Virtual reality could help patients overcome stress, anxiety, and phobias, studies show.
Virtual reality (VR) therapy is a form of treatment that uses a simulated environment to provide patients with a sense of presence and immersion that can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms over time.
One example of this is exposure therapy. This treatment involves gradually exposing patients to their fears, such as heights or public speaking, in a safe and controlled environment. VR can simulate these scenarios, allowing patients to face their phobias without the risks associated with real-life exposure.
Studies have shown that VR therapy can effectively treat various mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and a variety of phobias. One study found that VR exposure therapy was as effective as traditional exposure therapy in treating PTSD symptoms in veterans.
VR therapy enables individualized care in a secure setting with a licensed clinician to guide a patient through the healing process or remotely, in the comfort of their own homes. Because this form of treatment can be administered in-home, cutting down on travel and childcare costs, and doesn’t necessarily involve guidance from a clinician, it can also be more accessible and cost-effective than traditional therapy.
VR therapy is still relatively new, and challenges must be addressed. One concern is that patients may become too reliant on technology and avoid real-life situations altogether, just the same as they might when they become immersed in an online game. VR tools are often considered “fun to use” by those who’ve employed them. Thus, they may become a welcome crutch rather than offer significant benefits for reducing real-life issues.
There are also questions about the long-term effectiveness of the treatment and whether it can provide the same level of emotional support as in-person therapy. Some are concerned that the impact of reality will still be just a jarring when patients are actually facing their fears because of the differences in setting.
Regardless of criticism, one thing’s for sure – as technology advances, it is becoming more of an important tool in mental health. This has been most evident in the transition from in-person therapy to teletherapy amid the onset of the pandemic. Traditionally, sessions were only available in an office setting, whereas the vast majority are now offered online or over the phone.
Just like teletherapy, there is promising evidence that virtual reality (VR) therapy can help people who have trouble benefiting from more conventional forms of treatment. It can ease social anxiety and reduce stress in this way. And, in addition to providing individualized care, patients with mental health issues can benefit VR’s ability to teach them to manage their condition better on their own, outside of sessions.
Researchers are still exploring the use of VR for exposure therapy, and its overall effectiveness as well as any limitations. Modifications may be able to be made in order to address lingering concerns, and the modality is likely to allow for greater access to mental health services for individuals who may not otherwise be able to seek care. Early studies certainly have shown promising results.