The Promise and Perils of Virtual Reality in Forensic Mental Health: Charting a Path Towards Ethical Guidelines


The use of virtual reality (VR) in psychological or psychiatric treatment (?VR treatment?) is rapidly expanding, also in the field of forensic mental health, where first studies show promising results. As the implementation of VR treatment into forensic practice is imminent, ethical guidelines for treatment as well as research and development are urgently called for. Developing such guidelines is the main objective of this research project. The project accompanies pioneering research on forensic VR treatment in Basel and collaborates closely with clinicians and the people affected. Integrating perspectives from law, psychology, philosophy, ethics, and empirical stakeholder research, the international consortium examines the limits imposed on forensic VR treatment by fundamental rights; risks of psychological harm and manipulation; thorny issues surrounding research participation of adults and adolescents in detention settings; effects of forensic VR treatment on the therapeutic relationship; and the justifiability of risk assessment based on VR-elicited responses. In close cooperation with clinicians and the people affected, the research team will synthesize findings into the worldwide first set of ethical guidelines for forensic VR treatment. These guidelines will ensure responsible innovations in a field where effective treatment innovation will benefit not only a great many affected individuals but through reducing recidivism also society at large.


virtual reality; forensic mental health; informed consent; vulnerability; ethical guidelines; responsible innovation

Call topic

ELSA of Neuroscience

Proposed runtime

n/a - n/a

Project team

Matthe Scholten (Coordinator)
Germany (BMBF)
Jan Christoph Bublitz
Germany (BMBF)
Madleina Manetsch
Switzerland (SNSF)
Lydia Feito
Spain (ISCIII)
Francisco-Javier Judez-Gutierrez
Spain (ISCIII)

Lay summary