Virtual reality therapy in mental health treatment is revolutionizing the industry, providing psychologists and psychiatrists a set of new tools to help patients. Virtual reality exposure therapy is making technological advancements to provide a new resource in therapeutic treatment for mental illnesses.
From teaching children with autism, to adults with post-traumatic stress disorder, to recovering from a stroke, virtual reality therapy offers a vast variety of applications for both physical as well as psychological disabilities.
Virtual exposure therapy is found in multiple therapeutic centers all over the world, including VA hospitals, university treatment centers, and military bases. In time, virtual reality therapy will become the norm in every therapist’s office, hospital, and other centers treating mental illnesses.
Virtual reality therapy’s most prominent use is to treat sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. By gradually exposing clients to the traumatic memories causing their illness, the safe environment of virtual reality allows PTSD victims to gradually work on overcoming their trauma in a way easily managed by therapist. The therapist is in constant communication with the client through the interface and is in full control of how much “exposure” the client receives during treatment.
Rather than traditional “talk therapy,” virtual reality therapy allows the therapist to more effectively regulate the process of treating PTSD. The feedback received from clients has been extremely positive, especially with the younger generations having grown up in the digital environment.
Virtual reality therapy isn’t limited in its use for phobias as extreme as PTSD. Therapists are also using it to treat more minor phobias, such as a fear of heights, social anxiety, fear of flying, or even something as simple as a fear of spiders. Nearly anything a client could be exposed to in the real world, a therapist can expose them to in virtual reality, thereby gradually helping the client to overcome their fears.
This process, called “extinction learning,” gradually leads the client to become less frightened of their particular phobia by a gradual exposure to that specific fear. The more the patient gradually confronts the fear in the safe, controlled environment of virtual reality, the more they become used to the experience, thereby allowing them to overcome that fear in time.
Various fears and phobias can limit a person’s quality of life, causing them to avoid experiences due to irrational fears. By helping patients overcome fears, the VR therapy helps a person to function better in everyday life.
A therapist can gradually expose a patient to their fear of flying through a “virtual flight.” Initially, this flight could be short, yet allow the patient to look around at their fellow passengers, outside the window, and overall gain the experience of an actual flight on a plane. As the patient becomes more acclimated to this environment, the therapist can then increase the “exposure” by adding things to the environment such as turbulence or a thunderstorm. Eventually, the therapist can expose the client to experiences so the patient may overcome their fears.
It is only a matter of time before virtual reality therapy becomes a commonplace tool in all therapeutic environments. It is an invaluable asset for therapists and their patients.