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VR For Psychotherapy

Virtual reality advancements have improved the experiences of video game players and are being used to treat very significant psychiatric and mental health disorders.

Ostap Zabolotnyy
Ostap ZabolotnyyMarketing Manager
VR For Psychotherapy

Do you ever have days when you feel like you can't get anything done correctly? When you're fed up with yourself, what do you do? Days when you chastise yourself for things you've said or done in a way you wouldn't do to a friend? We all do it from time to time. 

While it's understandable that we occasionally struggle to be kind to ourselves, for some people, particularly those suffering from depression, focusing on their flaws can become a never-ending cycle of self-bullying. 

The therapy uses various methods to disrupt the cycle, and one of the most recent is Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET). Virtual reality (VR) has shown to be an effective tool in treating PTSD and a variety of other mental health conditions such as phobias, anxiety, and depression. 

What is Virtual Reality Therapy? 

VRET is a simulated artificial environment created by a computer. It allows people to confront their anxieties and phobias in a safe environment. 

VR employs a headset to immerse the wearer in a "virtual reality" that provides real-life experiences for the user. Assume you are nervous about public speaking. VR could allow you to talk in front of thousands of people without having to recruit crowds to help you deal with your nerves. Your therapy becomes more than just talking with a therapist about your concerns, worry, or despair. 

The client is exposed to a specifically constructed online environment with previously linked stimuli with fear or unpleasant events. The first scenes you see may only contain a handful of these stimuli. The negative stimuli increase in number and severity throughout therapy. 

Exposure to your greatest anxieties allows your body and mind to become accustomed to them so that they no longer elicit anxious or frightening feelings. 

VR Tools for Mental Health 

Following are some of the VR tools used to cure mental health problems. 

  • Fearless is a VR smartphone software developed by Samsung that helps people overcome their fear in the comfort of their own homes. The software provides feedback and evaluates success based on voice volume, speaking cadence, eye contact, and heart rate. 
  • Bridge Trek is another Oculus VR application that turns anxiety and fears into a game in the user's area. As the user progresses, the game becomes tougher and introduces more unpleasant circumstances. 
  • Virtually Better is a platform that healthcare providers are now testing with their patients. Therapists can control a patient's sensory experience with VR therapy. For instance, if a patient is afraid of thunderstorms or flying, the VR experience will simulate the event. Psychotherapists have developed more than 60 research products for the office and classroom. 

There are many more VR programs for mental health, and it will become a more competitive space in the following years. As patients learn more about VR and get more comfortable with it, this new approach to mental health will gain traction. 

Use Cases of VR for Psychotherapy 

VR for Treating PTSD 

Exposure therapy is a typical treatment method for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Traditional exposure therapy involves the patient recalling or imagining traumatic events and telling the therapist what happens when they experience the unpleasant circumstance in their minds. 

Virtual reality operates similarly, except that the action is transferred from the patient's thoughts to the screen of a VR headset. The traumatic experience is replicated for the patient in the virtual world. For war veterans, for example, it will represent the battlefield, complete with helicopters, machine guns, and rockets. When confronted with traumatic situations in a safe setting, people progressively learn to control their concerns. Furthermore, the patient feels the therapist's continual support and learns to adjust to the triggering scenario. 

VR For Treating Phobias and Anxiety 

VR therapy has long been used in clinics to treat phobias and other forms of anxiety.  

The VR experience exposes people to their phobia in a safe and regulated manner, allowing them to ramp up or down the intensity depending on how scared they are. A computer creates a three-dimensional virtual world for the patient. Computer graphics and technology allow for a sense of presence and immersion in a virtual environment. 

Throughout the session, the therapist's voice guides the participant through the setting and interacts with them. A customer who is frightened of heights may be the skyscraper's roof; for a client who is afraid of public speaking, it could be a room full of people. 

VR For Stress Relief and Meditation 

Approximately 80% of disorders are caused by the body's inability to cope with stress. And modern individuals have lots of reasons to be concerned: conflicts, economic instability, risks in businesses, etc. 

Another trendy alternative to traditional stress-reduction treatments is virtual reality (VR). For example, a VR application that transfers a person to an excellent location where they must scream to demolish the darkness has proven successful. 

DEEP is a one-of-a-kind meditation VR game. The player in this game explores an artificial underwater world. Breathing is the only way to control the game, which is a unique feature. Meditation and relaxation require proper breathing methods. The user's breathing controls the application. 

Three Ways Virtual Reality Could Transform Mental Health Treatment 

Psychological therapies delivered in virtual reality (VR) may provide a solution to various issues. Here are three ways virtual reality could revolutionize mental health therapy. 

Flexibility 

VR allowed the researchers to make some of the scenarios more enjoyable for participants, such as having activities where you had to rescue a kitten or blow balloons. This increased flexibility in how individuals confronted their anxiety may be why their reductions in fear of heights outperformed those reported in traditional exposure therapy. 

The flexibility of VR also means that it can also be used to treat various mental health issues. VR treatments have been employed for many other phobias, such as spiders, and other conditions such as social anxiety, depression, PTSD, psychosis, eating disorders, and addiction. 

"In situ" Coaching 

The most effective therapy interventions assist people in changing the way they think, react, and behave in the situations they find most challenging. This could include everything from boarding a crowded bus to attending a social function to simply leaving the house. 

VR settings generate immersive representations of real-world environments, allowing you to walk around and interact with them as if they were real. You can put yourself in scenarios that are usually tough for you and discover psychological skills to help you overcome your challenges with a virtual or real-life therapist. 

Automation 

The ability to automate VR therapy is maybe its most significant advantage. This implies that in VR, you may be accompanied by a virtual coach who explains the therapy and teaches you the psychological skills to practice. 

Virtual coaches can function as therapists without the necessity for a therapist to be present at every VR session. Instead, a graduate psychologist can conduct the sessions with the user, offering support and direction in addition to the virtual coach.

Benefits of VR Based Therapy 

While virtual reality should be viewed as a tool rather than a cure for all mental health issues, it does have several benefits. 

  • You have complete control over the surroundings and the level of exposure. Turbulence, for example, can be eliminated or included as needed for addressing the fear of flying. 
  • Sounds, objects, and even smells from a client's past can be used to create highly relevant and personalized environments. 
  • Therapy can be more constant and gradual or repeated. 
  • Stimuli can be gradually introduced and then removed as needed. A fear of spiders, for example, can be managed cautiously and terminated when necessary. 
  • Sessions can be replayed, and results can be collected for future evaluation. 
  • For difficult-to-arrange exposure therapy scenarios, such as severe weather, flying, speaking in front of big audiences, or dealing with dangerous environments, VR may be the only alternative. 

The potential of virtual reality in therapy is enormous and intriguing. The success of such immersive technology has the potential to improve the lives of persons suffering from phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorders. 

Future of VR in Psychotherapy 

As VR technology advances, the capability and reach of VR-based therapy will surely expand. This has the potential to alter the landscape of future psychological treatments, potentially making them more accessible and more successful. 

The bulk of startups in the market focus on producing therapeutic tools for professional therapists to utilize in-person to treat patients. Will technology improve to the point where it can provide safe and effective treatment without a trained therapist or clinician? Will we see more individuals diagnosed and treated, improving public health and economic benefits? 

More data from clinical research should be available to appropriately evaluate these innovative therapy approaches in various psychiatric diseases in the future. Until then, expect an avalanche of apps making various promises, some of which will be backed up by data and others needing verification. 

Conclusion 

According to decades of scientific research, the market for increasing mental health through VR is well established. It is, however, still in its early phases. Technology has not yet advanced sufficiently to provide widespread access to VR Therapy worldwide. 

Clinical trials should provide a lot more data in a few years. This information can be utilized to assess the efficacy of these new therapeutic techniques in various psychiatric illnesses. VR Therapy will be a game-changer in treating mental diseases if more experiments and studies are conducted.


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