Virtual Reality isn’t something that is new, it’s been around for decades. Yet, virtual reality used for medical treatment is currently sweeping the nation. Virtual Reality (also known as VR) is a headset that displays a 3D simulated event that allows the user to interact in a situation, while being completely contained in a safe and controlled area.
When VR first emerged, one of the more popular uses was a 3D rollercoaster ride that made participants feel as though they were actually on the ride. The University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies has since expanded that technology to address medical needs.
In clinical trials, VR has been proven effective in helping patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to cope with past traumatic events. Engineers can generate stress- triggering circumstances for the patient, and teach them how to cope with the situation through Virtual Reality Therapy sessions.
A new study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open, states that, “VR therapy could reduce depressive symptoms by boosting feelings of self-compassion and alleviating self-criticism.” In the study, patients were extremely self-critical which caused symptoms of depression. The study was split into 3 weekly sessions. At the beginning of the sessions, the patients viewed themselves in the first person. They were to console a child who was crying in a corner. Their responses to the child were recorded and at the end of the sessions and played back to them as they viewed themselves from the child’s perspective. Patients reported that hearing themselves being encouraging in their own voice, to themselves, helped them build their self-compassion. Patients described being able to identify when they were overly critical with themselves, and how to display self-compassion to improve their mood, which in turn lowered their depression.
VR has been studied in a variety of other situations as well, including treatment of phobias, ADHD, schizophrenia, anxiety, addictions (including smoking), and eating disorders. While there are a limited number of trials at this point, researchers believe with the cost of headsets declining, and the wide use of smartphones, VR will thrive. Although medical professionals need to be specially trained on how to incorporate it into the therapies of their specific practices, doctors can teach patients how to effectively utilize VR on their own time. This also allows for affordable treatment for patients with or without medical insurance. Hopefully, this will be a major step forward in improving treatment, and also in breaking down the wall of mental health stigma.
The Guardian - Why virtual reality could be a mental health gamechanger https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/mar/22/why-virtual-reality-could-be-a-mental-health-gamechanger
Huffington Post- Virtual Reality Therapy Could Be Used To Treat Depression.https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/virtual-reality-depression-study_us_56c4a717e4b08ffac1273132
APA-Virtual Reality: Expanding Use in Mental Health Treatmenthttps://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2017/02/virtual-reality-expanding-use-in-mental-health-treatment
ALPHR- Can VR help cure the mental health epidemic?http://www.alphr.com/virtual-reality/1005294/can-vr-help-cure-the-mental-health-epidemic