Even amongst concerns about the harmfulness of too much screen time, virtual reality (VR) has made its way into healthcare. Researchers in the field of psychology are currently testing VR in their laboratories. These prototypes are being developed for use in diagnosing and treating a variety of conditions from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to chronic pain. They are also looking into the possible application of VR in diagnosis.
Although public interest in VR has waned from its peak in 2017, research suggests that virtual reality within psychology is here to stay. Some of these technologies are already making their way into therapists’ offices.
With mental health receiving a recent wave of interest, the companies creating VR for use in therapy are enjoying an influx of funding. Some of the more common research focuses on VR’s usefulness in the treatment of PTSD. VR programs for PTSD have been around since the 1990s. But developers are now focused on programs to address a broader range of conditions.
Companies are working on VR programs to help in the treatment of claustrophobia, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Much about how these programs work is focused on exposure therapy, a commonly used treatment for anxiety disorders. During exposure therapy patients are exposed to anxiety-inducing stimuli. Over time, the brain learns that these perceived threats are not harmful.
Researchers are also looking into how VR may be used to diagnose patients. Conditions that currently depend on interview-based methods like autism, ADHD, and schizophrenia for diagnosis, might benefit from VR testing.
During a 2016 study, researchers were able to diagnose Alzheimer’s patients using VR technology with more accuracy than the current “gold standard” tests.
Though it’s unlikely that VR will fully replace traditional therapies anytime soon, it will undoubtedly play in increasing role in patient care. Therapist sessions aided by VR have the potential to help large numbers of patients who have had difficulties with previously used therapy methods. Although the technology is sure to evolve, only time will tell how patients and practitioners receive these programs.