Treatment of social anxiety disorder using online virtual environments in second life

Behav Ther. 2013 Mar;44(1):51-61. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2012.06.001. Epub 2012 Jul 11.


Over 80% of people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) do not receive any type of treatment, despite the existence of effective evidence-based treatments. Barriers to treatment include lack of trained therapists (particularly in nonmetropolitan areas), logistical difficulties (e.g., cost, time, transportation), concerns regarding social stigma, and fear of negative evaluation from health care providers. Interventions conducted through electronic communication media, such as the Internet, have the potential to reach individuals who otherwise would not have access to evidence-based treatments. Second Life is an online virtual world that holds great promise in the widespread delivery of evidence-based treatments. We assessed the feasibility, acceptability, and initial efficacy of an acceptance-based behavior therapy in Second Life to treat adults with generalized SAD. Participants (n=14) received 12 sessions of weekly therapy and were assessed at pretreatment, midtreatment, posttreatment, and follow-up. Participants and therapists rated the treatment program as acceptable and feasible, despite frequently encountered technical difficulties. Analyses showed significant pretreatment to follow-up improvements in social anxiety symptoms, depression, disability, and quality of life, with effect sizes comparable to previously published results of studies delivering in-person cognitive behavior therapy for SAD. Implications and future directions are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phobic Disorders / therapy*
  • Self Report
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • User-Computer Interface*