Mi casa es tu casa hero image

1 month

A virtual home for your mind

Understanding the opportunities in emerging extended reality worlds designed for mental health therapy sessions that enhance connectedness in remote situations.

UX Research
UX Design
Mixed Reality
Hybrid Workshop Facilitation
3D Modelling


Project Context
Research Paper, published by Occasional Press 2022, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, ISBN 978-1-7782221-1-5

Authors: Shraddha Kumbhar & Daniela Monserrat Palencia Ochoa
Roles and Responsibilities
Planned and conducted UX research, expert interviews, literature review, observations and data analysis, while exploring augmented and virtual reality technologies. Created 3D assets for virtual spaces and developed various participatory workshops. Facilitated a hybrid workshop using Zoom, spatial.io, and in-person methods simultaneously. Co-wrote the paper and contributed to editing the final manuscript.
Tools Used
Spatial.io, Miro, Zotero, Rhino 3D, Cinema 4D, Blender, ResearchRabbit, Connected Papers, Zotero, Obsidian, Adobe Creative Suite, Google G Suite, Microsoft Office,  Zoom


In the evolving landscape of mental health support, our team sought to explore the potential of extended reality (XR) environments as therapeutic spaces. Anchoring our study on the concept "Mi Casa es Tu Casa," we designed and facilitated a workshop in a virtual setting on the Spatial.io platform to recreate the warmth and safety of a home environment.

Over a two-week pilot study with our Studio cohort, we assessed the environment's efficacy for emotional expression and connectedness, using a practice-based design approach and focusing on art therapy modalities. Our participants engaged in various forms of creative expression, including drawing and uploading images, reporting decreased feelings of stage fright often associated with vulnerable conversations.

While our findings offer promising avenues for mental health practitioners, the study wasn't without its challenges. Technical issues and distractions underlined the need for specialized, user-friendly platforms tailored to mental health services. This experience underscores the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration, and the project serves as a stepping stone for designers, researchers, and mental health professionals aiming to refine and implement XR technologies for mental well-being.


Occasional Press is an agile publication initiative aiming to showcase new forms of creative research from across Emily Carr University of Art + Design and the broader community. The term ‘occasional’ refers to an as-needed (as opposed to regular) publishing program. The press aims to reflect the diverse and pluriversal nature of the broader Emily Carr community. The Occasional Press team includes Ruby Pang, Leea Contractor, Aamir Rangwalla, Isla Pedrana, Jon Hannan, and Katherine Gillieson.

The Process behind the Activity

  1. Observation of Surroundings: Initially, we observed the new dynamics within the studio cohort in the wake of COVID-19 easing restrictions. The pandemic has led to drastic changes in both physical and mental health, work routines, and social interaction.
  2. Problem Identification and Interviewing Cohort: We interviewed the MDes cohort to gauge their emotional responses to these changes. The feedback ranged from excitement to anxiety.
  3. Literature Review: A deep dive into the literature revealed a rising trend in mental health issues due to the pandemic; this helped us formulate a foundational understanding of how technology can aid mental health professionals and clients in hybrid situations.
  4. Pilot Study Planning & Selection of Research Methodology: Informed by initial observations, interviews and literature review, we outlined the scope of our pilot study. We then created a structured plan and decided to incorporate exploratory research & participatory action-based research methods. We intended to test our design & research approaches to potentially help the larger community of designers and mental health professionals.
  5. Expert Interview: We consulted with Diana Freyre, a psychologist specializing in Art Therapy, to understand different kinds of therapy and how they are conducted in a hybrid situation. Furthermore, we noted how individual and group therapy sessions are conducted. Lastly, we kept in touch with her throughout our research for feedback on our progress and to make sound decisions.
  6. Idea generation: After analysis of the research data, various concept ideas were generated to help the cohort engage and freely express themselves without feeling pressured. Simultaneously, we also wanted the deep, meaningful conversation process to be fun so participants loosened up before opening up.
  7. Finalizing Workshop Activity: The research led to the design of a group workshop activity delivered through existing online platforms by giving a personal touch and experience to the facilitation narrative, which was then conducted as planned.
  8. Reflection and Paper: Post-activity, we reflected on the experiences, challenges, and learnings, synthesizing these into a paper that serves as a foundational piece for future inquiries in this crucial intersection of technology and mental health.

Activity Objective

We developed a range of concepts aimed at facilitating engagement and free expression within our Studio cohort while minimizing feelings of pressure or discomfort. To inject an element of lightheartedness into the deep, meaningful conversations, we introduced the innovative concept of "Talk without Talking." Our finalized approach focused on activities in virtual worlds, designed with specific objectives in mind to make the interaction both substantive and enjoyable.

  • Identify opportunities for individuals to express themselves through means other than words.
  • Remind participants to pause for a moment and reconnect with themselves and their environment.
  • Acknowledge the importance of observing and listening to an individual to understand them truly.
  • Investigate how mental health professionals might integrate virtual and real environments to facilitate creative activities.

The Activity: "Mi casa es tu casa"

“Mi casa es tu casa” is a commonly used phrase by Mexicans to invite people and let them be part of their lives. The literal English translation is “My house is your house.” This concept came into our mind as Monserrat was missing home, and as part of her healing process, she wanted to be there somehow. “Mi casa es tu casa” is a 3D virtual space that uses custom virtual architecture to draw groups of people together. This space aims to engage people in virtual and real worlds. Through this concept, we wanted to create a reliable virtual environment that allows everyone to open up about their deepest thoughts while not getting pressured and enjoying the process.

To conduct this activity, we use an existing platform named Spatial(https://spatial.io/). This platform aims to create virtual spaces like “metaverse” that bring people together, using realistic avatars generated with the help of artificial intelligence. The Spatial platform enabled us to focus on the interior environment and the objectives rather than developing a new program.

It was crucial to design a space related to the intimacy of going to someone's home and feeling like it was yours. Showing the vulnerable side was essential to make the participants feel comfortable. “Mi casa es tu casa” concept was represented by selected 3D models (.fbx, .gltf, .glb) corresponding to Monserrat's home.

Stages of the Activity

We facilitated the activity in the form of narrative storytelling to create a unique experience for a total of nine participants.

1. Invitation and Exploration

To make this process memorable, we extended a playful visual invitation a day before our presentation. Additionally, we provided QR codes and tutorial links to the participants so that they could familiarize themselves with the Spatial app and the existing environment.

2. Day of Activity - Checkpoint

To ensure everyone could access the virtual space and hear the audio on Spatial, we played a background song for a lively atmosphere. The song choice was personal, one that Monserrat enjoys with her family.

3. Welcoming to Virtual home

A portal was created to depict the experience of everyone visiting a friend's house. As we entered through the portal, we explained the meaning of "Mi casa es tu casa" and the reason behind choosing Monserrat’s house as inspiration. We tried to keep the virtual environment as similar as possible. We also put up pictures of her actual house for participants to get a visualization. First, we asked our peers to look at some of the objects there, and then Monserrat explained why those objects were meaningful to her. The idea of starting this conversation was to facilitate intimacy and empathy among each other, so they could feel as if they were in their own house.

4. Introducing the Activity & Uploading images

Furthermore, we asked our cohort to think about how they felt during the first month of the Master's program and depict their emotions on the Spatial app by drawing, using images or 3D elements. We set the timer for 10 minutes and established some ground rules to make it more exciting, like a game. Finally, we mentioned that it was okay if anyone did not feel like participating or sharing their experiences and could participate as observers.

6. Share the outcome and conclusion

At this stage, we requested two volunteers to participate, as it was not possible to conduct it with everyone due to the fixed presentation time.

Findings during the Activity

  • Active engagement of participants in the virtual world was evident through actions such as dancing, jumping, and clapping.
  • Virtual interactions had a positive effect on participants' moods, promoting deeper emotional expression.
  • The virtual environment provided a comfort zone for many participants, reducing feelings of stage fright during personal discussions.
  • Calming elements within the virtual activity fostered a more open dialogue among participants.
  • A significant number of participants compared the virtual experience to a game, enhancing their overall comfort level.


  • Even though we introduced the platform to the participants, it took a significant amount of time for them to interact within the platform.
  • The participants got distracted, with overabundant options. Nevertheless, we did not get a chance to use the VR set for this activity.
  • One participant did not have the same experience as the rest because she did not want to create a log-in. 
  • Although smartphones are consistently getting updates for their operating system, one participant could not access it due to difficulties between the updates of its smartphone and the platform minimum requirements.
  • In the activity, some participants unavoidably had internet connection issues, which withdrew them from the conversation. 
  • Occasionally, some participants did not respond or interact with the rest. Consequently, the course of the activity got interrupted and distracted. This behaviour is commonly observed during online sessions.

Even though free platforms like Spatial.io are suitable to create virtual worlds, specifically designed solutions for therapy sessions are needed. Further research and the creation of guidelines for merging mental health services and extended reality are necessary. This platform would need to have a basic security system to maintain the privacy of the clients and a session for every patient. 

This specialization, however, is costly as it requires to develop multiple environments adapted to the specific disorder and patient (Hacmun et al. 2018). 

In other words, when a design is tailored to each individual, it will inevitably involve more work, more adaptations and more details, which invariably make the platform less affordable.


Even though we made this exploration with our Graduate Studio I cohort, the Spatial.io platform was not that intuitive or easy to follow. The navigation between devices was different, which reflected in their ability to participate fluently. Furthermore, the platform is more like a video game, so people who tend to play frequently or use similar programs will be more familiar with navigating through technological advances such as the metaverse.


In our research, we discovered the potential of extended reality worlds in bridging creative teams and mental health professionals. Through practice-based design research, including prototyping, we gained valuable insights. We approached mental health from a designer's perspective, aiming to foster expression and openness in a changing hybrid system. While we emphasized the utility of virtual worlds, we also acknowledged the importance of in-person interactions. A key consideration for these digital spaces, like the metaverse, is the need for robust internet connections and compatible devices. As extended reality develops, mental health professionals can leverage it for enhanced therapeutic experiences.

Our research on mental health solutions and extended reality worlds is ongoing. We are focusing on refining existing solutions for the mental health sector and emphasizing co-creation with stakeholders for reliable design outcomes. As the remote system persists post-Covid-19, we unknowingly became part of the metaverse. Now, we have the possibility to design virtual worlds to be intuitive and resourceful. Everything is there, but not everything is easy to use.

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