At Success Brand Counseling, we offer a variety of mental health services to help you overcome your struggles and achieve real success in life. Our virtual reality therapy (VRT) is a unique approach that can be done in groups or individually, and we’ll even help you get the devices you need to participate. Let us help you reach your goals, today.
Virtual Reality Therapy: Everything You Need To Know
It is not uncommon to use virtual reality for entertainment purposes. If you have ever worn a pair of 3D glasses, you are probably familiar with the immersive experience. However, virtual reality is not limited to just fun and games anymore. It is increasingly being used as a popular method of mental health care.
Virtual reality therapy is not the same as teletherapy, which is the process of talking to a therapist over video instead of commuting to their office. When used properly, computer-generated environments that immerse users in a digital world can be an effective form of treatment for several mental health conditions. If you're interested in learning more about virtual reality therapy, including how it works, what conditions it may be most effective for, and where you can get started, you've come to the right place.
What Is Virtual Reality Therapy?
VRT is a type of therapy that creates an immersive environment using a virtual world, such as a computer game or headset. It's important to note that a licensed therapist must always be involved for it to be considered therapy.
One specific type of VRT is Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET), which immerses the individual in a 3-D environment that feels extremely real. VRET is used to help individuals overcome phobias, PTSD, and victims of violence.
Another form of VRT is talking to a therapist under the guise of an avatar in a computer-generated environment. This allows people to feel more comfortable opening up while their true physical identity remains hidden.
Since VRT is still relatively new, there are not as many therapists trained in using it compared to more traditional forms of therapy.
How Successful Is Virtual Reality Therapy?
The use of virtual reality therapy (VRT) is a relatively new concept, and there is still emerging data on its long-term effectiveness. However, early research has shown promising results, particularly for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and chronic pain.
According to a 2022 study in JMIR Serious Games, VRT in the form of virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) has a success rate of between 66% and 90% for those with PTSD when used to enhance cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Additionally, VRET has been found to significantly help with pain relief in place of medications. In one study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, burn victims were transported to a snowy virtual world where they interacted with snowmen and threw snowballs, resulting in a reduction of their physical pain between 35% and 50%. Scientific studies have also shown success in treating fear of spiders and eating disorders using VRT.
While VRET has been extensively researched, there is less known about the effectiveness of therapy using avatars in a virtual world. A scientific article in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that using CBT in a virtual reality setting is an effective way to treat depression, especially for those who may be reluctant to seek traditional therapy. Additionally, a study in JMIR Mental Health highlights the potential use of VRT as an alternative form of treatment to in-person therapy for individuals with social anxiety.
Who Is a Candidate for Virtual Reality Therapy?
In terms of who should consider VRT, it’s a good option for people who like gaming and are drawn to an immersive experience. Either way, if someone is experiencing depression, anxiety, social anxiety, wants help overcoming a phobia or has PTSD, virtual reality therapy could be worth trying.
Below is a list of common conditions VRT can be used to help treat:
Anxiety, including social anxiety and public speaking anxiety
Grief and loss
Substance use disorders
Disorders where compulsive behavior or interpersonal dynamics are significantly impacted
Keep in mind that if you’re prone to headaches, motion sickness, vertigo or have a history of seizures, VRT—including VRET—may not be the best fit.
There are also times when VRT and VRET should not be the only form of treatment; certain mental health conditions, such as extreme depression and bipolar disorder, are best treated with prescription medication. If you have a mental health condition—or think that you might—it’s important to seek the care of a mental health care provider to determine the best form of treatment. VRT is not the best therapy for anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts because a therapist in a virtual world may be unable to help the individual if they are threatening to take their life since they may be engaging in the therapy anonymously.
What Are the Benefits of Virtual Reality Therapy?
Though it isn’t quite mainstream yet, VRT is showing promise as a treatment for a wide range of mental health conditions. It also may be a way of offering therapy to people who might not otherwise give it a try. Virtual reality therapy can help someone feel safe when they might not otherwise. Plus, a patient may like the fact that a virtual reality headset can stimulate a scary environment that can help them overcome a specific fear, but if it becomes overwhelming, they can simply take the headset off.
VRET can even be done at home with certain apps and platforms, a benefit it has in common with teletherapy. This means that similar to teletherapy, VRT, and VRET can be especially beneficial for people with physical disabilities who have trouble getting to appointments.
Does Virtual Reality Therapy Have Risks?
There are many positive aspects of virtual reality therapy, but there are also drawbacks. While the virtual aspect could make it more accessible, if using it at home, it does require a computer or smart device and a strong Internet connection, which may not be widely available for some people in underserved communities. Other individuals who are not tech-savvy may find it difficult to use VRT and because VRT is still relatively new, it can be difficult to find a provider who is trained in it.
As with any type of therapy, the therapist is a crucial part of how successful the treatment may be. Particularly with VRET involving realistic situations, simulations that feel too vivid could potentially be retraumatizing for someone to experience when they aren’t being guided by a well-trained therapist.
Another consideration is that the therapist may not be able to reach the individual should a problem arise. If the therapist is on the other side of the country or the world, or if the person they are counseling is there under the veil of anonymity, this raises very serious ethical questions and problems. With [any type of] therapy, it’s important to ensure that the patient is safe. Anonymity can be a real problem. As with many emerging technologies, there will likely also be ethical considerations to keep in mind as this treatment becomes more widely available.