When you see the words ‘virtual reality’, your first thoughts are probably that we’re talking about video and computer games, and other forms of entertainment. While virtual reality (VR) headsets have been the ultimate gaming accessory for a while now; more recently VR designers have joined forces with therapists and other medical professionals to utilise the software as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of certain mental disorders. Virtual reality technology has proven itself valuable in treating everything from phobias, to anxiety, depression and even addictions.
Similar to exposure therapy, virtual reality technology helps patients confront their fears or phobias and learn new ways to manage them. Several studies have found virtual reality to be effective in the treatment of fears such as fear of heights, flying, public speaking and even spiders. The technology is also being harnessed in fields such as pain management, physical rehabilitation and post-traumatic stress.
You might be wondering how VR rates as an alternative to traditional exposure therapy where the patient is encouraged to visualise the object of their fear before slowly being introduced to it in real life. While VR is very similar to exposure therapy, it does have the advantage of being cheaper and easier to control. For the patient it is also less intimidating. The thought of having to come in direct contact with what frightens you or causes you any form of pain or discomfort is not very appealing to most patients, even if they know it can benefit them. This is where VR has the upper hand.
Virtual reality uses simulations – using a computer-generated world and headset, consciously the patient knows there is no direct threat. This makes them feel comfortable enough to interact with their given fear or phobia in a controlled, virtual environment. Think about it; if you had a phobia of spiders, would you feel more comfortable facing a real or a virtual spider?
If you’ve never had to deal with a phobia yourself, you might be questioning the effectiveness of a simulation over confronting the real thing. The truth is people suffering from a phobia only need the presence of a spider’s leg or the view from the top of a tall building to trigger a strong emotional response. Simulations are the perfect way to do this, and are therefore sufficient at initiating the process to help a patient manage or gain control over their fear.
If you want to find out how virtual reality therapy could help you, contact us for a free initial consultation today.