Virtual Reality (VR) Therapy

WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY

It’s an experience comparable to real life. It is a dynamic environment created by technology that evokes a sense of immersion in the user

It can generate:
Thoughts
Emotions
Similar reactions


WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY
Two basic concepts of VR are:

The sense of immersion is when external stimuli become no longer important, because we are so focused on a particular storyline or elements during either a movie or book, or in this case, VR session.

The sense of presence is a perception of being physically present in a non-physical world. What you see or hear in VR is hardly indistinguishable from reality. The perception is created by surrounding the user involved in the VR session with images, sounds or other stimuli for a complete, engrossing environment.

30 YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

From researchers to clinical practice, Research and scientific papers on the validation of virtual reality in therapy have grown exponentially. 30 years of scientific studies support results obtained from using this technology when treating multiple disorders. Publications per year on clinical VR applications

VIRTUAL REALITY BENEFITS

  • Accelerates therapeutic processes. The primary benefit is that you will notice improvements faster than with traditional therapies.
  • Eliminates imagination effort requirement. Imagination abilities can vary from one person to another. Imagining specific situations can cause individuals to make much effort while only achieving mild results in many cases.
  • Allows for customized sessions. A therapist can adapt the environments to your needs and the stage in which you find yourself in the therapy process.
  • Provides greater privacy. With traditional techniques like in vivo exposure therapy, you undergo a gradual physical exposure to your feared stimuli in due time. This often means that you must leave your therapist’s office to go outside.
  • However, VR lets you remain in a safe and private space with your specialist.
  • Results as less intrusive. Numerous scientific studies have shown that patients prefer VR therapy to traditional techniques, because in vivo exposure can sometimes seem overly intense.

WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH VR?

Virtual reality lets you develop techniques or train specific skills, including:

● Integrating breathing – relaxation techniques

● Learning healthy coping mechanisms for anxiogenic situations or moments of stress

● Improving social skills

● Strengthening attentional focus and memory

Virtual reality helps treat specific mental health conditions, such as:

  • Specific Phobias (Flying, Hights, Needles, Dark, Claustrophobia,…)
  • Generalized Anxiety
  • Social anxiety
  • Panic attacks – Agoraphobia
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Sleeping problems
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorders
  • Addictive Disorders
  • Eating Disorders

What does it involve?

VR therapy uses a headset and headphones and a biofeed back conductor to immerse you in a digital world. During the exposures, you will remain seated in your chair or standing depending on the reality you are in at the time.

Whilst your therapist guides you through. You are encouraged to fully immerse yourself into your environment and focus on different elements.

Your therapist will see what you see through a computer terminal. A device (called a biofeedback conductor) is placed on your middle and second finger to measure skin conductance, which indicates your physiological arousal or anxiety to a stimulus. This biofeedback allows us to track your progress over time. It can be used before and after a session to confirm the overall change in response.

Before and during each exposure, your therapist will teach you relaxation strategies and given subconscious suggestions to master your fears until the fear response has degraded to a minable and manageable level.

The use of VR technology is included in the standard appointment fee and does not impact eligibility for private health care rebates.

Nuts and bolts of VR therapy

Because virtual reality therapy relies on technology, the degree of its usefulness has a lot to do with the equipment and programs used. As the technology for VRT advances, results are likely to improve.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are part of the so-called Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), and can be defined as a set of three-dimensional environments with which a person interacts in real time, which generate a sense of immersion (sense of presence) similar to that of a real situation. Sense of presence and interaction with the environment are, in fact, the characteristic components of this kind of technology. In psychotherapy, virtual environments allow us not only to reproduce relevant stimulation configurations for mental health intervention, but also the possibility of manipulating certain variables in order to control and adapt the intervention to our patient’s characteristics.

Therefore, this technology allows us on certain occasions to work in a way which cannot be reproduced in the real situation; it provides us with the option of evaluating and intervening with the patient “within” a specific situation (for example, in the subway) without the need to leave the consultation; it allows us to repeat certain conditions (for example, a takeoff) as many times as necessary to work on a therapeutic goal (habituation, reciprocal inhibition of an anxious response, relaxation…), and it helps us to plan in a personalized way, manipulating configuration variables and the moments at which certain events are initialized, the intervention’s stages, etc.

In short, it is a tool that well used will facilitate the application of psychological evaluation and intervention protocols. However, it is essential to point out that ICTs alone do not produce a therapeutic change.

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