What is Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT)?
What is Virtual Reality (VR)?
Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated simulation of a 3-dimensional environment that is experienced by a person as if it is real. Typically, the person is fully immersed in the simulation using specially designed equipment, and is able to interact with it in ways that are similar to real life.
How does VRT work?
There are currently several ways that virtual reality is being used in therapy, these include virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) and virtual reality cognitive therapy (VRCT).
Exposure therapy works by safely exposing the patient to the object or situation that triggers the unwanted response, such as feelings of fear or anxiety. Virtual reality can be used by the therapist to create a simulation of the triggering object or situation, which can be introduced in a safer and more controlled way. Exposing the patient to the object or situation in this way avoids putting the patient in any danger and enables them to better identify, understand, and manage their response to it.
Cognitive therapy works by helping people to manage their problems by changing the way the patient thinks and behaves. Virtual reality can be used by cognitive therapists to create a simulation of specific situations or stimuli that elicit specific thoughts and behaviours by the patient. This can help the patient better understand and manage the way their thoughts and reactions to specific situations affects their mood and behaviour.
What conditions can be treated using VRT?
There is a growing body of research showing evidence that VRT can be an effective treatment for many conditions, including:
- Pain management
- Fears and phobias
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
What advantages does VRT have over regular therapy?
The use of virtual reality can provide several advantages to the therapist and patient that are otherwise unavailable, including:
VRT is usually conducted with the therapist physically present. The therapist is able to see what the patient is seeing when they are in the virtual environment and this enables them to gain a better understanding of how the patient reacts to real-world situations.
As virtual reality technology improves, the simulated experience is becoming more realistic, but the patient is still aware that the simulation is not real. The fact that it feels real to the patient but they are aware that it is a simulation helps them get closer to the difficult emotions that are necessary to face as part of the therapeutic process.
What disadvantages does VRT have over regular therapy?
Since it was first used in the early 1990’s, the main disadvantage of VRT has been the cost and lack of accessibility to equipment. As the cost and availability of VR technology has significantly reduced to meet the needs of the consumer gaming and entertainment industries, VRT is becoming an affordable option for therapists everywhere.
Some therapists believe that the use of VR in therapy detracts from the patient-therapist relationship and it is certainly true that VRT is not suitable for every situation.
Who is offering VRT?
For details of therapists offering VRT, please go to our Find A Therapist page.