Written by
Danielle Laycock

How Does Virtual Reality Apply to Therapy?

Published on 
November 20, 2020

Virtual reality is more impactful than simply making video games more exciting. It has the potential to make great strides in bringing health to many who suffer from mental illness. Imagine having the opportunity to overcome your greatest fear while physically being in a safe place. Virtual reality provides images that are realistic and compelling to real-life scenarios that may cause mental illness. This innovative technology is especially useful when treating those with anxiety and phobias but is making its way through all parts of therapy. 

Traditionally exposure therapy consisted of patients imagining their fears, which meant the treatment was only as effective as the person’s imagining skills. VR removes any barriers a patient may experience due to lack of imagination or visualization. It also allows a person to ease into their fears and anxieties by manipulating what is seen and/or repeating the steps multiple times. Patients are in a complete controlled environment, therefore optimizing the pace and allowing space for the therapist to walk through a relaxation process in each step. For example if a person has a fear of flying the VR technology can have them in a plane, they can look around see everything that is going on around them, depending on how quickly they move through that step, something a bit more frightening can be introduced like a thunderstorm or turbulence. The goal is to keep the patient engaged in each step because the longer they can withstand the fear inducing situation the quicker their fear will begin to dissipate. 

Another area VR has made an impact is through pain distraction. For example, a burn victim who has undergone excruciating pain can be distracted by it all after putting on a virtual reality headset and engage in playing a game or being in their own world. It keeps a person’s mind off of thinking about or worrying about the pain especially during wound care and even physical therapy. VR has the potential to help relieve pain by distracting the brain.

This technology has also made a way for assessing cognitive performance in those who may have ADHD and autism. For example, a child who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can step into a virtual classroom with kids all around fidgeting, and making paper airplanes, maybe even cars will be driving by the classroom window. The child’s goal despite all this distraction will be to pay attention to what is on the blackboard or what the teacher says. Assessment like this help therapists know how to offer the best treatment. VR has allowed those with autism to engage in social situations, helping therapists see where they are at socially and work to improve those skills. 

Virtual reality is a technology that has the potential to repair mental health in a way that is safe and controlled. It has impacted those with PTSD, as therapists are able to recreate moments and walk them through, it’s made its way through therapeutical targets, such as depression, acrophobia, eating disorders and gender dysphoria, to physical therapy and occupational therapy. This technology is making a difference. 

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