Behavioral professionals attempting to follow the rapid escalation of digital options for clinical work can easily be confused by the terms Meta and Metaverse. The evolving technological landscape marked by Facebook’s rebranding to Meta compared to the burgeoning Metaverse concept warrants a nuanced evaluation with an eye toward appropriateness for behavioral interventions, as the two terms are easily and incorrectly interchanged.
Differences between Facebook’s Meta & the Metaverse
Issues for behavioral health center around using such digital platforms for client or patient contact or care, especially concerning privacy and ethical considerations.
- In essence, Meta is a company, the parent company of Facebook.
- The Metaverse is a concept that refers to a comprehensive, immersive virtual domain, often anchored by the internet and encompassing an array of digital innovations intended to mimic the tactile essence of the physical world in the virtual world.
The article below draws further parallels and distinctions to help the behavioral professional distinguish between the two separate concepts and their associated entities.
Facebook’s Meta: A Proprietary Realm within the Virtual Universe
In October of 2021, Mark Zuckerberg introduced Meta as his renamed parent company, intended to bring together all the Facebook apps and products under one brand. Meta, as a company, was designated as his central company whose focus was on bringing the Metaverse to life, helping people connect, find communities, and grow their businesses.
Facebook’s transition to the new name of Meta signified its strategic focus on creating a branded space within the broader context of the Metaverse. As a commercial venture, corporate policies and business objectives govern Facebook’s Meta.
Facebook’s Meta has a proprietary, centralized architecture, which poses a challenge for telehealth services that require uniformity and compliance, particularly regarding regulatory issues (Tanveer, Ali, & Azim, 2023). Conversely, given its proprietary nature, Facebook’s Meta will likely adhere to Facebook’s data collection and privacy protocols.
Just last week, Telehealth.org alerted readers to the 41 Facebook lawsuits currently underway, wherein numerous parties are accusing Facebook of exploiting youth, harming their mental health, and compromising their privacy. Moreover, there is a long history of Facebook’s legal battles concerning privacy in healthcare, which raises concerns about professionals using this site for client or patient interactions.
The Metaverse: A Shared Online World
What is Metaverse?
The Metaverse is a digital space where people can interact using avatars, similar to interacting in a video game. Unlike traditional video games, the Metaverse aims to be a place where many different online worlds can connect. It’s not controlled by a single company but is intended to be a community-driven space where everyone can join. Access is easy, given the wide variety of tutorials to instruct users by simply searching for “How to access the metaverse.” The issues for behavioral professionals, however, involve privacy, cybersecurity, and efficacy.
Early adopters of this technology may recognize one of the originators of the concept, Second Life. The company and its platform still exist, but it does not offer the many protections needed for psychotherapy.
The Metaverse offers opportunities for customization, albeit with risks of variable quality and ethical standards (Bibri & Allam, 2022). Its robustness for healthcare applications is yet to be proven.
How the Metaverse Could Eventually Be Used in Psychotherapy
Imagine holding a therapy session in a peaceful virtual park or conducting group therapy where an avatar represents each participant. You could also imagine using the space for role-playing activities to help clients work through various scenarios in a safe, controlled environment. Studies regarding the Metaverse’s appropriateness for behavioral care have been conducted for decades (Lee, 2023, Yin, 2022).
Psychodrama in the 1940’s
For those of you fortunate enough to have experienced psychodrama, congratulations. You have experienced a forerunner to its digital counterpart, in a way. For those who have not experienced psychodrama, it is a therapeutic approach that employs guided dramatic action to examine problems or issues raised by an individual or a group. Created by Jacob L. Moreno, this technique encourages spontaneous dramatization, role-playing, and dramatic self-presentation as methods to gain insights into individual and collective psychology and to explore solutions to complex situations (Moreno, 1946).
Psychotherapy & the Metaverse
Using the Metaverse in psychotherapy and medical fields still continues to be an emerging area but has not been extensively empirically tested in rigorous clinical trials. While there is significant interest, albeit fascination, and discussion about the potentMetaversety of the Metaverse, it lacks a substantial body of peer-reviewed research to validate its efficacy for therapeutic interventions beyond immediate insight.
Nonetheless, a future version of the Metaverse, with evolving technological adaptations, could offer a more interactive and immersive experience than traditional teletherapy over time.
Metaverse vs. Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality
Confusion may also exist with regard to the Metaverse and the more tightly controlled and empirically validated approaches to using the technologies known as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). These two types of technology have been more extensively studied, with some promising results in medical and psychological interventions (Rizzo et al., 2017; Parsons & Rizzo, 2008).
The difference between VR and AR is that the Metaverse adds layers of social interMetaversenteroperability, and decentralization, which have not yet been fully explored in the context of empirically supported treatments or privacy and safety for healthcare (Sicari et al., 2015).
Ethical, Legal &Practical Considerations
As with telehealth, ethical responsibility mandates that practitioners possess a comprehensive understanding of the technology they deploy in consumer interactions. Known in most ethical codes as Boundaries of Competence, developing competence extends beyond how to a full understanding of when, why, and how to prevent harm. These additional aspects require minimal competencies regarding a technology’s potential benefits and drawbacks, as well as the factors contributing to its effectiveness or shortcomings.
Before using any technology, professionals should be able to demonstrate through education, training, or equivalent experience not only competence in utilizing the technology but also a deep understanding of its empirical foundations when applied to different clinical populations.This ethical requirement is particularly true when using platforms associated with Facebook’s Meta or any other part of the Metaverse.
Facebook’s Meta and the Metaverse are distinct in their governance structures, privacy implications, and ethical ramifications when considering behavioral health. As these technologies further impact and influence the fields of telehealth and behavioral sciences, a detailed understanding of their nuances is indispensable for clinicians and healthcare administrators before attempting to use either in behavioral healthcare. On the other hand, professionals seeking digital interveions using VR and AR have many proven-effective, ready-to-adapt protocols to use with a variety of behavioral disorders.
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