Immersive Environments, Enactive Systems. The Timeline: Designing a Digital Experiential Intervention for Trauma

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


When facilitating mental health interventions, therapists typically involve clients in discussion within a room containing seating and a table. This thesis argues that digital technologies can be leveraged to encourage physiological, multisensory experiences for users to work through their challenges. In the context of trauma in mental healthcare, where the body’s involvement can play a critical role in the recovery journey,such interactive modalities offer potential in altering the dynamic of how interventions are delivered and received. This infers a client-led process where environment and features become inclusive to a holistic treatment pathway. The thesis reports on two studies via the iterative, human-centric design of a bespoke, digital therapeutic intervention called The Timeline, situated in an immersive interactive virtual environment (IIVE). Study 1 involved qualitative interviews informed by 12 “Experts by Profession”, as frontline mental health workers with average engagement of 16 years. Study 2 involved 12 “Experts by Experience” with lived understanding of a range of trauma, who were invited to trial and evaluate the system in-situ at James Cook Hospital in Teesside.

The interdisciplinary research, situated in the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI), draws upon theoretical underpinning from an enactivist view within the cognitive sciences. This provides insight into the psychology of behavior between people and systems, offering useful concepts when applying an interaction design methodology to the user experience of technology.

The main findings evidence how The Timeline, as a bespoke intervention, could lead to participatory choice and personalized control in the context of digital therapy. Data showed that conventional therapeutic interventions in mental healthcare can be restrictive and the ability to actively use prompts with the system offered autonomy and opportunity to make sense of a narrative. The IIVE is a technology with enabling properties offering a supportive alternative to mainstream therapy as an enactive system. The contribution builds on a lack of empirical evidence of designing, testing and evaluating digital interventions in mental healthcare, particularly those that nurture multidisciplinary partnerships and recruit participants with lived experience of trauma.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Northumbria University
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2023

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