Most of us experience some level of stress and anxiety in our lives. It can be relatively mild to extremely severe and debilitating — anywhere along the spectrum. Some examples include general stress at work, relationship issues, fears and phobias, depression and other anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing states that almost half of the Australia’s total population (45.5%) experienced a mental disorder at some point in their lifetime.
For many disorders, there are highly effective treatments that don’t require drugs.
Exposure therapy is a technique in behaviour therapy used to treat anxiety disorders. It involves the exposure of the patient to the feared object or context without any danger, in order to overcome their anxiety and/or distress.
Virtual Reality is one of the easiest and simplest way to treat anxiety, stress and phobias. VR therapy allows the patient to interact with certain environments between real and imaginal exposure, improving the flow and outcomes of exposure therapy.
The use of Virtual Reality technology offers unique capabilities for the treatment of anxiety, fears and stress not only because it allows interactive, multi sensory, immersive environments to be readily created, but also because it provides the ability for counsellor to control, document, and measure stimuli and patient responses.
Virtual Reality offers clinical assessment and treatment that are not available via traditional methods.
Virtual reality, when applied to the treatment of fears, phobias and stress, allows individuals to be exposed to fear stimuli (in the same manner as when performing traditional therapy) within a computer-generated situation. Through the use of a helmet or headpiece which is integrated into a screen, the patient is placed in a virtual environment where they are gradually exposed to their fears.
The patient has the ability to actually view an artificial environment in front of them, rather than imagining or reliving the scenario in their head or trying to recreate the stressful environment. This is particularly important for situations that are hard to imagine or hard to place a patient in them, such as a fear of flying.
With a fear of spiders, the counsellor could gradually bring in spiders to a controlled setting to expose patients to them, but that form of treatment would be much harder to do with a fear of flying. Also, having the artificial environment directly in front of the patient allows for easy monitoring of anxiety.
Additionally, using a virtual immersion device connected to a computer is very beneficial because the counsellor can manipulate the sights, sounds, and smells of the artificial environment to change the reaction of the patient and see what causes the highest level of anxiety. As a result, the counsellor is able to gradually desensitise the patient to the stressful situation.
VR Therapy serves as a successful bridge between an artificial stressful environment and the real world. After undergoing virtual reality therapy, many patients feel secure in entering the real world and confronting their fear in person. They have gained control over their psychological anxieties and symptoms.
Overall, through virtual reality therapy, the patient is able to overcome their fear in a controlled, non-threatening setting with the help of a therapist.
Virtual reality treatment offers many advantages comparing to traditional exposure techniques for anxiety, phobias and fears:
Increased control and security
The virtual environment allows for the control of unexpected occurrences that may come up during exposure to the real world (jammed elevator, plane turbulence, traffic jams). The virtual environment allows the client to be exposed to certain fears that may be difficult to reproduce in reality within a secure environment.
Reduction of breaching confidentiality
When using gradual traditional exposure techniques, the therapist must accompany the client into different locations in order to allow the client to conquer their fear. These techniques require outings into the world outside of the office, often into a public place that may hold certain risks for the client. Virtual therapy takes place in the privacy of the therapist’s office, thus preserving client confidentiality.
Minimisation of avoidance
Avoidance is the most commonly observed behaviour among people with phobias. It may also manifest itself in the course of therapy, during exposure. The therapist can see on the screen of their computer the image that has been projected into the virtual helmet and onto the movement encoders. In this manner, the therapist can guide the client back to the feared stimulus if the client demonstrates avoidance tendencies.
Respecting the client’s rhythm
The therapist can see and hear what the client is experiencing within the virtual environment. Should the client’s anxiety levels become too elevated, the client can easily return to a lower level of anxiety during the course of treatment or may simply remove the virtual helmet. It is also possible to repeat the sate of exposure as often as is necessary as well as to permit the therapist to pace the sessions according to the client’s needs.
Virtual reality offers clients having difficulty imagining feared situations, or having difficulty entering real life situations, the possibility of conquering a fear stimulus or object in a secure context.
Elimination of animal care
For persons suffering from animal or insect phobias, traditional exposure therapy can become complicated and expensive, because the therapist has to house and feed these living creatures, or not be able to get access to them.
Reduction of costs
Virtual therapy allows for the reduction of costs often encountered with traditional therapy. Therapy easier to duplicate and results achieved faster, so less sessions required.
Increased accessibility to services
The prevalence of specific phobia in the general population is high, yet few people seek treatment. This type of therapy appears to offer security for potential patients, which in itself may motivate them to seek help.
Transfer of gains into the real world
Virtual reality has the potential of becoming an asset for exposure to fear stimuli in a secure context. Studies conducted by means of virtual reality have demonstrated its efficacy longitudinally in the treatment of acrophobia.
VR Therapy is very beneficial in the treatment of weight loss, anorexia, relaxation, addictions, OCD, ADHD and PTSD.
Avatars are what you see when you’re in a computer simulation that represents yourself. They’re you, only virtual and because they’re virtual, they can be presented in any number of different ways.
For example, during the treatment of weight loss therapy, an avatar is used that is build from an actual photo of the client. The avatar can be made to look like the desired outcome for the client, for example a more fit and active version of themselves.
People controlling an avatar feel connected to it and the universe in which it resides, even if that universe has features our own world does not. What does that mean for you? How your avatar lives and looks will likely lead the client to gravitate towards living that way too.
The changes are cemented into your subconscious because, for the subconscious mind, reality and fantasy are the same.
Seeing a healthy image of oneself has a profound effect on attitude and behaviour. The altered reality impacts how the mind thinks about it’s actual self, resulting in positive change.
The ability to observe and interact with VR representations makes people feel present in a situation and gives them the confidence needed to achieve their goals. Ultimately, these VR experiences promote desired health behaviour that are longer lasting than other treatments available in the market.
Contact us if you would like to find out more about our Virtual Reality Therapy.