In the US, it is estimated that one in every five people suffers from one form of mental disorder or another, and those who don’t suffer from stress and anxiety. In fact, almost everyone experiences some level of stress and anxiety in their lives. It can be mild or extremely debilitating. People suffer from stress as a result of work and relationships, others suffer from fears, phobia and depression; while there are those who experience post traumatic stress disorder (PSTD). These psychological and mental health disorders account for an estimated $467 billion loss in the US due to lost productivity and medical bills.
For many of these disorders, there are treatments that require drugs and some that don’t. There are severe mental disorders that require pharmacological intervention or drugs while disorders such as anxiety, depression, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorders (PSTD) can be handled using techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. Unfortunately, these treatments are not hundred percent effective all the time.
Is virtual reality (VR) the solution to mental health problems?
There are many people who are of the school of thought that technology is to blame for many of the ills of society including violence, isolation, decadence and even the falling attention span. While this may well be the case, there is no denying that fact that technology has also played a huge role in the advancement of society as it is today. One of such roles is the use of virtual reality technology to help patients overcome mental problems such as fear, depression, addiction and PTSD.
For many years, virtual reality has been used by therapists to carry out what is known as Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) in a controlled and safe environment. But because of its high cost, it has not been widely available. However, with the introduction of affordable virtual reality devices, this form of treatment can now be made available to patients who need it.
Overcoming anxiety disorders and PTSD is not only time consuming but very challenging. In most cases, the patient is unwilling or unable to confront the very thing that brings about their situation. But virtual reality therapy makes the recovery process very easy and even enjoyable. With this technology, patients can mentally travel to another time, place or state of mind.
It is simply a matter of slipping on the VR headset and enter into a preprogrammed world. The patients can explore anything that catches their fancy. Guided by a professional, they can experience whatever it is that triggers their mental disorder, face the fear and possibly get over it. For instance, if the goal is to overcome a debilitating fear, the patient will be exposed to what he or she fear most while in the VR world. Over different sessions, the exposure will be increased gradually while the therapist will be on hand to talk the patient through the process and help them process the results of the session in the healthiest way possible.
Therapeutic uses of virtual reality (VR)
Even though virtual reality is a difficult concept for grasp for people who haven’t experienced it, its use for therapy has been generating interest for more than 2 decades. Right now, virtual reality is largely being used for exposure therapy (exposing the patient to the situation that triggers their problem), which is one of the best ways to treat certain mental disorders such as PTSD and anxiety. In addition to this, virtual reality therapy has also been successfully tested and used in a variety of situations. These include:
- Fear of heights and flying
- School phobia
- Severe pain
- Fear of speaking in public
- Eating disorders and so on
Using this technology and with the proper guidance, the patient can gradually grow accustomed to the situation until it gets to the point where they can properly function in spite of it or where they completely overcome the condition.
Is virtual reality the solution for you?
If you suffer from mental disorders such as fear, phobia, anxiety or PTSD that worsens when you are exposed to certain triggers, you may benefit from virtual reality therapy. However, you will first need to discuss your situation with a qualified therapist who will decide if you are a suitable candidate for VRET.
No matter how prepared the patient is, virtual reality therapy is always a major experience. Therefore you shouldn’t run into it because it appears to be the latest fad. If you are seeing a therapist, he or she will decide if VRET will work for you. In some cases, pharmacological intervention or simple non intrusive therapy is enough. Many people benefit from talk sessions with their therapist and end up leaving in a healthier state of mind. Also, treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy (ET), psychotherapy and others can help you overcome your mental health problems without using virtual reality therapy. However, if your therapist decides that you need VRET, you need to make sure that he or she has experience using the technology because in the wrong hands, it can be counterproductive.
While VRET has been known to return tons of positive results, there are still a few drawbacks. One of the major drawbacks is the cost involvement. The equipment and programs needed to run the therapy is on the expensive side and this makes the therapy unavailable to a lot of people. Even with the advent of cost effective VR gear, you still need the presence of a qualified VR therapist.
Asides from the cost of therapy, VRET can also cause what is known as VR sickness. VR sickness is when people exposed to VRET experience physical discomfort, vertigo, seizure and even antisocial or nervous behavior. These symptoms usually occur at the early stage of the VR therapy however the effect is minimal as the VR therapy is usually limited to short sessions.
Despite these challengers, there is little doubt that VR technology has opened the doors to giant strides in the treatment of mental health disorders and with the way things are going presently, it is safe to say that in the nearest future, this technology will not only be available to anyone who needs it, but it will also provide the needed solution.