training the trainer
I met Dr. Bruce Pither at the end of last year after he had serendipitously found an ad for a workshop I led and contacted me immediately after asking to learn more about using virtual reality therapeutically. I happened to glance at his email signature and discovered - to my pleasant surprise - that he was the past president and current chair of the San Francisco Psychological Association (SFPA). His unassuming manner coupled with a genuine interest in using virtual reality in the healing space was inspiring, touching, and filled me with hope. Up until that point many others in the field of mental health had not displayed nearly the same enthusiasm, curiosity, or openness as Bruce had.
After many meetings over coffee and guava shrub, we agreed VR Psychology might be of interest to many working in the space of mental health. The question of how to scale mental health honorably is one I have thought about incessantly over the past several years and VR is the first legal tool I've experienced that gets even close to addressing this question. There is a behavioral healthcare professional shortage of thousands reported by the Health Resources and Services Administration and clinicians are challenged to meet the 20% Americans who are suffering from mental illness every year according to the National Institute on Mental Illness of which more than half never receive treatment. Not to mention an even larger percentage of people who don't need, want, qualify, can afford, align with traditional therapeutic methods and would still like to benefit from therapeutic skills and emotional awareness.
By February, the VR Psychology team set up our very first 2-part CE workshop titled The Healing Potential of Virtual Reality: An Introduction to VR Psychology Workshop. On Saturday March 10th, a group of licensed clinicians and graduate psychology students - members of the SFPA - convened at NewpathVR HQ for Part 1 - Intro to VR - of the workshop. Members were trained in the use of VR hardware, software, and simple therapeutic techniques that can be applied in VR. A light lunch was provided as well as a process/integration circle at the end. Out of the 14 who attended, 6 came up to me afterwards to extend their appreciation as well as to ask if a similar workshop could be held for their respective organization and institution. 2 asked to join our internship program. Needless to say, my prior anxieties around the receptivity of VR amongst psychologists was quickly alleviated and thrown in the mix was a renewed feeling of pride and hope.
What's next: Part 2 - Virtual Embodiment - of the workshop is a deeper dive into the world of VR Psychology and will also be held at NewpathVR in San Francisco, date TBD. Contact me here or here to sign up for the VR Psychology list serve, to apply for our VR Psychology Internship Program, or just to chat about the potential VR has to increase transparency of our often under-explored subconscious.
artist, elder, activist
I met Rene back in December 2017, a mutual friend introduced us. Rene, an elder of the San Francisco Chicano arts movement and co-founder of Galería de la Raza is a San Francisco local and is known as the Padrino of the Mission. The first time he tried virtual reality through an event produced by my virtual reality company his mind was blown and because he is an artist through and through, learning the VR painting app Tiltbrush was intuitively smooth - he was creating his inner landscape in no time.
VIdeo: Time lapse of Rene at his Valencia St. mural
We stayed in touch in the coming months. Sometimes I'd visit him at the veteran's hospital on the days he received chemo and we'd talk about his new sketches. Other times we'd hang out at his home in the Mission, passing around a sizeable joint before meandering over to Valencia St. to paste Rene's street art - usually of Frida Kahlo or the San Francisco eviction epidemic - onto a largely political-themed mural. Not long after we started the conversation of collaborating on a virtual reality interpretation of Rene's art with the intention of inviting the audience to engage more intimately with his work in a way that is impossible with his physical pieces.
I had fatefully met Steve DiPaola, Ph.D. at a Stanford VR Consortium talk shortly after. Steve is a computer based cognitive scientist, artist and researcher. Steve has special interest in generating computational art pieces created by computer AI and CG systems he himself authored and often explores the "uneasy interplay between what it means to perceive, create, emote; culturally, historically as a human (the ghosts in) but paradoxically doing so in the form of computational models ( the machine) he writes." Steve loved what we were doing with Rene and together we came up with a series of 11 gradated variants of 8 of Rene's most iconic pieces using Steve's cubist based AI art abstraction techniques. We uploaded the images to Tiltbrush, essentially creating a virtual reality art gallery.
On March 9th the exhibit opening of "Into the Fade" - a collection of Rene's work, retrospective and current - brought over 500 people together to celebrate his art. Some of his current work has to do with the hallucinations he experiences following chemo - hauntingly beautiful, cloudy images permeate this series. Our VR team set up our VR installation: Virtual Reality Interpretation of Yañez Work. The best part was watching the audience engagement as they literally walked through 20-foot high paintings in awe or added their own words and images to a painting of Donald Trump smoking a joint.
Video: Virtual Reality Interpretation of Yañez Work
What's next: NewpathVR would like to start a kickstarter campaign to raise $1000 to fund a computer and VR headset for Rene to have at home. We'd love to gift Rene this VR kit to help manage pain and nausea following chemotherapy in addition to offering a virtual space to document his post-chemo hallucinations. All who may be interested in helping out with this soul project, would like to introduce me to an interested artist for collaboration, or simply to engage in respectful and informed dialogue about the importance of bridging the art and tech communities in the SF Bay Area please contact me.
VR Expressive Arts Therapy
creation become / one
In October 2017 the team at NewpathVR held the very first Virtual Reality Expressive Arts Therapy workshop in the Bay Area. 10 people from the community at large attended and participated in both analog (acted as control group) and VR expressive arts techniques, followed by a yummy lunch and a closing integration-process circle.
Participants were introduced to VR hardware, software - specifically Tiltbrush. The workshop was semi-structured with space to free-associate with music as well as take cues from one of our 3 carefully crafted cue cards.
Video: VR Expressive Arts Therapy Pieces
* All VR art pieces published here have been pre-approved by the attendee.
Cannabis, Sound, & VR
the self-healing trinity
In the fall of 2017 I set about experimenting with cannabis, sound, and virtual reality with the belief that VR is an incubator space for rapid prototyping - except this time it's prototyping new ways of relating to oneself and others, beliefs and values, levels of vulnerability, and perceptions and judgments that lie both in the conscious and the unconscious. VR does such an excellent job at making what is transparent opaque and what is opaque transparent.
Each Friday at the same time I'd ingest an edible (20mg THC: 20mg CBD) - wait about an hour - then head into one of the VR holodecks where I would set up the painting app Tiltbrush and cue a playlist made specifically for 'green listening.' In the privacy of the booth, I'd drop into my body, then the music, then the floating consciousness that is 'me' in VR. Week after week paintings ranged from cocoon-like domes to solar system-scale journaling in large neon markers all the way to sitting on the floor but rather than feeling carpet, being entranced by the 3D figures I had drawn of my mother, father and myself as a child, stepping in to embody each.
Cannabis helps suspend disbelief and in VR that means you can have a lower resolution headset and still be okay. Plus, our brains are really good at filling in the blank. Cannabis also helps with nausea that happens to some people in VR. But cannabis also helps with the ability for our minds to stretch beyond what might ordinarily feel difficult or impossible. Just a little goes a long way, the intent wasn't to become catatonic on a Friday morning.
Music and sound was integral to my experience as well. I chose music that evoked memories - even and perhaps especially when they evoked complex feelings. I also selected sounds that were soothing and elevated me. I often chose songs with heavy bass or drums that I can feel reverberate in my chest, something I imagine a fetus might feel in the womb. Music can carry our souls to the places they need to be if we let it.
As is the case with many who claim not to enjoy event planning but ends up doing a lot of it, I planned an event to share my experience with the community. On Dec 22, 2017 a team of virtual reality techies, cannabis geeks, and music nerds got together for the Bay Area's first Expand Salon - an intimate and immersive consciousness expanding gathering bridging the traditional and modern approaches to healing in the areas of psychology, technology, entheogens, music, and spirituality.
Elders, millennials, women-identified, and people of color specifically were encouraged to attend. Moderating the panel discussion that evening was yours truly, with the following panelists:
Andrea Brooks (Founder and CEO of Sava)
Stephen Gelberg (Harvard Divinity School/Author of Sacred Synergy)
Heidi Groshelle (Ingrid Marketing)
Gina Golden (CEO of Golden Goddess Botanicals)
Micah James Zayner (Founder of Proper Dose)
Guests enjoyed VR, silent disco, cannabis samples from 6 different vendors, and a live cooking demo for a cannabis tincture. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) set up a booth and provided exposure and education about psychedelic research.
Video: Setting up for Expand Salon
Audio: Panel discussion clip recorded live at Expand Salon
What's next: To learn more about cannabis-assisted VR practice, training, and future events or if you simply want to engage in a passionate brainstorm about scaling mental health treatment in the spirit of expanding accessibility to all and especially women and people of color, please write to me.
Tribute to John Perry Barlow (1947-2018)
I did not know John Perry Barlow but my friends did and the stories of John and the life he led seems utterly impossible to capture with words, at least that's consistently been how people who knew him described his legacy. John founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and believed firmly in the power of technology to be used for good.
We met some of John's close friends at our Expand Salon cannabis event late last year because John Gilmore, our panelist and another founder of EFF, had invited them. By the end of the evening, after a rich and compelling conversation, we parted ways with that crew but not before one of them suggested introducing us to John Perry to talk about his use of VR in the end-of-life space back in the day with Jaron Lanier.
John Perry Barlow passed quietly in his sleep on Feb 7, 2018, a week before we were hoping to meet. Lisa Padilla, CEO of NewpathVR, and her partner Fred Davis knew John Perry very well. Lisa, who is also a talented VR artist put together a tribute for John in Tiltbrush based on his "25 Principles of Adult Behavior" - principles I highly recommend everyone take a look at - with some rare photos Fred dug up. We'd love to share it with you.
Rest in Peace John Perry Barlow