Hi Patricia, I am talking to my [healthcare] students about Second Life. Is there anything I should tell them beyond the obvious?
Wow, what is the obvious? I provide introductions to Second Life for (mostly) faculty who are new to the idea of virtual worlds, and at the same time am very engaged with health care communities in Second Life. I can’t imagine what, between those two extremes, would seem obvious to anyone.
There are all the hundreds of support groups and professional groups listed in the SLHealthy wiki. Pick a topic, and there is probably a group for it. The wiki is a community effort, and really depends on people adding and maintaining their own info, so it isn’t complete. That means there are probably a lot more than we know of here.
I said pick a topic? Here’s one. There are a variety of groups, communities, spaces, and activities for persons with autism and Aspergers or their family and caregivers. Some of these also provide therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, job training, parenting support, IEP advice, education, and more. I’m involved mostly with the American Society for Autism, but also the Brigadoon group, and have friends in many of the other ASD groups in SL, such as Naughty Auties, Autistic Liberation Front, and others. This presentation is by a fellow academic I know through Second Life who is involved in ASD teaching and research.
Similarly, I know academics and researchers working in Second Life with treatment for patients with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and a variety of other conditions; testing methods for providing consumer health education and health literacy interventions; conducting surveys; modeling simulations of sensory anomalies or conditions such as schizophrenia; and much much more.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder in Second Life
Speaking of PTSD, did you know the US Army is pretty active in Second Life with spaces to help provide support and treatment for veterans? This includes PTSD but is not limited to it.
I said there was more for veterans and health than PTSD?
That last link is from a long-standing and extremely successful and active community for persons with disabilities, Virtual Ability. Virtual Ability provides support for persons with disabilities, educational opportunities, community events, opportunities to help others and do volunteer work, creative sharing of music and art, social activities, advice on assistive technologies, partnerships with researchers, and much much more.
I have hardly mentioned education! That is a whole additional topic, with many schools involved, classes, resource, independent learning, peer-to-peer learning, both formal and informal.
But the most important aspect of Second Life and health is that it feels real, and involves people who are real to each other. Recently I’ve been asked by some people questions like, “So what is this? You make a cartoon character and then your cartoon pretends to be a person?” I find it hard to answer questions like that because to me even asking the question that way is disrespectful, and diminishes the sincerity and value that real people have invested in both the environment and in each other.
As an example, an important example, this past weekend I attended the memorial for DoctorAnn Buchanan.
This is the Second Life name and identity of a real life physician based in the United States who really came up with the idea of using Second Life to support the real life education of future physicians. In her own words:
I have known of DoctorAnn for years but met her only through her students and colleagues, since her own health issues interfered with her hopes for what she wanted to do in Second Life and she wasn’t online very often. However, her vision inspired many, and influenced many. The medical students who studied at the Ann Myers Medical Center (AAMMC), the school she founded, carried on when she couldn’t be there, committing to work there above and beyond their own already existing commitments in medical school, finding enormous value in working through a case with practicing physicians and specialists. During her final illness, her friends and supporters gathered, cried on each others shoulders, fought for the vision, held benefits to raise money for her, and did all the things that people do when someone they care about is dying.
At the memorial, influential people in the Second Life healthcare community gathered to remember her, speak well of her, and provide support and consolation for each other.
Among those were Poppy Zabelin, who manages the American Cancer Society activities in Second Life (the most successful charitable fundraising organization in SL), and May Rosebud, who represented both herself and her partner, Ren Stonecutter. Ren is the person who first introduced me to AMMC and DoctorAnn, but unfortunately he was caught managing the admission of one of his patients to the hospital in real life and could not attend the memorial. Poppy spoke at length about the vision and contributions of DoctorAnn, who was one of the speakers at the grand opening of the ACS island.
Poppy Zabelin on DoctorAnn:
“Ann was a firm supporter of the American Cancer Society activities in Second Life, and especially the ‘exceptionally unique’ opportunities for physicians and cancer survivors to interact and learn from each other saying that ‘It removes the stratified relationship that often exists in a medical setting and allows us to be equals in our fight against cancer.’”
Perhaps that is what is beyond the obvious.
Here is more information about the AMMC.