

 

Our inner lives are three-dimensional

Let’s turn to the next question: Why would you tackle a problem within a virtual reality at all?

Let’s look at the situation without the VR headset first. This leaves us with a digital stage and a selection of objects. You could use them in order to build a family constellation, make your resources visible and lay out paths to a goal. Psychotherapists and coaches have done this in real spaces – like their offices – for a long time with the help of Playmobil figures, note cards or other bits and pieces.

Using the space around you for working on things going on inside of you, makes sense for different reasons. On the one hand, you have a very limited working memory that can only hold around four items at a time – which makes it hard for you to mull things over exclusively in your head. Only by externalizing it, you are able to combine more chunks of information. On the other hand, you speak and think in terms of space, even when it comes to such abstract topics as relationships (“We are close”), hierarchy (“She is a high-ranking politician”) or time (“Christmas is approaching”). Arranging things in space can, thus, actually reproduce your inner life pretty well. Additionally, it also speaks to the human preference for visual information.

 

Your mind and VR: where everything is possible

So, there are valid reasons for using all three dimensions when it comes to understanding what is going on inside of you. And here, the digital world comes into play again. Whereas setting up things in a real world environment might be a more holistic experience involving touch and smell, you encounter less boundaries in the digital realm.

As the woman with the VR headset suggests a rock star career for James Bond, a panel showing a guitar player in the spotlight appears in her digital world within seconds. Upon her suggestion, the Inner Critic produces some nagging in a speech bubble and the Inner Child conjures a rocket in order to look at the scene from above.

In VR – like in your mind – nearly everything is possible: for instance, making a problem as big as it feels to you or switching from your perspective in a constellation into the point of view of your child.

 

Our setup

In our experimental setup, we used our collaborative platform CoachingSpaces that we have adapted to support VR technology. The probands wore an Oculus Rift that was connected to one laptop. The setup allowed them to enter the perspective of any object in the constellations that we had prepared – and easily switch to the point of view of another character while being in the room. With another computer, we could access the same digital space from a neutral perspective and change it in real time. Thus, we could make objects appear, disappear or change right before probands’ eyes.

 

Our experiences

People who tried out our setup liked the strong emphasis on the visual and the playful aspects. Most of them clearly had fun with this creative approach, but saw nevertheless how literally immersing oneself in an issue, could help to tackle it.

Our setup is, however, not suited for whole coaching sessions with a headset, yet: Most of the people who tried got slightly VR sick after a few minutes.

We will go on experimenting with using virtual rooms for personal growth and the role VR could play here.

Have a look at this video to get an impression of our experiment at the push.conference:

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Susanne Krause

About the Author

Susanne Krause
Researcher and author. As a graduate of psychology and philosophy as well as an experienced journalist, she knows not only where to find the information but also how to put it into words best.

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