Virtual Reality: A Groundbreaking Tool to Curb Gun Violence in Traumatized Adults

by | Nov 11, 2023

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is using virtual reality (VR) technology to combat gun violence as an intervention. Dr. Nicholas Thomson, an associate professor in VCU’s Surgery and Psychology departments, is leading the project called “A Virtual Reality Brief Violence Intervention: Preventing Gun Violence Among Violently Injured Adults.” The main goal is to address the high rates of reinjury and mortality among those who have experienced violent trauma.

VCU has received a generous three-year, $1.95 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop and implement the Brief Violence Intervention VR (BVI-VR) program. This program uses immersive storytelling and gameplay through VR to provide culturally relevant experiences that address the urgent issue of retaliatory violence faced by violently injured adults upon discharge.

Statistics show that violently injured individuals are 88 times more likely to engage in retaliatory violence, making it crucial to confront this problem directly. The BVI-VR program at VCU uses VR technology to promote emotion regulation, trauma management, conflict resolution, nonviolent alternatives, gun safety, future goals, aspirations, and connections to community resources.

The main focus of the BVI-VR program is to connect the injured individual with local community partners. By immersing users in virtual environments and presenting available resources and services through engaging narratives, the project aims to enhance resilience and reduce the likelihood of retaliatory firearm-related violence. VCU’s commitment to introducing cutting-edge technology and prevention science to the Richmond community makes it an ideal fit for this innovative approach.

Dr. Thomson, the director of research for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at the VCU Health Trauma Center, emphasizes the importance of improving mental health and engagement in treatment. The VR intervention aims to empower individuals by equipping them with the necessary tools to navigate their post-injury lives effectively. By addressing emotional well-being, fostering connections to career goals, mental health resources, and family services, the project aims to support sustained improvements in individuals’ overall well-being.

The BVI-VR program is set to be the first-ever virtual reality mental health intervention specifically focused on reducing gun violence. By immersing users in virtual environments, it offers a unique opportunity for individuals to explore and practice coping strategies, conflict resolution techniques, and alternatives to violence. The ultimate goal is to equip them with the skills needed to break the cycle of violence and create a safer community.

The project has received overwhelming support from various community organizations and has formed partnerships with Richmond community resources. This collaboration ensures that the BVI-VR program remains culturally relevant and impactful. By working closely with local partners, VCU aims to establish a comprehensive support network for those affected by violence and facilitate a smoother transition into a healthier and more stable future.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the virtual reality intervention, the project will conduct a randomized control trial involving 220 violently injured adults. The study will assess the program’s impact on mental health, engagement in treatment, and the reduction of retaliatory violence. Through a rigorous scientific approach, the researchers hope to gather evidence that can inform future interventions and policies aimed at curbing gun violence.

As VCU continues its commitment to injury and violence prevention, the Brief Violence Intervention VR project represents a significant advancement in the field. By harnessing the power of virtual reality, this initiative not only addresses immediate concerns but also aims to create lasting change in individuals’ lives.

Over the next three years, the project aims to serve as a model for other communities and institutions seeking to address the pressing issue of gun violence. Through the combination of advanced technology, community partnerships, and evidence-based practices, VCU is leading the way towards a safer and more resilient future.

In an era where gun violence continues to affect communities across the country, the introduction of innovative interventions like BVI-VR provides hope. Through virtual reality, individuals who have experienced violent trauma can find the support, resources, and skills necessary to break free from the cycle of violence and build a brighter future.