When you think of virtual reality, your mind most likely turns to video games. While it’s true that virtual reality, or VR, has become big in that industry over the past several years, VR technology has made its way into the medical field as well. In particular, mental health is a subsection of healthcare where VR thrives because it offers patients psychological therapy. Through this type of therapy, patients are able to go through digital environments and complete tasks tailored to treat their specific ailment.
Though traditional therapy will always have its merits, VR-enabled therapy is proven to deliver fast and long-lasting improvements to people’s mental health. In fact, some clinical trials have results showing that VR-enabled therapy equals, if not exceeds, what can be accomplished in face-to-face therapy sessions. When tackling overcoming specific phobias, VR-enabled therapy is able to simulate scenarios that in-person therapists cannot for the patient to face and, eventually, overcome. If someone has a fear of heights, for example, a scenario can be created that puts the patient on top of a tall building or a large cliff, rather than having that person go to either of those locations with their therapists physically.
Through this virtually-aided exposure therapy, patients can face their fears in a safe, controlled environment, and eventually learn that these anxiety-inducing threats are not as dangerous as they seem to be. Exposure therapy in this format is safer, quicker, less expensive, and more controlled than in-person exposure therapy sessions.
VR-enabled therapy makes therapy more readily available to those who would otherwise go untreated due to a lack of qualified clinicians in their area, bypassing long waiting lists and the negative stigma that generally surrounds therapy. Likewise, having this type of therapy can potentially increase the impact of mental health interventions (such as the exposure therapy simulations discussed above) and have patients more likely to go into the experiences again repeatedly. With the environments created by the VR, they can become so immersive that patients will find it easy to engage with and potentially even fun to use.