The use of virtual reality has long been thought of as being purely for entertainment purposes, and no doubt are superb delivery methods for some truly memorable experiences and events. The technology however does have more ‘practical’ applications too and can be put to use in very innovative ways such as helping doctors within the mental health industry.

Mental health therapy is an area that hasn’t really explored the technological arena before, with VR technology being prohibitively expensive in the past. The cost of exceptional quality virtual technology solutions dropped dramatically, though, allowing more and more medical practitioners to gain access to this technology.

With greater and easier access comes more opportunity to help those that need it the most, and in the safest, most effective way possible. There is a growing demand being able to provide not just the hardware but also the expertise to help create the experience that people need.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy entails allowing the patient to visit an area that has a great significance for them and is a great help in treating anxiety disorders and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This type of therapy allows the patient to relive an event or ‘revisit’ a place, in a safe and controlled manner from the safety and comfort of the doctor’s office.

Of course, in the case of physical locations, actually visiting the area may well be more beneficial but it also runs the risk of inflicting further psychological trauma. The very feel of a place can be very traumatic, and this can include things beyond the merely visual such as familiar sights and scents. It is for this reason that this kind of ‘onlocation’ treatment is rarely employed.

By mixing traditional therapy treatments with modern technology we can overcome many issues that the physical world can throw at us.

A study conducted by Psychology Today, and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, demonstrated the effectiveness of exposure therapy using VR; 8 of 15 patients treated using VR no longer suffered the paranoiac delusions that they had before (that is, they were no longer certain they were being persecuted and had more doubt) – a successful study by any measure.

Facing your fears

Addressing phobias such as acrophobia, for instance (a fear of heights), is made much easier, not to mention safer, if the patient can experience their phobia without the object of their fear actually being present. Standing on a precipice can be nerve wracking already, but if the patient knows and understands that they actually have an office carpet beneath their feet rather than the solid rock of a cliff edge, they are able to better confront the issue at hand.

Virtual reality technology allows for the total visual immersion of a patient in an environment that would otherwise prove to be too traumatic. From phobias to PTSD, the use of VR in mental health settings is proving to be invaluable. One of the greatest obstacles of exposure therapy, overexposure, is set to be taken out of the equation in the best way possible.