Recovery from substance abuse is bigger than any one person. However, it can be hard to find a group of people that can regularly come together to meet at the same time in the same physical place. This was true during the pandemic, but it’s also true in rural communities and for people who want support with a relatively specific problem. What about remote experiences?
Many community-based recovery organizations did move onto remote meeting platforms during the pandemic. However, this entails a loss of a sense of presence. It incorporates distractions that may not be present in person. And, it can feel even less anonymous than physical meetings. A new partnership wants to combine the best of both worlds through remote experiences.
Meet the Partners
Partnerships exist so that we don’t have to choose between a recovery program created by a VR developer and a VR platform developed by a recovery center. Foretell Reality and North-Star work together to create remote experiences for those who have trouble getting to in-person substance recovery meetings.
Glimpse Group subsidiary Foretell Reality is an enterprise-focused business-to-business platform that saw increasing demand in counseling and therapy. Their adaptable environments and personalizable avatars allow remote experiences that incorporate both a sense of embodied presence and a sense of anonymity.
“It is quite empowering to select your own avatar,” General Manager Dror Goldberg told ARPost in a May interview on XR in mental health. “Being in this siloed space but not being concerned about the way that you look is a huge comfort to people who may not otherwise want to go to therapy.”
In the few short months since that interview, markets and landscapes have continued to change as we continue to take lessons from the pandemic into our “new normal.” Mental health is no different and remote experiences have only improved.
“You can see that the combination of virtual reality, therapy, and support is starting to resonate with people,” Goldberg told ARPost in a remote interview last week. “Virtual reality is bringing people to something that is much more real.”
North-Star Care is a telehealth team-based recovery solution that began to come into its own during the pandemic. The organization wants to use remote meetings to eliminate the cost, distance, and time barriers to alcohol rehabilitation programs that often require individuals to pay thousands of dollars and travel far from home for weeks or months at a time to get help.
“North-Star is an innovative, disruptive program trying to change the trajectory of how we approach alcohol use disorder,” Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Amanda Wilson told ARPost. “Patients need all sorts of support, but peer support is really important.”
From the beginning, North-Star planned on being entirely remote but didn’t know that it would be so virtual.
“When we came into the relationship with Foretell, we had a simplistic vision that has just expanded so much,” said Wilson. “This is going to revolutionize how our organization works together, not just how we provide care.”
Fruits of Partnership
The partnership between Foretell Reality and North-Star Care is still in its early stages. It involves the creation of virtual spaces for both one-on-one sessions as well as support groups. Eventually, there will be “hundreds” of these virtual spaces, both to allow regular meetings for groups with specific needs as well as sufficient space for large numbers of concurrent users.
While the proliferation of online group meetings did increase access for some users during the pandemic, as well as the specialization of groups in some cases, they came with their own problems. For example, an in-person meeting with high attendance can break up, while an online meeting with high attendance just leaves attendees feeling left out.
“Participants don’t feel anonymous and they don’t feel like they have the opportunity to participate,” Wilson said of online meetings – particularly large online meetings. “When you actually see the [VR] experience yourself, you see that there’s a level of immersion that doesn’t even come with in-person meetings – the distractibility goes away.”
For people working in recovery, the transition to online meetings has also resulted in “Zoom fatigue.”
“For providers and other people who have to be on meetings all day… there’s a limit to how much people can tolerate that,” said Wilson.
Goldberg further commented on the ability of avatars within remote experiences to limit a user’s distraction with their own appearance, as well as giving them the ability to control how they appear to others – an experience that can be not just relieving, but empowering.
“There are so many therapy modules and curricula that VR can revolutionize in terms of the immersion and realism that it brings,” said Goldberg.
Studying Remote Experiences in Recovery Programs
In addition to the direct benefits that come from the partnership for users of the remote experiences, the experience is a learning opportunity for both organizations and for the larger recovery community.
“We’ll have internal surveys of course, but we’ve always been big believers that we have an ethical obligation to take what we’ve learned and share it,” said Wilson. “This could enable us to demonstrate the validity of this kind of intervention and make it more available across the country.”
Similarly, Goldberg expressed interest in using the remote experiences created for North-Star to test new tools for use in other Foretell experiences.
Both organizations also plan on using the remote experiences to learn the role that VR plays as a part of an individual’s program, as well as how VR tools not available during in-person therapies impact efficacy and retention. That is, not just for alcohol and other substances, but also for dealing with other emotional health issues like trauma.
“This is another very important tool that we have in our arsenal,” said Goldberg. “I’m not saying that VR is going to replace every kind of communication.”
Naturally, the ability for Foretell to provide the remote experiences as well as to collect and interpret data on the experiences are enhanced by their membership in the Glimpse Group.
“The paradigm of Glimpse is the synergy between the subsidiaries. . . . Many use cases combine utilities that we have across subsidiaries,” said Goldberg. “[North-Star’s] mission resonates with us so much. To say that we’re ‘thrilled’ to be working with them is an understatement… it’s a mission that we’re happy to be a part of.”
Too Big a Market
For many of us, the need for some remote experiences may seem less pressing as we emerge from the pandemic. However, for many people living in or aspiring toward recovery, the need for these experiences isn’t contingent on social distancing.
“One group that we’re trying to get to, are patients who just can’t go to treatment,” said Wilson.
Many XR industries and experiences ask questions about market size, demand, growth, and sustainability. Unfortunately, recovery isn’t a field that has such concerns.
“There are nearly 19 million people with the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder,” said Wilson. “Almost a third of Americans will fit the criteria at some point in their lifetimes.”