Virtual reality’s use in mental health provides an innovative approach that proves to be transformational. When used in a thoughtful and conscious way, it can provide a much-needed engaging and affordable therapeutic experience that can leave a lasting impact on people’s mental health and well-being.
VR company Jolly Good and its partner Otsuka Pharmaceutical are working to expand the use of social skill training VR in treating mental disorders in Japan. Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma and US-based BehaVR are collaborating to develop prescription digital therapeutics for treating major mental health disorders.
In early 2022, Massachusetts General Hospital, in conjunction with Rocket VR Health, created a VR therapy research intervention for managing distress in blood cancer patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cells transplant.
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This digital technology can be utilized as a therapy to treat and support a broad range of conditions and challenges, including.
Stress and pain alleviation
Virtual reality has been shown to be a practical tool for immersive, three-dimensional (3D), multisensory experiences that distract patients from painful stimuli. VR for stress and pain alleviation typically provides engaging forms of distraction within a virtual environment.
Studies at the University of Barcelona have shown that applying VR to depressed patients can reduce the severity of their depression and self-degradation while increasing satisfaction.
VR for depression ranges from immersive cognitive behavioral therapy, telemedicine sessions made immersive, avatar-to-avatar live therapy sessions, and on-demand therapeutic exercises.
Phobias and PTSD
VR exposure therapies are particularly effective for anxiety, provoking realistic reactions to stimuli that can cause fear. Exposure therapy is a well-established treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that requires the patient to focus on and describe the details of a traumatic experience. Exposure methods include a confrontation with frightening, yet realistically safe, stimuli that continue until anxiety is reduced.
VR exposure therapies have shown many benefits for patients with a specific phobia or PTSD through the extinction of traumatic experiences through repetitive exposures within a virtual environment.
The immersive power of VR provides a more engaging and authentic experience that results in greater effectiveness. Under evidence-based research, it has been found that it allows patients greater control over their own exposure. Virtual reality experiences can be designed to be highly interactive, allowing patients to maintain a sense of control even as they experience anxiety triggers.
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In addition, VR therapy offers a drug-free method of reducing trauma-related anxiety. A well-designed treatment program can offer improved cost-effectiveness over conventional treatment programs.
Apart from patients, this also democratizes virtual reality treatments for therapists and patients around the world by providing mental health professionals with animated and live environments they can use in their clinical practice. This treatment can be applied for anxiety disorders, treatment of fears and phobias, as well as for the practice of mindfulness and relaxation techniques.
However, as encouraging as the growing body of clinical evidence is, VR still faces barriers to widespread implementation, as well as lingering ethical concerns about personal data sharing. While researchers work to address these remaining issues, many predict VR treatments will soon become available to anyone who needs help, whether a patient has access to a real-life therapist.
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