How does virtual reality therapy work and how can you get the benefit from this new technology in 2020?
Virtual reality has been improving day by day. It has not only improved the experience and exposure of virtual reality for gamers but has worked in multiple fields.
Virtual reality is treating psychological disorders and physical abilities. Mental illness is one thing that people care for the most, but it is highly affected by stress and traumatic disorders.
Virtual reality has become advanced not only providing entertainment to the people but also helping in curing patients.
VR Exposure Therapy
Virtual reality therapy is also known as VR exposure therapy. It allows the user to enter a virtual world that is built in a way that increases the exposure to negative stimuli. Furthermore, it helps the patient to build resilience and emotional strength. Being involved in a virtual world can also help the patient to forget the pain for some time.
It is important to understand what virtual reality is and “how does virtual reality therapy work?”. VR is a virtual world that can be created using technology. Through VR equipment, you can enter a world that is completely according to your needs. It indeed takes you to a new world, and you start thinking about it. But you can remind yourself that it is virtual.
Basics of Virtual Reality Therapy
To answer the question, “How does virtual reality therapy works?”, let's discuss some of its basics. VR is improving day by day and obviously, the development is still in progress when it comes to treating patients. VR can treat not many but some mental and therapeutic problems.
The application of VR is evolving and so the ways to cure many different psychological disorders. But as of today, VR headsets, goggles, and software that simulates the virtual world, VR can treat the diseases of anxiety disorder using the VRET (VR exposure therapy).
In conventional methods that are used for treating anxiety, there is a risk of exposing the patient to an environment that triggers their anxiety. In the same way, VR technology develops a certain environment according to the patient’s needs. The basic objective of both the conventional and VR method is to take the patient out of the anxiety.
Differences in Conventional Treatments
The main difference between the conventional and VR treatment is that in VR treatment, the patient does not experience physiological stress that is related to the trauma. Besides this, there are many interactive and immersive power of virtual reality that can provide the benefit that is beyond human expectation.
The best thing about the therapy is that it does not require any drugs. So, the patient can be treated through therapy only. Therefore, there are no risks of drug side effects.
How Does Virtual Reality Therapy Work With CBT?
Virtual reality therapy and cognitive-based therapy are two separate entities of treatment. They can be used together to help the clients to get over their phobias.
These techniques include extended exposure to stimuli that causes the client to feel uncomfortable that will allow you to help the patient to substitute negative thoughts with positive and productive ones. For example, a client is afraid to fly in a plane.
So, he is put into the environment where he is forced to fly in a plane. In such a condition the patient confronts his fear and start addressing them. But unlike real life, it is a virtual environment where the therapist is present with the patient that will help and support the patient in the exposure.
As we can see from the above-mentioned example, virtual reality is not only for gamers. It has the biggest use in clinical settings. Combining the advancements of a computer with psychological science and curing the patients accordingly.
Types of Equipment Used in Virtual Reality Therapy
At first, virtual reality equipment was only a computer and a mouse with a certain program according to the condition that needs treatment. But now VR technology has developed VR headsets that immerse the patients into the virtual world isolating from the real world.
Multiple programs are available to treat different conditions. CAVE is a VR environment that makes the client sit in a cube-shaped room. The projectors of the CAVE allow the patient to immerse themselves in the world through the responsiveness of their movements.
Can Virtual Reality Therapy Cure Global Mental Health Problems?
The therapists are using virtual reality from decades to cure the patients suffering from many anxiety disorders. But due to its cost and lack of availability, it has not been able to cure all the patients.
As advancement is taking place, and now mobile phones can also be used in VR headsets, it is an achievement and opportunity for the doctors to reach more patients and improve lives all around the world.
It is still a challenge today due to a lack of clinical evidence and data if and how VR can be used to treat patients both in the clinic and remotely.
If developers find the solution to treat the patients remotely by sitting anywhere far from the patient, then it would be an immense advancement in the field of virtual reality therapy.
Advancement in Technology
As apps are developing every day, there will be a flood of VR apps in an attempt to solve all the mental issues that are widely spread in the world.
Some of the upcoming VR technologies may include remote therapy by a professional practitioner that uses VR as a supplementary tool. Or a virtual therapist using artificial intelligence in the absence of a therapist.
However, there are many VR techniques on their way. We just have to wait and see which technology comes out first and serve the patients across the world.
Advantages and Disadvantages of VR In Psychiatric Research and Treatment
According to studies, it suggests that patients report satisfaction with therapy using VR technology rather than traditional approaches.
After the 9/11 incident, many US soldiers and army members were willing to use most of the technology bases treatment for mental health and care. While some of them denied the use of VR to cure them suggests that VR will have a barrier in treating them with the disease or any type of disorder.
There are several advantages that VR offers for conducting psychiatric research. It gives the user the ability to control the stimuli flow and exposure dose so that controlled clinical research and experiment can be carried out.
For example, a VR approach with substance uses disorder to know the exact timing of craving and decision to use that can be observed in a virtual reality environment. In addition to this, the perfect amount of dose resulting in less craving can be tested using a VR environment rather than in the real world that is more dangerous for the patient.
Besides having many advantages there are disadvantages to the technology too. In the past years, the cost of virtual reality technology was significantly high which is a disadvantage of VR. VR was very expensive to buy and difficult to set up and sometimes it malfunctions during the use.
The initial cost of VR is still high, but the prices have gone down over time. Developers have started selling smartphone-based VR therapy systems which are surprisingly very low in price.
The technology has been improving and prices are decreasing so that it can get in the hands of every human being easily. But there is still a need for in-depth training for the clinical staff to ensure their ability to cure and trouble-shoot glitches and malfunctioning.
How Does Virtual Reality Therapy Can Work to Cure a Disease? -Stages Explained
The stages of curing diseases through VR therapy are as follows.
Nature of the problem
The first stage to treat a patient is to understand the nature of the problem. When a patient first goes to the therapist for virtual reality therapy, the therapist talks to the patient and understands his situation and problem.
It may take one or more sessions to get details of the problem and then start virtual reality therapy. After a short VR session, it depends on the therapist to use CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) or some other treatment.
Recommending VR Therapy
It is up to the therapist that understands the nature of your problem to recommend VR therapy or not. Their decision is based on the source of your problem and what type it is.
It may also depend on your characteristics that VR will work on you or not. After analyzing all the situations and the patient can see that the benefits of VR outweigh its cost, the therapist recommends VR therapy. It is not just as easy to go and ask for a VR therapy.
Immersive and Non-immersive Technique
There are two types of virtual reality therapy techniques. It depends on the type and condition of the problem of the patient. After some tests are carried by the therapist, the therapist can recommend what type of VR is more capable of treating the specific type of disease. Let’s get to know about both the techniques of virtual reality technology.
An environment like CAVE provides an immersive side of virtual reality technology. Using CAVE, the experience of the patient is controlled wholesomely by the programming of the VR and how the patient reacts to it. However, in the case of a non-immersive technique, the patient is exposed to stimuli from the actual world because it uses a desktop-like display.
The non-immersive technique has a limited approach to curing disease because it can’t completely engage the patient in the virtual world. While immersive technique allows the patient to completely visualize the virtual world and forget the problems of the real world.
VR Therapy Platforms
There are some VR therapy platforms that are being used in many countries to deal with mental and physical issues. These are gaining popularity day by day. Many hospitals, clinics, and therapists are using these platforms to cure diseases.
Pisous is a platform for metal therapists. It empowers them with complete VR therapy and solution to mental health problems. There are over 70 environments to treat different problems such as the phobia of height or plane. It is being used in 50 countries and has more than 2000 clients till now.
Applied VR is a platform that provides an easy way to deal with stress and anxiety. It is being used in 10 countries and serving almost 30,000 patients. It creates an immersive environment that helps the patient to get rid of pain and think from a different perspective. Applied VR is safe and effective at the same time.
Limibix provides a VR solution to help doctors to treat anxiety, depression, addiction, and some other mental disorders. There are wireless VR kits available from the company that does not require any internet. It is being used in various mental health institutions and clinics to treat mental disorders.
Verapy also provides fun games and innovative exercises. It offers VR games that engage the user to do exercise with fun. It is helping physical therapists to treat different physical problems. Sometimes, it is hard and painful to do physical exercises and the patient feels more pain, but this technology provides an engaging way of exercise that is full of fun.
How Clinical Settings Today Are Using Virtual Reality Therapy
Now let us discuss the facts that how does virtual reality therapy work in clinical settings today. The biggest use of virtual reality therapy today is in the field of virtual reality exposure. The technology well-matches according to the needs of the patients and clinical experts.
The clinical professionals have set a simple goal to treat a patient whether it be a simple phobia or PTSD. They engage the patients in VR exposure so that they can confront them and help to process the trauma and eventually lead to the cure of the disorder/disease.
How Does Virtual Reality Therapy Work for Stress Relief and Meditation?
It is not always the case that a person suffering from anxiety and PTSD disorders need treatment with VR therapy. Most people experience varying levels of stress and anxiety during their daily lives.
Meditation is a simple way that allows people to improve their mood and enter a mode of relaxation. It is not that the meditation can cure any type of disorder, but it allows a person to benefit his health as they are positive for every soul on the planet.
Unello Design is a company that came up with some meditation and relaxation experiences for VR devices like Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard. Eden River and Zen Zone have worked to create a relaxing nature experience and a guided meditation journey respectively.
Drawbacks and Limitations of Virtual Reality Therapy
We have answered, “How does virtual reality therapy work?”, now let's discuss some drawbacks and limitations.
The results of the early stages of virtual reality therapy have been positive. One of the main drawbacks of virtual reality technology is the initial cost of equipment and programs that are needed to do the therapy. Because of this one disadvantage, VR therapy is not in the hands of many people.
Everything in Moderation
The excessive use of this therapy can cause VR sickness. This condition takes place when a person is inside a VR environment for a long period. VR sickness may cause the patient to experience seizures, vertigo, motion sickness, flashbacks, or antisocial behavior.
Some people cannot bear the immersive experience of VR, and they become sick. So, it is not for everyone. The therapist should confirm whether the treatment is suitable for the patient or not. According to research, the symptoms appear after 30 minutes of exposure to a VR environment. The solution to this problem is simple that is to minimize the period of virtual reality therapy and limit the treatment to a short session.
We all know the uses of virtual reality and it is not only for gaming. Today, virtual reality is being used to cure many patients that undergo the disorders of anxiety, PTSD, etc. We have answered the question “how does virtual reality therapy work?”. Virtual reality therapy is a process in which a patient gets treatment by immersing him in a virtual environment using a virtual reality headset or goggle.
The nature of the virtual environment is dependent on the condition of the patient and what therapy should be given to him to cure him as early as possible. There are many VR headsets and devices that can provide a therapist to start the treatment.
The most simple and easily accessible mode of virtual reality technology is a smartphone that also creates a VR environment for the therapist to use to cure patients.
As discussed, we can conclude easily that the most effective method of virtual reality therapy is VR therapy. It is an easy method in which the patient is exposed to a virtual environment and the patient himself immerse into it getting isolated from the real world.
It helps the patient to get free from the worries of the real world. But the most effective method of treatment can only be set by a professional therapist or clinical expert because they are ones to treat a patient after getting to know the nature of their disorder.