Dr Skip Rizzo, PhD - Director, USC Medical Virtual Reality Lab - Institute for Creative Technologies

Skip is a dynamic technical healer. I like to say he’s the ‘Godfather’ of using Virtual Reality for healing mental health challenges. Skip skillfully blends his Clinical Psychology background, passion for technology, and deep vision of future emerging trends along with a working knowledge of hard-science evidence based research.  

His ‘Godfather’ status is warranted. He started out using this technology in the 90’s, when, let’s just say computer graphics were a bit pixelated, raw, and block-man cartoonish. Headsets were 10’s of Thousands of dollars, and research frameworks were brand-new. 

His Titles Include:

·       Director, Medical Virtual Reality - Institute for Creative Technologies

·       Research Professor - Dept. of Psychiatry and School of Gerontology

·       University of Southern California

·       Co-inventor of software Brave Mind 

·       Really Awesome Dude, RAD.

Skip and his team along with their highly customized software/hardware tools have cured Many Thousands of Veterans from a life-crippling condition, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD since the Lab’s inception.

Skip’s software, Brave Mind, is in more than 50 Veterans Affairs hospitals. They are also deploying their software simulations in a program that prepares soldiers to face challenging situations before they occur, thus reducing the risk of PTSD and other ailments proactively. In addition, his lab is using VR to assist therapists in more than the PTSD condition. 

While VR is the focus of Skips research, his lab is going far beyond Randomized Control Trials of known solutions. He’s constantly pursuing the next new thing, exploring, trying, adjusting, exploring more. Skip is both a Futurist and a Pragmatist. A rare combination. 

I was touched by Skip's large heart. He’s clearly in this work because he loves to help people, and his work in PTSD is addressing a segment of Americans who are often hard to bring into a therapeutic setting. The appeal of playing a video game, and the familiarity of interface is intriguing enough to Veterans for at least a sample. In our talk, Skip mentioned the dryness of some of the post-deployment check-list type intake forms, and how they may not be the most effective at surfacing some of the deeper issues affecting these returning soldiers. To me, this spoke to how human Skip is. How he really holds in mind the end goal, which is to heal people. He’s looking for the places where valuable diagnosis data slips thru the cracks, and building processes and tools to be sure and capture, analyze, and skillfully apply this info to a programmatic approach of healing. 

We talked a bit about the importance a skilled Therapist can make with real connection. The ways software can detect emotional patterns in voice, face, and posture. These diagnosis ‘hints’ are talked about, studied, and taught in many schools for Therapists. However, collecting large sample-sizes and being able to accurately run verifiable data-driven stats on these data points has, to my knowledge, not been possible prior to the emergence of this machine assisted process. The other things machines and software can assist in are neutrality. An AI driven therapist may have a bias, but that bias is likely consistent, predictable, whereas human biases are often unpredictable and dependent on many internal and external variables. One finding which was not anticipated, but certainly valuable, is how returning soldiers are more likely to reveal the truth about their condition to a Virtual Human, an AI directed piece of software rather than a real live human. These findings are promising for the future!

In summary, Skip and his lab at USC are both pioneers in using VR for Mental Health, and Explorers riding and pushing the cutting edge as its moving forward. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and look forward to hearing about the new findings from their lab. Who knows, maybe some of their technology will be coming to a Therapist near you soon.

You can find our more about Skip and his advancements herehttp://medvr.ict.usc.edu/

And check out his you-tube channel here.