How Does Virtual Reality Therapy Exposure Treat Psychological Disorders?

VR is a new face of future, some of the big companies are betting their budgets larger than ever. From Oculus Rift to HTC Vive, and the recent PlayStation VR increasing their competition more and more every day. The purpose of Virtual reality headsets are not just only for play video games or watch vr movies, it’s much more the ordinary lifestyle use.

Healthcare is one of the places where VR can play a major role. Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) is an emerging idea, which will take us to the next level of medicinal treatments. But the question is, Could Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) be the upcoming frontier for treating psychological or mental disorders?

Well, the answer is yes, and this research proves it. Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy can potentially reduce the symptoms of depression, general work stress, phobias, anxiety, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and even relationship issues.

Mental Illness Statistics –Virtual Reality Therapy

Did You Know?

  • Out of 4 people, 1 is reported to affect by neurological or mental disorders.
  • About 450 million people currently suffer from psychological disorders.
  • Despite various treatments available, about 2/3rd of the global population never seeks help.

Statistics of U.S. Alone

Mental disorders are common in the U.S. and internationally. An estimated 26.2% Americans of age 18 and above suffer from a mental disorder in a year. In the U.S., mental disorders are diagnosed based on the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

1. Mood Disorders:

Include major depression, bipolar disorder, and dysthymic disorder.

  • About 20.9 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population with age 18 and older suffer from mood disorders every year.
  • The median age of onset for mood disorders is 30 years.
  • Depressive problems frequently co-occur with substance abuse and anxiety disorders.

2. PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

  • About 7.7 million American adults of age 18 and above (that is 3.5% population) have PTSD every year.
  • PTSD can affect any age group but the median time of onset is 23 years.

3. Social Phobia

  • About 15 million American adults of age 18 and above (that is 6.8% population) experience social phobia every year.
  • Social phobia starts in adolescence or even childhood, typically around in 13 years of age.

4. Anxiety Disorders:

Include panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorders, PTSD, generalised anxiety, and different phobias.

  • About 40 million American adults of age 18 and above (that is 18.1% population) experience an anxiety disorder every year.
  • Anxiety problems often co-occur with substance abuse or depressive disorders.
  • About three-quarters of individuals with an anxiety problem will have their initial episode by the age 21.

How Can Virtual Reality Therapy Help Fight Mental Illness?

Drugs or medications are not always the answer to curing an illness.In fact, many disorders don’t even require drugs. Who wants those side effects after all? The problem is the lack of facility and keeping up with the current trends.

It is fascinating to know that the therapists have utilized Virtual Reality for years to administer the so-called VRET (Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy) in an extremely safe way. A decade back, this technology was not only limited but also highly expensive. However, with the arrival of VR headsets like Samsung Phone Gear VR, the prospect to spread out mental illness treatments via telemedicine has become affordable to many patients around the globe.

1. Virtual Reality Therapy For Anxiety Disorders

With the help of Virtual Reality, clinicians can recreate the scenes that trigger anxiety or fear; thus, putting the patients virtually in a space occupied by people or perhaps, a battlefield environment. With professional guidance, patients gradually get to familiarise with the set-up until they reach a point or realize that they can cope with the scenes.

virtual reality therapy

Many researchers have tested Virtual Reality Therapy for patients suffering from arachnophobia by making them expose to virtual spiders. Studies have demonstrated that the VRET (Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy) assists people in overcoming their internal phobias like fear of height, social anxiety, PTSD, etc.

To a novice who is unaware of the digital trends, a virtual reality therapy might sound impossible. However, the fact is that they have been well documented in treating mental problems effectively. It all comes down to experiencing it.

2. Virtual Reality Therapy For Depression

According to the study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open,

VRT (Virtual Reality Therapy) is one of the best ways to reduce the symptoms of depression. The research has proven to boost confidence and self-compassion.

During this clinical research, about 15 individuals (suffering from depression) participated in three Virtual Reality therapy sessions. They wore a VR headset that allowed them to perceive from the angle of a life-sized avatar. This illusion is created in VR via “embodiment” where the patients can see their body moving the exact way they are moving. But just that it is projected on a mirror.

virtual reality therapy

When “embodied,” the members underwent an 8-minute session, where they were asked to express their compassion towards a figure of an upset kid. As the participant spoke kindheartedly towards the kid, the avatar or figure calmed and slowly stopped crying. The participants were then personified in the kid’s figure. They listened and expressed compassion towards themselves.

After a month of three weekly Virtual Reality Therapy sessions, the participants answered questions regarding their mental health and moods. 9 participants reported reduced signs of depression whereas 4 participants experienced a major drop in their depression symptoms and others said that they were now less self-critical after the therapy.

So, the concept of embodiment in virtual reality can present new therapeutic experiences in healing a mental illness.

3. Virtual Reality Therapy For PTSD

The concept of Virtual Reality therapy  plays a key role in treating PTSD as well. All this began in the 1990s when most war veterans and soldiers were affected by this mental illness. Dr Albert “Skip” Rizzo (director of the Medical VR) at USC Institute of Creative Technologies carried out the study further and came up with his application named Bravemind, who sells the software to various global institutions.

virtual reality therapy

In 2014, the Canadian government bought two copies of this software (each costing $17,000). The product comprises of VR environment (controllable and customizable), vibrotactile  platform (delivers sensations related to firefights and explosions), and scent machine (emits smells like fuel, diesel, gunpowder, garbage).

So far, multiple clinical studies have reported the effectiveness and safety of Bravemind. According to this study, Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy had an equal effect to that of taking medications.

4. Virtual Reality Therapy For Relieving Stress

At some point or the other, we all suffer from stress in our day-to-day lives. The one ultimate way to get rid of it is with the help of meditation. It improves mood and induces relaxation. Though relaxation and meditation might not be the only treatment for diagnosing a condition, the overall benefits are claimed to be effective and positive.

  • VirtualRet and Psious have come up with generalized solutions relaxation, stress, and anxiety.
  • Owen ll Harris developed DEEP, which is an exclusive meditative virtual reality game that helps users to explore a beautiful and strange underwater world.

Well, the distinctive part of this game is that it is entirely controlled via breathing (biofeedback). It is well known that the right breathing practice is the central part of relaxation and meditation. With custom controllers, a user’s breathing corresponds and controls with what he or she sees in the virtual atmosphere.

It offers four incredible relaxing immersive atmospheres for users to enjoy their guided meditation sessions.

The Future of Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) ?

The industry for treating various mental disorders by using Virtual Reality has been established based on the scientific research done for decades. The progress of commercial virtual reality signified that these amazing headsets would be globally available; thus, helping the professional therapists to treat their patients in a better way.

In some years, there will be plenty of clinical data available to evaluate the treatment techniques for various psychiatric problems. Until then, users will see an abundance of applications, making several claims – some correct while others yet require validation.

Yes, VRT has been helpful so far, but this doesn’t mean that the patient himself or herself can treat a psychological disorder by just wearing or experiencing it. The session requires diagnostic skills and a clinician’s involvement as well as proper guidance. One cannot self-administer his or her VRT sessions.

To answer for future VR applications still under initial phase, and hope that happens sooner than we think.

Now, let’s hear your side of the view about VRT in healthcare in the below comment box!


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