Interactive Media for Mental Health

  • Virtual Reality for Phobias

    Virtual Reality for Phobias

    <p>A company called Psious has developed various virtual/augmented reality programs to treat various phobias, including flying, needles, heights, enclosed spaces, open spaces, public speaking, and driving.</p> <p>Each treatment contains various virtual reality scenarios to elicit elevating levels of anxiety in patients with different phobias. For example, a patient with a fear of heights will first experience a simulation of standing at the edge of a 10-story building, working their way up to a 52-story building.</p> <p>During treatment, the therapist receives biofeedback from their patient and has the ability to control and customize the program to suit the patient.</p> <p>The effectiveness of virtual reality exposure therapy for the treatment of phobias has been shown in many studies, including a meta-analysis of such studies that showed that virtual reality was just as effective, if not slightly more effective, than traditional exposure therapy.</p>

  • Augmented Reality for Phobias

    Augmented Reality for Phobias

    <p>A company called Psious has developed various virtual/augmented reality programs to treat various phobias, including flying, needles, heights, enclosed spaces, open spaces, public speaking, and driving.</p> <p>Each treatment contains various virtual reality scenarios to elicit elevating levels of anxiety in patients with different phobias. For example, a patient with a fear of heights will first experience a simulation of standing at the edge of a 10-story building, working their way up to a 52-story building.</p> <p>During treatment, the therapist receives biofeedback from their patient and has the ability to control and customize the program to suit the patient.</p> <p>The effectiveness of virtual reality exposure therapy for the treatment of phobias has been shown in many studies, including a meta-analysis of such studies that showed that virtual reality was just as effective, if not slightly more effective, than traditional exposure therapy.</p>

  • PTSD

    PTSD

    <p>A virtual reality exposure therapy called Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan can help reduce PTSD symptoms in military members and veterans. The program includes various scenarios in Middle Eastern settings, including a city and desert road convoy. Therapists can adjust the program to best fit their patient’s needs based on their specific traumatic experiences, adding and removing elements into the environment at will.</p> <p>In a clinical trial, participants underwent twice weekly, 90-120 minute sessions of virtual reality exposure therapy for 5 weeks. Of the 20 participants who completed the treatment, 16 no longer met the criteria for PTSD after the trial period.</p> <p>As devices like the Oculus Rift make virtual reality more accessible to clinicians, the researchers hope that this kind of exposure therapy can help a greater number of patients.</p>

  • Pain Management

    Pain Management

    <p>A virtual reality game called SnowWorld can help reduce pain in patients with severe burns. Although opioids are generally enough to control pain during resting periods, uncontrolled pain during wound care remains a problem in burn victims. Many patients report reliving their original burn experience during wound care. To combat this, researchers developed SnowWorld to help redirect the conscious attention patients were previously directing towards their pain. By immersing themselves in this virtual world, the patients are able to focus most or all of their attention on exploring the world rather than their pain.</p> <p>The researchers tested the effectiveness of SnowWorld versus a normal video game for reducing pain during burn care. In their preliminary trials, the virtual reality SnowWorld was significantly more effective in reducing pain in burn patients.</p>

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    <p>For patients suffering from anxiety, a combination of virtual reality can significantly reduce symptoms. A combination of relaxation techniques and exposure therapy can be supplemented with a mobile application to allow patients to perform exercises in an outpatient setting.</p> <p>A study published in <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20543266" target="_blank"><i>Studies in Health Technology and Informatics</i></a> included 21 patients diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Participants were randomized to virtual reality with biofeedback, virtual reality without biofeedback, or a wait list (controls).</p> <p>For relaxation therapy, patients were immersed in virtual environments with visual and audio components.For the exposure therapy, the patients were exposed to some of their stressors, using relaxation techniques to help reduce their anxiety.</p> <p>Participants in both therapy groups saw a significant reduction in symptoms compared with controls.</p>

  • Social Anxiety

    Social Anxiety

    <p>Patients suffering from social anxiety experience as much benefit from virtual reality exposure therapy as they do with in-person exposure therapy.</p> <p>A study published in the <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23796315" target="blank_"><i>Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology</i></a> included 97 patients with diagnosed social anxiety who cited public speaking as their primary concern. Patients were randomized to 8 sessions of virtual reality exposure therapy, traditional exposure group therapy, or wait list (controls). Participants in either treatment group showed significant improvements compared with controls across almost all areas. After 12 months of follow-up, all participants had significant improvement in symptom severity compared with their pretreatment measures.</p>

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

    Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

    <p>The research on virtual reality for the treatment of OCD has produced inconsistent results, and recent studies have been sparse. However, in-person exposure therapy is a widely-used treatment for OCD symptoms. Because so many virtual reality programs have applications for exposure therapy, some scientists have called for studies that explore their effectiveness in treating OCD symptoms.</p>

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Virtual reality has been explored for several decades as a treatment for various conditions including anxiety, PTSD, and phobias. Often, researchers use virtual reality devices to immerse patients in virtual exposure therapy, a form of behavior therapy where patients are exposed to feared or traumatic experiences. As advancements make this technology more affordable, virtual reality will be much more accessible to clinicians and patients. Read through the slideshow to see how virtual reality is being used in psychiatry.

Compiled by Hannah Dellabella.

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