Virtual reality is part of the space-man future idealists envisioned during the 1980's. Still, in its infancy, virtual reality is making waves in the tech world. While tech-enthusiasts, businessmen, and other interested parties marvel at the increased sophistication and popularity of virtual reality, mental health professionals marvel at the possible applications. More than just a game or entertainment, virtual reality can actually be put to great use for people afflicted with a mental disorder.
While virtual reality was created with gaming in mind, the immersive experience of virtual reality can be used as a form of treatment for people with mental illness.
Because of its immersive experience, virtual reality can be used to recreate patient's past experiences that are associated with their mental illness, but in a controlled setting. For instance, virtual reality has been used in exposure therapy to treat patients with debilitating phobias and anxiety disorders.
Exposure therapy exposes a person to their feared object or situation, for instance, spiders, snakes, heights, social interactions, etc. With virtual reality, a person can feel like they're engaging in a situation that brings about feelings of fear, panic, and anxiety without really being put in such distressing situations. Therefore it's a controlled situation. The person's therapist navigates the virtual reality alongside them and provides support and guidance for how to properly deal with the distressing situation.
Virtual reality has also been used as a treatment for people suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), specifically, combat-related PTSD. Much like exposure therapy, veterans suffering from PTSD experience a situation using virtual reality that mimics the trauma memory, in a sense reliving the experience. Reliving through the trauma memory helps uncover often buried memories and feelings about what happened. Through therapy, these memories feelings can be dealt with leading to reduced symptoms and feelings of anxiety.
So far the research has shown positive effects of using virtual reality in psychiatric therapy. The findings like the technology are still in its infancy, but as the technology behind virtual reality improves, hopefully so do the applications for psychiatric treatments.
If you would like to learn more about this and related topics, visit the Mental Health section of our blog.
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