Virtual reality lab a new frontier in treating violent, mentally ill patients
Published Sunday, September 29, 2013 7:35AM EDT
MONTREAL -- It’s a new technology experts hope is the next frontier in fighting violent crimes and treating some of those who commit them.
Montreal's Philippe-Pinel Institute unveiled a million-dollar tool this week they say could revolutionize the way mentally ill criminals are rehabilitated. The 3D virtual reality laboratory puts patients in simulated situations to study and hopefully deter criminal behaviour.
Although everything in the virtual reality lab is simulated, researchers at the Pinel Institute believe it will bring concrete results.
“We will simulate the environment where they live and help them to identify the points that are dangerous for them and other people,” said project director Patrice Renaud, a psychologist who helped assemble the team to bring this project to life.
Many of Renaud’s patients are sex offenders and very difficult to treat. He said this technology, in use in other countries and provinces, gives them tools to change.
“The goal is to give them better self-regulation and control,” he explained.”
The screens, projectors and cameras are only part of the picture; it's what goes on inside the mind during this process that interests neuropsychologist Christian Joyal.
“The first (aim) is to understand why a given person and when a given person could be violent and what is going on,” he said
The brain doesn't lie, he said, and by monitoring it during these simulations, doctors can determine if someone is safe to reenter society. This new technology may also prevent crime by learning to control behaviour before a real victim gets hurt.
“We can put the person, for example, in downtown Montreal with a lot of noises and people, but the person will still be at Pinel, luckily, so we can help the person deal with those environments,” said Joyal.
The Pinel Institute treats adults and teens who are mentally ill and have committed crimes, a double stigma that can be difficult to bear, according to Max Mungel, a former patient who suffers from schizophrenia.
Mungel was sent to Pinel six years ago after stabbing a man. He's now being treated with medication, and lives in a halfway house.
“My life is back,” he said.