Virtual Reality applications in Mental Health


Virtual Reality (VR) technologies have come a long way in the last decade or two, and the advancements extend beyond hyper-realistic video games. Researchers are developing virtual reality solutions to mental health concerns, and their diagnosis and treatment.


How can VR help with mental health diagnoses?

Research has demonstrated that virtual reality experiences can elicit similar psychological and physical reactions that in-person stimuli might. This makes VR potentially useful as a diagnostic tool because the VR experience can have a perceived realness that will draw out people’s real reactions.


This can be used to present stimuli or recreate social environments where a patient’s cognitions, behaviors, and emotions can be observed.


How can VR help treat mental health concerns?

VR experiences can be a great method for recreating social situations repeatedly for observation and behavioral guidance, all within the safety of a clinical environment.


A VR environment can provide a safe space to explore phobias, or to gain practice in real-world anxiety-inducing situations. For instance, someone with social anxiety may be able to acquire practice with simple everyday interactions such as ordering at a cafe or visiting the local grocery store while receiving live guidance from a licensed practitioner.


How does VR clinical testing work?

Any virtual reality experience designed with a mental health intervention in mind is required to complete rigorous clinical research as with any other treatment or diagnostic tool.


VR experiences may be tested by the target demographic, while others are just tested for safety and efficacy by healthy volunteer participants.


A VR clinical trial may recruit participants with undiagnosed mental health concerns, such as daily non-disruptive symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Participants will test out simulated social situations, be exposed to basic stimuli, or run through a series of cognitive assessments under the VR experience.


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