Artificial Intelligence is quickly becoming integrated into many sectors of our lives, including healthcare.
It’s application to psychiatry hasn’t quite taken shape yet, however, its projected that with the aid of technology, mental health professionals will be able to offer more pervasive and effective treatments for mental disorders.
One form of the treatment, being developed now is Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT). Many of us are familiar with the technology of Virtual Reality (VR), commonly its use in gaming. VR technology simulates an experience for the user, the user wears a headset which gives the Illusion that they are in a different setting through sound and imagery. Its implementation into therapy is now being explored as a useful form of “exposure therapy” for the treatment of an array of mental health disorders.
Exposure therapy is a therapeutic technique in which the patient is exposed to stimuli that may be the source of their mental health disorders. It is recognized as three different forms:
This exposure therapy exposes the patient to the feared stimulus in real world settings. An example of this application would be if the patient had a fear of public speaking and having them give a speech to a group of strangers.
This exposure therapy calls on the patient to imagine the feared stimulus in their minds, this feared stimulus could be painful memories or thoughts.
This exposure therapy calls on the patient to experience the somatic symptoms they experience in reaction to a feared stimulus. It is similar to Imaginal Exposure Therapy; however, the exposure extends itself to bodily sensations. An example of this would be triggering the bodily symptoms of social anxiety a patient experience.
These three forms of exposure therapy each have their limitations. Through the use of VRT we may be able to bridge the gap between these three forms of exposure therapy, creating one, all-encompassing, and ultimately more effective therapy treatment option, easily adapted to meet the needs of each patient.
For individuals who suffer from Social Phobias, such as Agoraphobia, the idea of having a real-life exposure therapy session, in which they are placed in a crowded room of people seems daunting and somewhat cruel. With the use of VRT, patients are in a simulated reality and are able to opt out of any exposure they find too uncomfortable.
For patients suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), real-life exposure therapy may not be practical. If the PTSD resulted from a traumatic car accident, getting behind the wheel is nerve-wracking and may be dangerous, considering the potential body responses the patient may experience as a result of the feared stimulus. A VRT headset can put the patient behind the wheel, in the exact area of the accident, creating a safe space for the patient to explore their painful memories and thoughts stemming from the incident.
VRT easily merges Real-Life, Imaginal, and Interoceptive exposure therapies in a safe and therapeutic environment, giving the therapist greater leverage in their treatment of the patient, and the patient greater leverage in facing fear-inducing experiences.
Disclaimer: All information, content, and material contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.