The Role of Virtual Reality in Mental Health Treatment
Virtual reality therapy seemed like a distant future just a few years ago. However, with the advancements in VR technology, as well as its general availability, virtual therapy is no longer the future, it is the present! Many of the top online therapy websites offer this therapy type, and the reception is more than positive. When you consider the possibility of undergoing therapy in exactly the right setting for it, it all makes sense. Since there are a lot of misconceptions about the role of virtual reality in mental health treatment, we’ve decided to write an article that explains the entire process in detail.
What is Virtual Reality Therapy?
Basically, virtual reality therapy is pretty much the same as traditional therapy albeit in a virtual setting. It involves the patient (and oftentimes the therapist) wearing a virtual headset that allows them to “mirror” reality and interact with it.
The greatest roadblock to virtual reality therapy has always been that the technology could not create “real” experiences. However, these days, it can sometimes be very hard to distinguish between a virtual reality setting and a real one. For example, your “digital limbs” will feel practically indistinguishable from your own. Furthermore, a VR setting will create numerous sensory illusions that will produce a very believable reality simulation.
While every therapy type can benefit from virtual reality, few particular therapies seem to be right at home in VR. The prime example of a therapy that works wonders in a VR setting is art therapy. The VR setting allows an unparalleled degree of artistic freedom, without any worry about material components. Then there’s exposure therapy which is much easier to accomplish in virtual reality. The fact that VR is capable of creating a simulation of reality makes creating situations and events that may trigger certain conditions easier than ever.
Lastly, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is at its best when performed in virtual reality. This is due to the fact that it is much easier to visualize and change your thought and behavior patterns when the world around you reacts to the changes. Furthermore, you will be able to face your fears and practice social interactions in a virtual setting, as opposed to a “live” one.
The Benefits of Virtual Reality in Mental Health Treatment
There are numerous advantages to VR therapy that simply cannot be replicated in traditional therapy. They include:
- Having direct control over the degree of exposure
- You can attend VR therapy from the comfort of your home, with all the benefits that visiting a therapist’s office may have
- You can replay your sessions
- Therapy results can be collected seamlessly
- VR therapy makes it a lot easier to “picture the situation”
- You will have the ability to introduce/remove stimuli gradually
Furthermore, VR therapy may allow you to cope with PTSD in a much more comfortable manner. Normally, people who suffer from PTSD need to go to extreme lengths to achieve proper exposure. With the role of virtual reality in mental health treatment, however, creating the ideal therapy setting is much easier.
Lastly, VR therapy will almost always be cheaper than traditional therapy, even including the cost of the VR headset. This is due to the fact that specialist treatment software is readily available and is much cheaper than having to create a real-world setting.
Virtual Reality Therapy in Practice
Many people confuse VR therapy with teletherapy. While there are some similarities (both are conducted digitally), they are extremely different. Teletherapy is void of physical stimuli and is incapable of providing immersive experiences the way that VR therapy can.
In practice, however, VR therapy usually takes one of two forms. The first form of VR therapy is VRET (Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy). This therapy will place you in an immersive 3-D environment that will look almost the same as the real world. For example, say that you want to overcome your fear of heights. By undergoing VRET, you will be able to position yourself at increasing height levels until you gradually overcome your fears. All the while you are at no risk whatsoever. The “trick” to the therapy is that you will feel real fear when standing atop a virtual skyscraper. In fact, the role of virtual reality in mental health treatment is to make it almost indistinguishable from the real deal.
The second form of VR therapy will have you create a virtual avatar and interact with the world through it. Let’s say that you might want to overcome relationship anxiety. By engaging with virtual people, under the guise of an avatar, you will be able to work on your issues much easier, as you will have an easier time opening up.
With all that being said, it is important to understand that VR therapy is still reaching its maturity. Not many therapists are trained in using all of the necessary hardware and software, after all, and there is a lack of custom-made software. However, we predict that all this is about to change in the coming years.
The Future of Virtual Reality Therapy
As years pass, VR therapy is becoming more and more robust, detailed, and available. These days, not everyone can access VR therapy as easily as they should. Furthermore, even though VR headsets are more available than before, they are still somewhat expensive. This is due to the fact that the VR market is simply not as large yet. However, once VR becomes mainstream (and it will, eventually), we would not be surprised if companies choose to offer headsets for free. Once this happens, VR therapy will become the most prominent therapy type. Considering all the benefits, there is no doubt in our minds that the role of virtual reality in mental health treatment is becoming more and more significant as the years go by.
For more information on various types of online therapy solutions, make sure to browse and explore the rest of the Consumer Opinion Guide. Whether you need to find the best online therapy programs, the best online therapists, or anything else connected with online therapy, we’ve got you covered!