Virtual Therapy

Virtual Therapy

What is virtual reality exposure therapy


Research shows that virtual reality may be just as effective as actual exposure to heights in treating acrophobia. Yet despite strong evidence of effectiveness, exposure therapy is an underutilized treatment for anxiety disorders at a time when effective treatment for anxiety is greatly needed.

Virtual reality (VR) technology is seen as a way to increase the availability of exposure therapy. Using VR in therapy can increase the ease, acceptability, and effectiveness of treatment for anxiety. VR exposure therapy also known as VRET, allows for individualized, controlled, immersive exposure that is easy for therapists to implement. VR is presented as a scalable tool for improving treatment of anxiety disorders. VR also has the potential to help with assessment and with therapist training standardization. 

Virtual reality therapy

Online Physical Therapy

A solution is needed 

Nearly 18.1% of adults suffer from anxiety disorders. The estimated prevalence of anxiety disorders worldwide is 7.3%. Anxiety symptoms can cause significant distress and impair quality of life. Despite its prevalence a majority of affected individuals remain untreated. 

What is virtual reality therapy 

In VR, people are transported into fully immersive, three-dimensional environments that are engaging and interactive, promoting expanded learning. In addition to training, evaluating, delivering, and supervising psychotherapy skills, virtual reality technology can provide patients with physiological and emotional exposure, making VR a valuable tool for mental health treatment. Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) allows individualized, gradual, controlled, immersive exposure that is easy to implement and often more acceptable to patients than in vivo or imaginal exposure. Through the support of a therapist, users can practice behavioral skills in a safe environment. 

Exposure therapy involves gradual and repeated exposure to the patient's fears . A specific phobia can be triggered by almost anything: living organisms, inanimate objects, situations, activities, thoughts, mental images, physical symptoms, and/or affective experiences. Extensive research demonstrates the efficacy of exposure-based therapy for various anxiety disorders, especially phobias. Patients can become accustomed to the threat and reconsider their fears through gradual exposure.

What is the current status of virtual reality exposure therapy?

Currently, VR technology is being used to enhance treatment of fears and anxiety, as well as improving clinical training. It is possible to create an engaging, controllable, repeatable, and safe training environment with VR. With the advances in VR technology, users now have the option to experience a fully immersive environment and interact with simulated virtual humans. Practice with virtual humans has also demonstrated effectiveness as a way to train for difficult conversations. 

In the near future, VR may help provide standardized clinical training in exposure therapy, making training easier and more accessible. A VR training environment would allow therapists to repeatedly practice with virtual patients while mastering clinical assessment and exposure therapy skills. VR might allow clinical supervisors to vary the scenarios and customize the virtual patients within the training environment. Practicing exposure therapy within VR could increase skills and decrease fears about delivering exposure therapy. Increased therapist comfort with and competence in exposure therapy will help therapists provide evidence-based treatment and counter patients’ fears about the therapy.

VR is also being investigated for its potential use in assessing mental health conditions. It may be possible to diagnose anxiety disorders more quickly and accurately using VR technology, so that patients can receive treatment as soon as possible. Assessing and treating patients better should improve their outcomes.

Practically speaking, VR is becoming increasingly affordable. VRET has been shown to reduce anxiety and phobia symptoms. VRET research is exploring its use with a range of mental health disorders, particularly anxiety disorders such as phobias. VRET has become an acceptable and effective alternative to in vivo exposure.

How does virtual reality therapy work?/How can VR be used in therapy?

VRET allows the therapist to see what the patient sees in the virtual environment. With VRET, the therapist can choose the VR content and personalize it for the patient. Therapists can guide patients through exposure in the office while monitoring and supporting the patient. Patients feel engaged, and the experience feels “real” but is a safe way for a patient to practice before facing their fears “out on the street”. Guiding patients through online physical therapy programs  to look at specific things and manage any anxiety that arises helps improve treatment, ultimately improves the patients quality of life. VRET also offers exposure therapy to patients who are resistant to other methods of exposure therapy. VR helps engage patients in treatment. Relaxing virtual environments (VEs) can help patients learn and practice anxiety management skills and then be taken out into the world.

Virtual Reality and Therapy

Like conventional anxiety-treatment methods, Virtual Reality Therapy works by exposing patients to their anxiety triggers within a controlled environment. As with any exposure therapy, the objective is to condition patients to respond positively to events that bring about their particular anxiety, rather than experiencing physiological stress associated with the original trauma that caused their anxiety disorder.

The Benefits of VR Therapy 

VRET has other benefits like lowering costs associated with intensive anxiety treatment. The VRET offers the advantages of an in-person experience without requiring therapists to guide, support, and monitor patients during real-world exposure. 

 However, the immersive and interactive power of VR offers numerous benefits beyond conventional treatment methods:

  • Through VR technology, mental health professionals can design highly customized treatment plans based on their patients' unique needs.
  • With VR Therapy, patients have greater control over their own exposure as compared to conventional treatment methods. The use of virtual reality can be highly interactive, allowing patients to maintain control even when anxiety triggers occur.
  • VR Therapy offers a drug-free method of reducing trauma-related anxiety.
  • In comparison to conventional treatments, VR treatment can be more cost-effective.
  • The immersive power of VR provides a more engaging and more authentic experience, which results in greater effectiveness.
  • Unlike conventional anxiety-treatment programs, VR apps empower patients to continue their own treatment at home, which significantly increases the long-term effectiveness of the treatment.
  • VR treatment will not in all cases replace conventional treatment methods. But even as an adjunct therapy, it offers exciting advantages over standard treatments, alone.

Finally, this technology offers the possibility of increasing scalability. In people with distressing, but subclinical, anxiety, VR could improve self-help interventions. In VR, suffering may be eased and symptoms may be prevented from becoming more severe. 

In conclusion virtual reality therapy has already proven to be a useful tool in helping overcoming fears. The use of VR can and will continue to advance and help different fields. Its addition to the CBT realm has already proven invaluable and is enabling individuals to conquer their fears alone at home without a therapist. Only time will tell how far VR will go and how much it will affect and change our lives.