VR psychotherapy now makes it possible to confront patients with their psychological disorders through a controlled virtual environment. Although these methods come up against a few obstacles, the potential is there. How is VR psychotherapy effective?
In the past, mental disorders were considered taboo, but science has gradually evolved, allowing today that one in four patients can face their problems in their lives. Consulting a therapist can of course be effective, but the patient has a better chance of “healing” when the latter is directly confronted with situations that cause him distress.
Thus, the specialist acts more like a coach accompanying his patient in reality. Often, success is there, but the time required for treatment is valuable and many patients can become discouraged quite quickly. Are we in the age of treatments and virtual therapists?
Professor of clinical psychology Daniel Freeman from the University of Oxford (UK) reviewed 285 studies linking mental health and virtual reality. All conducted before 2016, the first dating back 25 years, this research focused on anxiety, schizophrenia, disorders caused by substance use and eating disorders. These studies evoked theories, treatment possibilities or even access to healthy mental health conditions.
Reality can be very effective as is the case for social anxiety, post-traumatic syndromes and phobias. However, the other types of mental disorders have on the other hand been little explored, which does not allow us to have certainties. Thus, further research should be conducted. For example, depression has been the subject of only two studies, but is one of the most common disorders in our societies.
Even though the proof of the effectiveness of virtual reality is strongly assumed as in the context of an addiction, no serious device has been developed. Disorders related to psychoses or food are also in the same case. Thus, apart from various forms of anxiety, no mental disorder finds an answer for lack of development, although the potential for therapy, diagnosis and the well-being of patients is very present.
Either way, virtual reality deserves to be explored further in order to fuel the psychotherapy sector. The already existing treatments for social anxiety, post-traumatic syndromes and phobias are very encouraging, which suggests that virtual reality could effectively cure many other psychological problems.
Here is an example of treating social anxiety with the ParanoiaVR app:
Sources: The Guardian – Virtual-Reality