Innovative virtual reality therapy and its applications

Today, depression and anxiety disorders have become the most common mental disorders in our society. Over the years, different methodologies have been proposed to approach their treatment. One of the most recent is the Virtual reality therapy.

This form of therapy makes it possible to virtually relive situations, so that patients can safely experience different problematic situations. Data from different research shows positive results with few treatment sessions.

Virtual reality therapy for the treatment of depression

A study by University College London (UCL) and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) suggests that virtual reality therapy (TRV) it may become a form of treatment for depression in the future. The research was carried out on 15 subjects suffering from a depressive disorder. The participants’ ages ranged from 23 to 61 years old and the results were positive in 60% of cases.

Thanks to the fact that the cost of hardware has become cheaper and its functionality has increased, studies in this area of ​​research have multiplied in recent years. Yet, so far, few of them have treated depression with a focus on anxiety disorders. Research conducted by UCL and ICREA used techniques that had already shown their effectiveness in other forms of therapy, such as post-traumatic stress therapy.

For this research, and then to place the virtual reality headset on the study participants, the treatment began with the patient observing their own body in a mirror. This sparked the incarnation or illusion that the avatar (virtual identity) was his own body. Patients were then asked to show compassion for a child in distress. After taking care of himself, he stopped crying and responded positively. Then the picture changed perspective (in the child’s vision) and the child saw (i.e. the subjects) an adult say their own words and actions.

The importance of self-compassion

This 8-minute scenario was repeated three times over a three-week period. Among the participating subjects, 9 out of 15 showed a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. However, although the results are positive, the lack of a control group makes it necessary to conduct additional research to confirm these results.

Dr Chris Brewin, study director and professor of psychiatry, explains: “Self-compassion is important because it calms feelings of anxiety, otherwise the anxiety can take over and is really unbearable.” The author adds: “We now know that many patients with depression and other disorders have real problems with compassion towards themselves, although they are often very good at being compassionate towards others.”

Virtual reality therapy for the treatment of anxiety

Virtual reality therapy has been shown not only to be effective for the treatment of depression, but for the treatment of anxiety has long been used.

Several companies have started to include it as one of their services because has been shown to be effective in various anxiety disorders, especially for the treatment of phobias. For example, it is possible to recreate the environment of an airplane in flight using virtual reality. It has also shown its effectiveness in helping to express itself in public.

This technique has also been used to treat patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who suffer from this condition due to sexual assault, a car accident or a terrorist attack, such as l attack that took place. United States, and in which thousands of people have been affected. The researchers claim that in addition, has been shown to be effective against eating disorders or alcoholism. The idea is that when a person is in a three-dimensional and safe environment, they can more effectively deal with the problem or people causing the anxiety.

TRV helps the patient cope with difficult emotions safely

One of the leading experts in the application of this technique is Skip Rizzo, director of virtual reality research in medicine at the Institute of Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California. “When we talk about traumatic experiences like war or sexual assault, these are events that will change a person for life,” says Rizzo. “We’re not creating digital breaches here. Our goal is to bring a person closer to strong emotions in complete safety, ”he adds.

Therefore, Is virtual reality therapy the future of psychology? Time will tell us.

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