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Virtual reality therapy: What is it and how does VR therapy work

Man uses virtual reality set
Man uses virtual reality set

When was virtual reality therapy first invented or used?

Psychologist Ivan Sutherland developed the first virtual reality therapy system in the late 1970s. Sutherland wanted to create a system that would allow people to interact with computer-generated environments realistically. His approach, called the Sword of Damocles, used a headset and sensors to track users’ movements and provide them with feedback.

However, the system was minimal, and it wasn’t until the early 1990s that virtual reality therapy began to be used more widely. Then, in 1992, psychiatrists at the University of California, Los Angeles, developed a virtual reality system called Virtual Vietnam. The plan was designed to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by exposing them to virtual recreations of the Vietnam War. Since then, virtual reality therapy has been used to treat various conditions, including anxiety, phobias, and pain management.

Virtual reality therapy is a decades-old, legitimate treatment, and you can see a Stanford MD speak about the benefits in this video:

So what is virtual reality therapy? How does virtual reality therapy work?

Virtual reality therapy, sometimes abbreviated as VRT, uses immersive virtual environments to help promote positive changes in a person’s thoughts and behaviors. Typically, VRT involves using a specialized headset or another device that immerses the user in a digital world filled with sensory stimuli such as sound, sight, movement, touch, and smell. Factors such as the degree of immersion, the realism of the virtual environment, and how the experience is controlled can influence how effective VRT is for different people.

Despite its relatively recent development, research has shown that VRT can be a suitable treatment for many psychological conditions such as anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and more. This is because immersing in a virtual environment can help ease some negative emotions associated with these conditions by allowing users to process pain or fear more effectively. Additionally, since many people suffering from mental health issues feel inhibited or uncomfortable when expressing their feelings in real-life settings due to fear of judgment or rejection, having control over their story or interactions in a virtual environment allows them to explore their thoughts and experiences without reservation freely.

What type of therapy most often use virtual reality technology?

While virtual reality technology is still in its early stages, it shows great promise as a therapeutic tool. A growing body of research suggests that virtual reality can effectively treat various conditions, including anxiety disorders, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Indeed, many therapists now believe that virtual reality will become an essential part of mental health care in the years to come. While several different therapy types use virtual reality technology, exposure therapy is currently the most common. Exposure therapy is designed to help people confront their fears and learn to cope with difficult situations. By repeatedly exposing patients to trigger stimuli in a controlled environment, exposure therapy can help people overcome their fears and live healthier, more productive lives.

Has virtual reality therapy been used on patients with PTSD?

While virtual reality therapy is still in its early stages, there is some evidence that it may be effective in treating patients with PTSD. One small study found that VR treatment was able to reduce symptoms of PTSD in veterans (Keen, 2018). The participants in the study used a VR system that allowed them to confront their trauma in a safe and controlled environment. The results suggest that VR therapy may help patients process their trauma and reduce their symptoms. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings. Virtual reality therapy is a promising new treatment for PTSD, but more studies are required to determine its efficacy.

What is desensitization therapy?

Desensitization therapy is a type of treatment that can help people who have a phobia or other anxiety disorder. The goal of desensitization therapy is to expose the person to what they are afraid of in a safe and controlled setting. This exposure can happen through imagination, videos, or in real life. The idea is that by slowly exposing the person to the thing they are afraid of, they will eventually become less sensitive to it and be able to better cope with their fear. Desensitization therapy is usually done with the help of a therapist and can take several weeks or longer to complete. However, it is an effective treatment for many people with anxiety disorders.