Imagine a patient suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and is literally transported to the time and place where the traumatic incident occurred. With an experienced professional, the counselor would coax the patient into steps towards recovery. In conjunction with traditional cognitive behavior therapy, VR opens up the possibility of a more complete treatment program. From phobias to job interview training, there are limitless applications of VR in the mental health realm.
According to Srivastava, Das, and Chaudury’s article in the Industrial Psychiatry Journal, VR has been applied in treatments for “social phobia, claustrophobia, and fear of driving” (Das, 2014). VR helps train individuals identify the stages and magnitude of their reaction towards the sensory cues of their real-life phobias. By gradually exposing the patients to their worst fear without any real risk, they would reduce feelings of anxiety.
In addition, the University of Oxford published a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry, indicating the positive outcomes of VR treatment for paranoia. Participants who were normally anxious in public transportation felt better after spending 30 min in a simulated subway. Overall, the investigators concluded that, “virtual reality cognitive therapy led to large reductions in delusional conviction” (Freeman et. al, 2016). These modern day examples highlight the potential of VR and mental health treatment.
Moreover, a team of researchers observed how difficult it is for people with mental illness to become employed. They gathered 70 individuals with severe mental illnesses like PTSD and had subjects take part in this study for six months with Virtual Reality Job Interview Training (VR-JIT). The training included simulated interviews lasting from 20-30 minutes and consisted of 15 trials. After the training, the investigators found that there was a higher chance for participants to receive job offers. The researchers postulate that VR is a “promising intervention” for mentally ill patients (Smith et. Al, 2015).
Mental health treatment with VR is also making its way to the app world. VirtualSpeech is one such example, with its tagline being “download the app, put on your virtual reality headset and start practicing” (VirtualSpeech, 2017). Dominic Barnard and Artur Grzybowski (the founders) are developing a course for socially anxious individuals in preparation for job interviews and beyond (Bozorgzadeh, 2016). VR training is on the go with available apps and breaking through with confidence building and helping people become more prepared in social situations.
Through constant improvements in the hardware and appropriate training for mental health professionals, VR can be the solution for treating mental health disorders. By blurring the lines between real-life and virtual worlds, VR has the potential to adequately prepare mental health patients to overcome their issues.