Daniel David

Psychologist, PhD University Professor, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New-York, USA

 

“The exposure to virtual reality has the same advantages as the exposure to physical reality, but it doesn’t imply the same.”

 

(chapeau)

Daniel David graduated from the Faculty of Psychology in Cluj. Three years later he already had his PhD in psychology and for the next four years he was a scholarship student both at the Albert Ellis Institute in New-York and Mount Sinai Medical School, the prestigious American university. It’s been only ten years since his graduation and he already is a University Professor of clinical cognitive sciences at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj, holding the international professorial position “Professor Aaron T. Beck” and a University Professor at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York. He won three academic awards in the United States and chaired more than ten national and international research projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does the ICUBE technology mean more exactly?

 

The ICUBE technology is a “cave” type of virtual reality technology. In other words, it is a 3D reality created and controlled by the computer where you’re being projected by means of specific instruments (e.g. headsets, gloves, etc.). In the case of ICUBE, the virtual reality is projected against a cube much similar to the “Holodeck” from the popular Star Trek TV series. Next to genetic engineering, the development of virtual realities is an important stake for the human civilisation because of its effect on the optimisation of our mind, on the support of health and psychological disorder treatment.

 

A Platform for Robotherapy and Psychotherapy through Virtual Reality was inaugurated at Cluj – the so-called Matrix Platform. Are there any other platforms in the country?

 

No, it is the only one – in fact it is the most advanced platform in Central and Eastern Europe and among the first five platforms in the world in size. However, we do not want to make a big case of it: the ideas about how to use the technology you have are more important than technology alone. Also, we are hoping that other similar laboratories will be created throughout the country following our pattern and standards. We are currently counselling many laboratories around the country that want to focus on this field. We are national pioneers and trendsetters, and we are interested in developing what we have created. We do not want to be the best simply because we are the only developers; we want to be the best in a field that is well developed and represented by various high-performance teams. We like being in a competition and we encourage it by play our cards on the table. If there are people better than us, that can only motivate us to become even better. The platform is located in a building especially created for it, with a futuristic design; it’s called AVALON. The name of the building, which is informally called the Sunk Building, is an acronym for Advanced Virtual Applications Laboratories of Napocensis, but has ancient significations as well. The motto of both the AVALON Building and the MATRIX Platform is “Melius Est Siti Moriri Quam Mediocritati Poculum Libere.” ”The Decalogue of Rationality” is Its fundamental doctrine.” In 2009 Quad Studio, the company that designed AVALON Building was awarded the first prize by the Union of Architects of Romania, Transylvania branch. In front of the building there are two natural amphitheatres and on its roof there is a garden. At the entrance there is a welcoming hall decorated with the symbols of the chair and the university. The MATRIX Platform is on the first floor together with its six top laboratories: the “Stress Control” Lab, the “Virtual Classroom”, the “Pain Control” Lab, the “Star Trek-Holodeck” Lab (hosting the Neo-Cube,” or “the Virtual Cube” – the ”jewellery“ of the MATRIX Platform and AVALON Building, the “Data” Lab, the “Clinical Cognitive (Neuro)Sciences” Lab.

NAUTILUS Room is in the basement of the building, hosting the NEMO Library, “Florian Stefanescu Goanga” Psychology Museum, and a relaxation area called ATLANTIS. Upstairs, On the Deck, there are four rooms where the staffs of the Platform work. These rooms were named after great personalities of psychology which founded the paradigms in which we think: John. B. Watson Room, B.F. Skinner Room, Albert Ellis Room, Aaron T. Beck Room, as well as a Meeting Room and their annexes; There is a second exit towards a balcony facing the garden and the amphitheatres.

How many platforms like that are there around the word?

This particular combination (robotherapy and virtual reality), with applications in psychotherapies scientifically validated by clinical cognitive sciences is at this point unique. This fact is confirmed by the international reviews of the Platform (see at http://www.psytech.ro) and by the collaborations that we’ve had and we are invited to. Of course, there are highly valuable research groups on robotherapy or virtual reality, but the profile that I described earlier enables us, at least for now, to give Romania an competitive advantage over other countries.

What psychological disorders does virtual-reality-based psychotherapy address to?

Virtual-reality-based psychotherapy is not a form of psychotherapy. It is a process of technological development within classical psychotherapies. Therefore, wherever classical psychotherapy is being used, for optimal results, it is recommended to make use of virtual technology as well. If we take into consideration the cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy, we must say that the applications range from anxiety and depressive disorders to eating behaviour disorders and psychotic disorders affecting adults and children, sometimes independently, at times fusing with pharmacotherapy (for instance, in the case of psychotic disorders).

 

What is the advantage of this therapy sessions in the cube?

 

The use of virtual technology contributes to the development of classical forms of psychotherapy. For example, if someone has airplane phobia, in order to treat it there is a need of gradual exposure to it. If this exposure is a mere product of imagination (in vitro), it may not be sufficiently strong and realistic, especially if the patient has limited imagery abilities. If the exposure is real (in vivo), the costs are high, you have no control over the situation and the patient or/and everyone around may run certain risks (for instance, the patient may panic during the flight). The exposure to virtual reality has the same advantages as the exposure to physical reality (realism), but it doesn’t imply the same risks (it is an accessible secure and controllable environment). More to this, the information acquired in the virtual reality is transferred into the physical reality, and the client often does not distinguish between the environment that provided them with the information and the environment where they apply the information acquired.

 

How did you get this extremely ingenious idea? How much of this project is mere experiment, how much is research?

 

We know from psychology that an innovative idea usually comes from reading and observing the reality out of curiosity or wishing to find something new in an intelligent and creative context. That’s how things went in our case. We are a team that does a lot of reading, that scans the reality in order to find out where we stand and what our needs are, again out of curiosity and driven by the desire of being ahead of our times. One of our mottos is: “We do not predict the future; we do not create it… we are already there…” We like to think things in a futuristic manner, at and beyond the frontier of today’s knowledge, yet in a rational and pragmatic way. This is how innovations are born! Apart from handling advanced research projects, the MATRIX Platform serves also didactic purposes for master and PhD students within our Department, as well as, innovative services for the community with the help of the “Babeş-Bolyai – PsyTech” Psychology University Clinic and the ”International Coaching Institute/European Coaching Centre.”

 

From my understanding, this cube has currently four active walls. What changes will the fifth wall bring?

 

The feeling of “immersion” and ”presence” within a virtual reality will become even more vivid, and may have a great positive impact on the psychotherapeutical process. In other words, the similarity between virtual reality and physical reality will grow to such an extent that they will become one.

 

Does cube therapy apply to other areas as well (e.g. aviation, army, etc)?

 

Yes. For instance, we use two systems: “Virtual Iraq” and “Virtual Afghanistan.” Both can be used to treat emotional and behavioural disorders of the soldiers who fought there and/or were trained for “pre-combat.”

 

What place does this new research project take in your scientific work?

 

It is the top priority of this research group and it suits perfectly what we do, and that would be, clinical cognitive sciences with great impact of promoting health, human optimisation and treatment for emotional and behavioural disorders.

 

In 2007, for the first time, you launched yet another revolutionary project – the therapy of anxiety, anger, depression and guilt with the help of comic books. What are the basics of this therapy?

 

Behavioural and emotional disorders are determined by irrational cognition (thoughts). In order to get rid of these problems, there is need to change irrational thoughts into rational thoughts through techniques of cognitive restructuring. If the patient is a teenager or a child, classical interventional techniques are not as efficient as they happen to be in the case of adult patients (e.g. logical, empirical, pragmatic cognitive restructuring, etc); in the case of kids of children and teenagers, the metaphorical restructuring by means of stories and poems seems to working quite well. Children learn from stories and from the characters that appear them. Therefore, we created a character, much similar to a rational, efficient, mentally healthy and happy Prince Charming. His name is RETMAN and he is fighting against Irationalius and his helpers (represented by irrational thoughts affecting the children): Frustratus, Catastrophus, Discourageatus and Necessarius. The name RETMAN comes from “Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy,” (proposed by USA colleagues), and we are hoping that he will become one of the positive characters of the modern period, next to Prince Charming, Harap-Alb, Greuceanu, Pipăruş Petru[i], etc. You can also find RETMAN on the internet at http://www.psychotherapy.ro and in a recently published book with the same name, detailing the comics.

 

You are cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist. Does this field of psychotherapy have immediate and efficient answers to the current, yet even more acute problems that the human psychic is confronting with?

 

I am a psychotherapist with a scientific orientation. At present I teach and I practise cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy because this branch of psychotherapy has the largest scientific support of all (there are controlled clinical studies indicating that it is efficiently functioning). Yes, cognitive-behavioural therapy provides us with many answers, yet there are still a lot of questions that are left unanswered. It’s pretty much the same thing as in medicine, where we do not yet know the mechanisms of certain types of cancer, therefore we need to study to find out. However, even if we happen to know them, sometimes we do not have efficient treatment that could change them; we need the research to find new cures. This is the charming side of cognitive-behavioural therapy: it is an on-going developing process by means of scientific research, finding new unprecedented mechanisms and efficient treatments to change them. If in the future a new more efficient form of psychotherapy would be found, then the responsibility and the respect for our patients and students will motivate us to switch to it. However, it is very unlikely for a new paradigm to appear in the near future because the cognitive-behavioural therapy is continuously developing through thorough research ruled by critical analysis.

 

You are fond of Buddhism. In your profession, do you always take a middle course?

 

I’m an Orthodox Christian, fascinated by and interested culturally in Buddhism and other theological-religious approaches on the world. Yes, at least I always try, but at times it may imply going from one extreme to another, which in the end would catch me right in the middle.

 

What are the most important moral and professional values that reigned over the career that you started at the highest academic level?

 

The main values are Tradition, Honour and Performance. I strongly believe that the foundation of a Great Success is a Great Sacrifice (it’s rarely a question of Luck, and this is not something to value because you might die waiting for Godot!). Therefore you need to have the Courage to assume a Sacrifice, and in this context, Courage provides the general terms for the values that I mentioned earlier. Of course, I would also like to add Common Sense and Critical Analysis, which keep your feet on the ground – without them, you may lose touch with reality and even with your own values. In fact, I often say that you care about something, then you should try sabotaging that something systematically and if that something copes with your permanent attempt of sabotage, then that something is worth caring for (of course, this applies to convictions and ideas; it’s not something to do with people). If you keep asserting your convictions, you become defensive, incapable of having argumentative discussions with the sole purpose of learning – you become a ferocious emotional defender of your rigid points of view and/or stupidities; you are limiting your intellectual enthusiasm.


[i] These are positive male characters, much similar to Prince Charming, from the most popular Romanian children stories.