Susanna Pardini

Ritratto Susanna Pardini

Computer Science for Societal Challenges and Innovation, XXXVI series
Grant sponsor

Fondazione Bruno Kessler

Gesualdo Zucco & Caterina Novara
Silvia Gabrielli (FBK) & Ornella Mich

Project description
Virtual Reality (VR) is a tool extensively implemented also for the treatment of mental disorders; several studies have highlighted that it can facilitate both in imagination and in vivo exposure, it is a useful way to control stimuli and setting, and can be implemented to solve the problem of logistic issues related to the in vivo exposure therapy. Thus, VR could also be implemented for the treatment of Hoarding Disorder (HD), psychopathology largely present also in Italy with an estimated prevalence ranging from 2 to 6% in the general population. HD is primarily characterized by the difficulty to discard possessions and excessive clutter that compromises the functionality of living spaces in the patients' homes. The HD cognitive and behavioral models considered hoarding symptoms to manifest an altered information processing system related to dysfunctional beliefs about objects' importance and emotional attachment. As a result of dysfunctional beliefs, hoarders save/excessively acquire items and experience difficulty discarding objects. People who hoard may feel positive emotions and a sense of safety around their objects; conversely, they have several difficulties in tolerating negative emotions also just thinking about throwing away possessions. Based on this model, an HD Cognitive and Behavioral Manualized Treatment has been developed. This program is composed of different phases, such as motivational interviewing, skills training (e.g., problem-solving and decision-making sessions), cognitive restructuring, and behavioral exposure. Even if it could be considered a helpful way of treating HD, different methods will be implemented to improve the treatment's effectiveness. One promising way consists in the adjustment of exposure technique usually realized in imagination or in vivo. In the case of HD, this technique allows patients to manage their fear of discarding objects gradually. However, sometimes individuals have difficulties imagining the discarding conditions accurately or tend to avoid thinking about it. Moreover, when is the moment of the in vivo exposure, individuals tend to drop-out of the treatment. Some researchers have highlighted that VR can facilitate the imagination and in vivo exposure limits in imagining the fear stimulus and limiting drop-out, often related to the treatment as usual. Based on this rationale, my project investigates if the VR introduction in the HD treatment could be a way able to be better effective than the treatment as usual and to develop a new and useful computerized tool for the HD treatment.