The Next Milestone For Mental Health: Virtual Reality

Virtual reality in mental healthIn the past experts worried that virtual reality (VR) would damage our brains. Today, they believe it’ll help them instead. There’s been new research done regarding how VR can diagnose and treat mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. While there are still many tests being conducted some of this technology has already made its way out to patients.

Introducing VR Mental Health Therapy

Not only are companies who are creating VR for mental health receiving a lot of attention, but they’re also receiving a lot of funding. Unlike what’s already been created for helping patients with PTSD, the latest technology is focusing on conditions like depression and anxiety. For instance, it’ll help with things like exposure therapy so that stimuli can be introduced in a safe environment instead of having it happen in the real world. By doing so, therapists also have much more control over just how intense the experiences will be.

Unfortunately, not all VR technology is complete or even safe. This is why standards need to be put into place to ensure that a product works before it’s used in therapy. While this will take a lot more research, it’ll also help us understand why VR therapy for depression and anxiety is effective. One such study that was conducted discovered that patients who suffer from depression and anxiety respond better to VR than any other treatment modality.

Taking the time to optimize this content will also require researchers to experiment with other sensory stimuli besides visuals. For instance, will tactile feedback, virtual smells, or immersive audio be beneficial?

Diagnosing Elusive Symptoms

Besides offering better therapeutic treatment outcomes, VR may also help with diagnosing things like depression and anxiety. This is beneficial in that results would be more objective than they are today. Furthermore, symptoms can be better tested since VR can imitate a patient’s everyday environment.

VR is already being used to diagnose patients who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Before VR heads became portable and affordable clinicians couldn’t test a patient’s navigational abilities and memory for deficits. Now patients can be asked to navigate between various landmarks in a 3D landscape. Once the patient reaches each of the landmarks it’ll disappear and eventually, the patient will be asked to make their way back to the first landmark. Whether the patient could find the correct spot was able to determine if they’d develop Alzheimer’s. While pen and paper tests were only 64% accurate, VR is 93% accurate.

Looking Towards the Future

Some patients who have depression and anxiety may even have traditional mental health therapy replaced by VR. Currently, there are already some smartphone apps that aid in cognitive therapy. Some therapists believe it’d be possible to create a VR therapist in a VR environment that’d aide patients.

Creating this type of VR environment could be very advantageous for patients with depression and anxiety. One of the biggest advantages is that it’d make therapy more accessible to people who don’t have the money or time to see a therapist. In this way, VR would function similarly to self-help books. This would also be beneficial to patients who don’t need a specially tailored treatment plan.

Of course, some risks would also come with VR therapy. For instance, when a therapist is guiding their patient through a VR session they’re able to monitor their patient’s vital signs (e.g. heart rate, respiration). This allows them to either modify or end the session when necessary. Unfortunately, an AI therapist may not be able to respond as well.

Mistreatment also occurs when people diagnose and treat themselves with products they find online. This is why it’s also important to determine just how far AI and virtual therapists can go. While there’s no doubt that they’ll play an important part in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders, there will always be some controversy surrounding its use. Of course, only time will tell what will happen when it comes to this major advancement in the realm of psychology. Until such a time when VR is ready to fully replace traditional mental health therapy, you can count on TMS Advantage in Clearwater and St Petersburg, FL for your mental health needs.

Picture Credit: Freepik

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