Beyond Gaming, Virtual Reality Can Find its Uses in Healthcare
Chances are you might not have heard about Oculus Rift, never mind, you will soon be dazed with its awareness. It is a virtual reality (VR) headset technology in the form of the Oculus which is about to make the leap into the mainstream.
You will find it difficult to appreciate how remarkable VR is if you’ve not given it a trial. Even if you discern that what you’re seeing isn’t real, your essence and body act as if they were. This is an extraordinary sensation. Meanwhile, a closer look at the virtual reality’s ability to “con” the brain will reveal that it isn’t only the next big thing in gaming; it may as well prove to be an extremely effective device for psychological therapy.
No doubt, it is already. A typical example can be found with people with acrophobia (fear of heights). Exposure therapy using VR is as effective as taking people into real situations. This helps in the sense that if someone with acrophobia is taken in a virtual glass-fronted lift up a skyscraper, for instance, the reactions (heart racing, stomach churning, panicky thoughts) will be the same as if he was truly zooming to the top of the Shard. Asking people – phobia or no phobia – to step off a virtual ledge, it’s rarely they will be able to do so despite being aware that the “edge” is only a space on the lab floor.
Apart from fear of heights, VR can also work for a wide range of anxiety disorders. For instance, a recent meta-analysis of fourteen clinical trials revealed that VR treatment is effective for tackling spider and flying phobias. There are also increasing evidences that VR has potential in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These initial potentials showcased VR as a probable treatment for persecutory delusions.
Cases of delusions are often difficult to treat; hence, there have been consistent efforts to find new ways of tackling these challenges. This is where VR comes in. In a research at the University of Oxford funded by Medical Research Council (MRC), which have concluded a first stage experiment on the use of VR to treat persecutory delusions. The intention was to tackle the fundamental fear underlining paranoia, which is a feeling of danger from other people.
The most effective way to achieve this is to assist the individual to learn from experience that the situations they dread are in reality safe. Once the feeling of safety increase, the delusion will gradually diminish and confidence will ride in.
No doubt, patients with severe paranoia can find it difficult to face feared situations. However, VR could make the situation mild by presenting the least difficult condition first before advancing to the next level. Of course, being aware that the scenario isn’t real helps with building the confidence as VR offers other practical advantages to achieve this. The fact that patients can repeat the same situation as often as they wish, and be instantly moved from one challenging circumstances (a shop) to another (a train), indicates that improvement may well be much faster than it would be if they were facing real-life scenarios.
Besides, psychiatric patients in the wards often have very limited access to real-world situations. All these point to the fact that beyond gaming, VR could transform mental health treatment.