#1150: Innerworld VR: Scaling Peer-to-Peer Counseling & Mental Health Interventions in Social VR

Noah Robinson’s Innerworld launches today on the Quest Store after slowly cultivating an engaged peer-to-peer counseling community that is providing affordable mental health interventions across multiple social VR and 2D platforms on Mac, PC & iOS. Robinson is getting his Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and Innerworld is a research project studying how the effects of what he calls “Cognitive Behavioral Immersion,” which is an adaptation of Aaron T. Beck’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Model. Robinson took inspiration from Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky’s “Five-Part Model to Understand Life Experiences” that includes Physical Reactions, Thoughts, Moods, Behaviors all within an Environmental Context that was first published in their 1995 book Mind Over Mood: Change the way you feel by changing the way you think. The main idea that your feelings are difficult to directly control, but that you can alter your mood by changing your thought patterns, behaviors, embodied physiology within the context of a different environmental context.

Greenberger & Padesky’s Five-Part Model to Understand Life Experiences

Robinson has found some powerful anecdotal evidence that providing mental health interventions within a social VR world can lead to some profound transformative moments as it provides a significant shift in environmental context that can lead to different thoughts, physiological reactions, and behaviors that ultimately can shift someone’s mood. He’s in the process of conducting three randomized-control trial studies to provide more scientific evidence on the impact of immersive environments on these types of mental health interventions, and is collecting lots of anonymized data within his social VR app to study what works and does not working within the process of peer counseling.

Robinson is also careful to point out that Innerworld this is not providing therapy, it’s not medical advice, and it’s not crisis intervention, as it is peer-to-peer counseling from non-professionals within a social VR context. He says that many of the primary benefits of therapy are “non-specific effects” that include having someone to talk to who is warm and listening to you in an empathetic and non-judgmental manner. All of these main methods can be provided within a peer-to-peer counseling context that doesn’t claim to be therapy.

Robinson is hoping to provide an affordable and scalable mental health intervention and social VR refuge for people searching for virtual support groups as he’s paying people to be present 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, with many support groups listed throughout the day. There will be a subscription cost of either $199 per year or $30 per month, which will provide unlimited access to all of the groups. Robinson says, “It’s also anonymous with avatars, lowering barriers for those who might be intimidated by a therapist’s office. We train everyday, empathetic people to guide live mental health groups and teach evidence-based skills. Our data suggest it can be effective at reducing symptoms for things like depression, anxiety, and more.”

Innerworld launches today on the Quest Store, and the next weeks and months will be a challenging load balancing and scaling process from their organic growth during their time on App Lab. It’s a fascinating story, and one that shows the real power in cultivating a peer-support community within virtual reality. It also goes against some of the dominant skeptical takes on the Metaverse. Many say that the Metaverse is a searching for a problem to solve, and Robinson’s response to that is that there are many mental health crises right now and that he has found that the Metaverse can help deliver some scalable mental health intervention solutions within his social VR app of Innerworld.

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Music: Fatality